“Well, you can always go to community college.”
If you got rejection letters from all the schools you applied to or you received a disappointing financial aid offer—or you’re worried about either of these things happening—then you’ve probably heard that opening sentence more than once from your parents, friends, or counselors.
It’s not surprising. Community college is the go-to backup plan for millions of college applicants.
But is community college all it’s cracked up to be? Should your college backup plan include other options—like a backup-backup plan?
Let’s look at the pros and cons of using community college as your college fallback position.
Community College: The Pros
Compared to private colleges and even most state schools, community college offers a much lower price tag.
BigFuture (published by the College Board, which runs the SATs) writes:
Average published yearly tuition and fees for a public two-year college is $3,440.
Average in-state tuition and fees at a public four-year college is $9,410.
Average tuition and fees at a private school is $32,410.
To save money, many students start at community college and transfer over to a four-year school to finish their bachelor’s degrees.
Some community colleges (like Indiana’s Ivy Tech) will assess your abilities to place you on the right track and make sure you can handle college-level work. But in general, if you graduated from high school, you should have no problem getting into a community college.
Close to You
There are more than 1,400 community college campuses scattered throughout the U.S. Chances are, one is near you. This means you can live at home and commute to school without spending too much on gas or wasting too much time on the bus.
Credits (Usually) Transfer to a Four-Year School
In the eyes of most colleges and universities, a college credit is a college credit. Whether you took Psych 101 at a community college or at Harvard, you should be able to transfer it to your four-year degree program. There are some exceptions, however, as we’ll see in the “cons” section.
Flexible Schedules for Work and School
Community colleges focus on serving non-traditional students. Their student populations include large numbers of working people going to school later in life.
Evening and weekend classes mean you don’t have to sacrifice work for school. You can amass credits and savings at the same time, cutting the cost of your four-year degree even more.
Community College: The Cons
First Come, First to Learn
Because community colleges accept most applicants on a first-come-first-served basis, it is possible for them to run out of space in their classrooms — especially as the start of the school year approaches.
Few Niche Majors
Just like at a four-year school, you’ll declare a major and work toward a degree at a community college. But depending on where you go, your options may be limited.
The “big name” majors like English and chemistry will be there. But if you’re interested in more niche subjects, such as anthropology, you may have to wait until you transfer to a four-year school—and by then, you may find yourself behind your fellow students.
Some Credits Don’t Transfer
U.S. News & World Report writes that one in 10 community college transfer students loses nearly all their course credits. When you think about it, that’s only 10%, but it’s still a risk.
Navigating two different college systems at the same time can be tricky, especially if the two schools don’t have a formal agreement in place. Some schools will have GPA requirements for transfer credits, as well.
If you have your heart set on a particular four-year college but plan on starting with community college, be sure to plan well ahead of time for transferring your credits. Make sure you understand the process and what’s expected of you. Otherwise, you may end up retaking courses.
Just Doesn’t Feel Like College
Most community college students live off campus. And while community colleges usually offer some student activities and athletics, you probably won’t find the traditional “dorm-life” atmosphere you’ve heard so much about.
Creating a Backup-Backup Plan
Community college is a reliable college backup plan, but it isn’t your only option. You can, for example, look at schools with rolling admissions, reach out personally to admissions departments, or simply take a year off and try again next year.
If you’re looking for an affordable school in Indiana with flexible admission deadlines, consider Indiana University–Purdue University Fort Wayne. Check out our viewbook by clicking on the link below.