When I was in high school, I can remember the social stigma associated with attending community college straight out of senior year. Because of the stigma, I had committed to my top choice university that I had been accepted to without realizing that it was not going to be financially possible for me to do so. After revoking my decision, I decided to complete my first two semesters at my local community college, then re-apply to attend my chosen university for sophomore year. At the start of my freshman year, I bitterly focused on the cons of my choice; however, by the end of the year, I realized how many benefits the decision provided me. I recognize that everyone is not in the same boat as me, but it’s important to keep an open mind when considering community college as a freshman year option.
Community College Myths
Before I delve into the pros and cons, I feel the need to address some myths that are often tossed around by high-schoolers without much insight. If you hear any of the following from your peers, proceed with caution.
“Community college is for stupid people.” This is an ignorant statement. While there are always a few dunderheads in every class, there are just as many attending universities. People attend community college for tons of reasons, and a low IQ is nowhere in the top ten.
“Going to community college means you couldn’t get in anywhere else.” Ignorant statement number two. Plenty of people are accepted to reputable schools but chose community college for whatever reason.
“Your classes don’t compare to university ones in difficulty.” If you ever hear this from someone who has never taken a community college course, it’s automatically proven false. During my freshman year, I did have some classes that were easy, but some of them required me to go for tutoring twice a week and spend hours in the library just to meet the minimum requirements to pass.
“Community college is full of old people.” I suppose this one could be dependent on where you live, how many high schools are around your area, etc.. I come from an area where there are 10+ high schools within roughly a 30-minute drive of my community college. The classes are typically 75% teenagers or people in their lower 20s. (This is taking into account that many people above their 20s who are working or have families to care for take night or weekend classes.)
Community College Advantages
Saving money. By attending community college during my freshman year, I managed to save over $15,000. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, tuition, fees, and board rates at universities cost more than twice what community colleges charge.
Smaller transition. If you are anything like I was as a graduating high school senior, you had no idea what being an adult entitled. I had no idea how to handle myself on my own, let alone my college expenses. Community college eases the transition from high school to college by providing a smaller atmosphere that still expects college-level intellect from its students.
Easier scheduling. Most community colleges offer classes at multiple blocks of time with multiple professors. They offer classes for early birds and night owls, and scheduling is usually not as hectic as it is on a university level.
Completing general education requirements. Ah, gen eds. Some argue they are a way for students to pinpoint their strengths and interests, and others argue that they are a waste of time and money. Either way, most students are required to take them, so you might as well take them in the cheapest, simplest way possible.
Smaller classes. Especially in gen ed classes, university class sizes can reach 100-200 people. Community college class sizes average around 25-30 students, making it much easier to get help and make your voice heard.
The possibility of earning an Associate Degree. If you choose to stay two years at community college, some states have a “guaranteed transfer” program that will automatically accept you into the university of your choice, granted you have an alright GPA and an associate degree. An associate degree usually covers your gen eds, and will allow you to transfer to a university to go right into your program of study.
Community College Disadvantages
A different “college experience.” I will admit that during my time at community college, I still went and visited my friends at universities once a month to get the so-called “college experience.” This was a great way to avoid feeling excluded, since most community colleges do not have extensive campuses, dining facilities, sports teams, or the always-interesting atmosphere that accompanies thousands of 17-23 year olds living within a 10 mile radius of each other.
Stress of applying to university. If you do your freshman year at community college, you will not earn an associates degree and will still need to apply to your choice of university to transfer as a sophomore. You (unfortunately) won’t be able to avoid the stress of the application process, and you will still have to make sure you have taken the SAT and taken your first-year coursework seriously.
Some credits won’t transfer. If you have a good idea of what school you want to transfer to after freshman year, make sure that you consult with the school or their website to match up your courses with their community college course equivalents. I have heard of countless students who wasted time and energy taking a class (or classes) that they later discovered would not be counted as credit at their four-year institution.
Commuting from home. If you do community college for your freshman year, you will most likely be chilling at home for another year and driving to school every day. Not every college freshman has a car available for them to drive. While this is one less year of independence, you won’t have to worry about roommates, sharing bathrooms with strangers, and you will still be able to have plenty of free home-cooked meals.
Less relevant curriculum. The reason why I’m suggesting to do only freshman year at community college is because it’s a great place to get gen eds knocked out, but it may be harder to take courses that advance you in your major. Once your gen eds are almost completed, some community colleges do not offer specific major courses that will easily transfer to a university.
Limited extracurricular activities. I’m not saying that community colleges do not offer extracurricular activities, because that is untrue. Most offer tons of academic, interest, and sport related clubs. I am saying that community colleges often do not offer these on the same scale that universities do, in the sense that there are no stadium football games, (typically) no Greek life, and clubs will not be as large in numbers.
Why You Should Consider It
Despite the pros and cons above, I am almost at the end of my sophomore year and regret nothing about doing freshman year at a community college. At the time, I felt like I was missing out on something larger, but reflecting back on it, it helped me grow as a person and prepared me for the transition to adulthood more than a university would have. Many adults praise this option as a smarter choice, because it saves so much money while buying you an extra year to prepare yourself for full independence. If you are unsure about your freshman year, consider this option!
What are your thoughts on community college?