The most obvious difference between high schools and community colleges is that they provide two distinct levels of education. High schools traditionally provide education to students in ninth through twelfth grades, generally ranging in age from 14 to 18. Community colleges provide a secondary level of education with access to higher-level educational credentials. Beyond this basic distinction, other notable differences exist.


High school is typically a part of a free educational system in a community that is supported with state and federal tax dollars. Students and families do sometimes pay modest registration fees, which help offset the the school district's expenses, as well as extracurricular activity fees. Private schools charge tuition that families are ultimately responsible for. Students must pay tuition and fees for community college classes, though some also get funding from parents, employers and government-assistance programs.


Students in high school are working toward a diploma. This is the single, formal educational criterion you can receive. Community colleges offer a number of formal programs that increase your educational qualifications. You can earn certifications in specific areas, such as real estate or welding, complete one-year diploma programs or earn a two-year associate's degree in liberal arts or a vocational field. Community college is also a starting point for students planning to earn a bachelor's degree at a four-year college or university.

Student Types

A significant difference between high school and college is the types of students you see. High school is comprised mostly of traditional-aged students who complete four years of schooling in a time frame that fits chronologically with their age. Community college students are often more diverse. Traditional-age students start community college right after high school. However, a college freshman is also likely to a see several non-traditional students aged anywhere from their early 20's to their 60's, or older.


One of the most significant differences for students is that in high school, you often have support from teachers and parents in keeping a schedule and meeting expectations. At college, instructors typically treat students as independent adults who need to learn to manage schedules, study and complete work effectively, attend class, accept consequences and take accountability for good and bad choices. Some students prefer to start at a community college to remain close to family and friends as they ease into the transition to adulthood and more responsibilities as a student.

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