How do you know if community college is right for you?
Community colleges are the bombdiggity. Why would you spend precious tuition dollars on an expensive first year at a fancy college when you can get your basics for a lot less money? (There are, however, some very good reasons why a community college may not be right for you.)
There are several excellent reasons to attend community college prior to continuing on with your degree. Here are a few:
For most students, the first year of college is hyper-organized by theory-immersed student-life staff and academic support specialists. This is because an overwhelming number of students enter college without the academic preparation, maturity, direction, and life and study skills that will help them be successful.
In other words, over-protective and over-indulgent parents combined with underfunded, disoriented high schools and sugared up, over-medicated teenagers, has created a monster of a college freshman year – summer orientation through the following May. College staff and faculty spend an enormous percentage of their time bemoaning the fact that they have to teach incoming students how to 1) behave like a civilized adult, 2) not become addicted to alcohol or prescription drugs, 3) manage their time, 4) write well, 5) think critically, 6) navigate the mind-boggling bureaucracy that characterizes any college or university, 7) adopt a personal and academic code of ethics, and 8) not jump off a bridge because a roommate bullied them about their sexuality.
If you attend a four-year college your first year, you are paying for all of that. You are paying a great deal of money to learn everything you should have learned in high school. For many students, that is money very, VERY well spent. It gets them out of a home situation that may be abusive and intolerable, and it may give them the opportunity to explore who they are in a deeper way than remaining in a home environment will allow. And those are all good things.
But here’s the problem: A great number of students in that position screw up their first year anyway and blow all that money. And there is no way for anyone to tell who is going to be that student who screws up. The top students come in and tank. The weakest students come in and blossom. And absolutely no one can tell in which direction any particular student is going to trend. The only person who MAY know this about you is YOU. And even you will probably be surprised at how well or how poorly you manage the transition.
The two years between junior year of high school and the end of the freshman year of college are critical times for maturing and discovering who you are. Why am I talking about this in relation to four-year traditional college vs. community college? Because certain students would do well to remain at home and enter a rigorous college classroom (yes, community college courses can be quite rigorous) without the distraction of the over-scheduled, over-manipulated, simply overwrought social (read: party) and academic environment that characterizes the first year of a four-year college.
Aside from all of that, attending a community college for some or all of your early college credits is an insanely smart financial decision. There are so many fundamental core courses at a community college that will transfer into most major institutions, why would you pay huge amounts of money to take them at a four-year college, just to 1) get away from home, and 2) participate in the party?
As a college counselor over 15 years, I can say with all honesty, the students who I have always had the most faith in are the ones who present community college courses on their high school or college transfer transcripts. That tells me that the student is probably mature enough to be a safe bet for the four-year community. It also tells me that the student is smart enough to recognize and act on a financially and academically wise decision -- which also tells me a lot about maturity.
The downside to community college is that your college career can easily get sidetracked -- work, your girlfriend gets pregnant, your boyfriend wants you to marry him, your parents keep their (not always healthy) hold on you and continue to encourage you in directions that you don't want to go. The fact is that sometimes success at community college requires a stronger character than success at a four-year college.
So whether you take community college courses in the summers in order to shorten your four-year degree and get into a master’s degree program (which is what counts anymore, anyway), or you complete an associate’s degree in order to transfer it in its entirety and enter college in the junior year, think seriously about the community college option. It may indeed be the right path for you.