By Alicia Thomas
Chances are, you didn’t grow up wearing T-shirts and hats adorned with the mascot or logo of your local community college. Most people don’t grow up daydreaming about one day attending community college, but when the time comes to graduate, tons of collegiettes realize that it’s a better alternative for all kinds of reasons. If you had your heart set on your dream school and ended up in community college -- or if you made the choice on your own from the get-go! -- then you should read these reasons why community college is actually awesome.
1) Your wallet will be so much less empty
Whether they’re public schools or private schools, in-state or out-of-state, colleges carry a seriously scary price tag. But at community colleges, the cost of attendance is much cheaper. Based on a study by The Center for College Affordability & Productivity, an independent nonprofit research center in Washington, D.C., “tuition levels for [community college] students are seldom much more than one-half of what they are at four-year schools.” Specifically, the CCAP cites that students at community colleges “save, on average, $4,183 in tuition over public four-year institutions, and $22,741 when compared to private four-year schools.”
For the first two years of college -– whether at a liberal arts college, a state school or a community college –- most students are fulfilling general education requirements before they start the classes that directly relate to their major. These credits really don’t relate to your degree, they just have to be knocked out of the way before you can graduate! So why wouldn’t you take them somewhere cheaper? You can save tens of thousands of dollars by spending your first two years in a community college, taking courses like English 101 or Basic Math that you’d just be taking in a four-year school anyway.
Brandon Farestad-Rittel, a financial whiz at the popular discount website Gift Card Granny, says there are definitely monetary benefits to going to a community college. “The primary financial advantage of attending a community college right out of high school is definitely the cost of tuition,” says Farestad-Rittel. “The advantages of paying less in tuition for community colleges also extend to your future plans. When you aren't saddled by massive student loan payments for years after graduation, you get a head start on other important purchases like a car or house.”
Abby Akers, a junior at Harrisburg Area Community College in Pennsylvania, agrees with Farestad-Rittel. “It’s inexpensive and convenient,” she says. “You can pay as you go, you can have a full-time job while you’re taking classes because they offer a lot of night and evening slots, and more often than not you graduate without student loan debt, too, because it’s cheaper and there are payment plans to work with you.”
“Paying as you go,” as Abby put it, is a great way to avoid hefty interest rates on student loans as you gain your education. At Henry Ford Community College in Michigan, this is referred to as “EZ Pay,” which is a tuition management plan that helps you budget your tuition and other educational expenses. You make monthly payments without interest, and the amount you’re paying each month is flexible. Lots of community colleges offer programs like these to help graduates start off their career without any debt. At both HFCC and San Jacinto College, a community college in Texas, the only extra fee incurred with these installment payment plans are a $25 charge to enroll for the payment plan online. Much better than paying thousands to borrow money for a pricey state school or liberal arts college!
Derrek Thomas, a senior at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania, also started his education at HACC before transferring. “I worked a full-time job while taking a full course load and ended up making more than I was spending on the tuition,” Derrek says.
2) If you’re still living at home, everyone else is jealous
Okay, we’ll admit that living in a dorm for the first time can be pretty cool because you get to make new friends. But whoa, dorm life is expensive! The price you pay for residence hall life -- from the dorm itself to a meal plan to the campus activity fees and everything else that’s included -- is sky-high. At home, you (generally) don’t have to pay for any of that! You’ve got Mom’s home-cooked meals, free living, and usually free laundry. Maybe your parents make you do chores around the house, but chances are that you aren’t going to have to cover the cable bill or do the household grocery shopping every week.
Not everyone who attends community college lives at home; lots of students have their own apartments. But those who do get to commute to school from their own home every day are getting a pretty sweet deal.
“I had a few friends who had awkward situations with their roommates or with the people living next door to them in the dorms, and I never had to deal with that,” Derrek says. “I got to come home and fall asleep in my own bed, use my own shower, and [I] never really felt like I was missing out on any kind of really necessary college experience.”
Another perk? You certainly don’t have to share a bathroom with a full floor of co-eds like you would in a dorm. No flip-flops in the shower! And you can sit around in your rattiest pajamas without worrying about running into cute guys on the way to the dining hall for breakfast. It’s a win-win!
3) You have time to think about what you want
At a four-year state school, and even more at a private liberal arts school, there is a lot of pressure for students to figure out what they want to do with their lives right away. They have to choose a major so that they can plan out which gen eds they need to take and how many as well as which courses they should plan to take to work toward their degree. In your first two years of school, you’re only 18 or 19 –- you’re supposed to know what kind of job you want when you graduate?
At a community college, you have time to take your courses and think about what you want to do without being pushed to choose a major, a minor and a career plan right away. Even if you’re only in a two-year program, you have the opportunity to explore interests that don’t relate to your major at a much lower cost when you’re attending a community college verses a state school or liberal arts college.
“Lower tuition at a community college allows you to try some different classes and figure out what degree you want to pursue without worrying about expense as much,” says Farestad-Rittel. “Many students at state or liberal arts schools feel locked into a major because it's too expensive to sacrifice credits and make a change.”
So many people switch majors in college. As we mentioned earlier, Derrek started out at a community college, then transferred his credits to Bloomsburg. When he started at HACC, he thought he wanted to major in civil engineering, but by the time he transferred to Bloomsburg, he knew that marketing was right for him. “It took me a few classes to figure out civil engineering wasn’t something I really wanted to be doing,” Derrek says. “Because I wasn’t paying a ton for the classes I was taking like I might be at a bigger school, I was able to switch majors pretty easily to something I like more and I’m a lot better at.”
If you’re worried about whether or not the credits you’re taking at community college will apply toward the degree you hope to eventually earn at a state school or liberal arts college in the future, don’t fret! “Lots of community colleges work closely with area state colleges or universities to ensure credits transfer directly,” says Farestad-Rittel. “Taking your basic requirements at a community college is a great way to avoid paying a premium for these tedious classes.”
So instead of paying thousands of dollars toward a major you’re not so sure about, community college allows you to pay loads less while you figure out what you’re truly passionate about.