Many students are finding economic and social advantages to starting their college career at a junior or community college instead of a traditional four-year university. Depending upon your career and educational goals, this can be a smart way to begin your education. Understanding the pros and cons of both scenarios can help you decide if this option is right for you.
According to Scholarships.com, community college can cost as little as $2,000 per semester for a full-time student. Over the course of two years, you can save tens of thousands of dollars over a private university. Many of the fees are reduced as well, so your overall per-semester spending will be much lower. Of course, the trade-off is that there are fewer amenities at many community colleges. So, while a university may charge a fee for the recreation center and another for the library, the community college will charge lower fees or none at all because the rec center may be smaller or there may not be one.
You will find great professors and mediocre ones at both types of colleges, so the quality of your education may be similar with each option. And while community college offers you the flexibility to explore classes and majors if you are still undecided, there may be limited access to specialty areas of study. Some community colleges offer a partnership with a nearby university which allows you to be sure that all the classes you take will transfer, but this is not true of all programs. Research your program of study and plan ahead to be sure your savings of time and money are not wasted on the wrong classes.
Community colleges are usually full of commuter students and have little or no on-campus housing. If you're looking to bond with your fellow classmates beyond study groups, university life may offer a better option. The university will offer housing, fraternities and sororities, intramural sports and other clubs. There are generally university-sponsored dances and other social gatherings, while community colleges will have few of these events. This can be a positive if you are planning on working while going to school. The flexibility of hours during which classes are offered can help you to juggle work and school.
Disadvantages of Junior Colleges
There are some drawbacks to saving all that time and money. Some junior college courses move at a slower pace and are less rigorous, so you may have trouble transitioning to higher expectations at a university. Many junior college students are also less committed to their education. While nearly half of those who get bachelor's degrees start at a community college, the majority are not pursuing goals beyond an associate degree. You may miss out on interacting with students who can push you to excel or from whose experience and drive you can benefit. There can also be career implications in more competitive fields. Sometimes the benefits of contacts and internships are given to those with whom university personnel are more familiar, for example, those who have been at the university from the beginning of their education.
Megan Eyden has been an educator, trainer and teaching mentor for eight years. Her articles and reviews on the arts have been published in journals and bulletins in Texas. Eyden also works as a performance coach, clinician, contest judge, vocal soloist and accompanist.