Is Community College
Better Than University?
Are you interested in enrolling in a higher education institution? It can be quite overwhelming trying to choose degree programs or even picking a specific field of study. For some people, it’s hard to even find the time to juggle a career while pursuing a college degree.
You’ve probably heard of associate degrees before. These degree programs are offered mainly by community colleges. There are multiple advantages of pursuing an associate degree, including time, costs, and flexibility.
If you’re not sure what an associate degree or a community college is, our complete guide will help you. Below is everything you need to know about community colleges.
Community College: An Overview
Whether you’re fresh out of high school or you’re already in the workforce, pursuing continuing education is one of the best ways of finding better job opportunities. Community colleges offer associate degrees and certificates that will help you remain competitive in the job market.
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explain what community colleges are and which types of degrees they offer. We will also explore what you can do with a community college degree and how it can help you if you want to pursue a bachelor’s degree or enroll in graduate school.
Additionally, we’ll also tell you the advantages of attending a community college, as well as explaining the main differences between community colleges and universities.
Below are some interesting facts about community colleges, based on research conducted by the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC).
Community College Facts
- There are over 1,000 community colleges in the United States. The AACC reports that these institutions awarded over 1.5 million degrees in 2018-19.
- Professionals holding an associate degree earn approximately 16 percent more than those who only have a high school diploma.
- The average tuition for community colleges is $3,770 per year, which is almost three times cheaper than the average university tuition.
- More than half of the undergraduate students enrolled in community colleges are women, and over 55 percent of all students are under 22 years old.
- Only 28 percent of public community colleges offer on-campus housing to students.
What Is a Community College?
Community colleges are higher education institutions that offer continuing education to students who just graduated high school or for adults looking to switch careers or refine their skills. These institutions usually offer two-year programs that award an associate degree and shorter programs that award students with a diploma or certificate.
What Can You Study at a Community College?
As mentioned above, you can pursue an associate degree at a community college. However, that’s not all you can do. These institutions also offer short-term courses that award vocational certificates, as well as continuing education programs.
Below we’ll explain each program in detail.
Associate degrees are undergraduate programs that offer courses with the objective of introducing students to certain fields of study and refining their technical skills. The main difference between an associate degree and a bachelor’s degree is the time it takes to earn them.
Full-time students at community colleges can earn their associate degree within two years, whereas university students take at least four years to complete their majors.
In case you’re not looking for an associate degree, community colleges also offer one-year certificates. These short-term programs focus on providing hands-on experience to students interested in working in specific industries or other skilled trades.
These programs will award you a professional degree and are a great way to prepare you to join the workforce.
Career Studies and Continuing Education
Other program options you can enroll in at community colleges are career studies and continuing education. As its name suggests, career studies are programs that will help you prepare for specific jobs. These programs are ideal for students who already have previous work or learning experience in their chosen field.
Continuing education classes are programs that help experienced students refine their skills or gain new skills, in case they want to switch career paths. It’s important to note that these programs don’t offer credits.
Some community colleges offer transfer programs. If you enroll in one of these programs, you’ll complete the regular two-year program at a community college and study for another two years at a university. However, not all states offer these programs.
California has one of the most well-developed transfer programs in the country, called Degree with a Guarantee. If you earn an Associate Degree for Transfer (ADT) in a community college in California, you’re guaranteed to get into one of the schools in the University of California or California State University system.
Community College Benefits
For some students, saving time and money are the two main benefits of community colleges. However, there’s more to these institutions than just that.
Benefits of Going to Community College
- Community colleges will award you a degree in approximately two years. This means that you’ll get to join the workforce sooner than university and college students.
- Their degree programs will teach you the essential skills and knowledge you need to pursue a career in your field of study. That is, you won’t have to enroll in random courses just to fulfill your program’s minimum credits requirements.
- The tuition costs of community colleges are significantly lower than university tuition and fees. As we mentioned, community colleges can be three times cheaper than universities and colleges.
- If you already work in your chosen field, these institutions offer short-term, continuing education programs that can help you upgrade your skills and gain valuable new ones.
- In case you’re unable to dedicate much of your time to education, community colleges are a great option because of the flexibility they offer. You can be a full-time or part-time student in these institutions.
Should You Go to Community College or University?
Whether you should attend a community college or a university will depend on your goals, needs, availability, and financial situation.
For instance, if you’ve just graduated high school and want to get used to the pace of higher education, enrolling in a community college is a good option. But if you don’t want to waste a single minute before getting your bachelor’s degree, you can go straight to college.
Those who have joined the workforce right after high school and now want to pursue an education can enroll in community colleges, junior colleges, or technical schools. In these three institutions, you can refine your skills and gain new technical skills.
Community colleges are especially popular among information technology workers, such as network engineers. That’s because having an associate degree will make a big difference when these professionals apply to entry-level jobs.
Below we’ll discuss three key differences between community colleges and universities.
Degree Program Timeline
The most pronounced difference between community colleges and universities is the timeline of the degree programs they offer.
If you attend a community college, you can get your associate degree in approximately two years. The other programs that these institutions offer usually award your degree in less than a year.
Universities, on the other hand, will offer programs that last a minimum of four years. Graduate degree programs in these institutions, such as master’s degrees and doctoral degrees, also last longer than programs at community colleges.
Another major difference between these two higher education institutions is that universities offer on-campus housing to students, whereas most community colleges don’t.
As its name suggests, these institutions are based in the community and most students will commute from their own homes. However, as we mentioned in a previous section, approximately 28 percent of community colleges in the United States have dorms.
One of the reasons attending a community college can be much more affordable than going to university is that there’s a large difference in infrastructure between these two types of institutions.
Some university campuses are so large that students may even need satellite navigation and cars to get from one department to another. Community colleges, on the other hand, are much smaller in terms of campus size. In fact, some of these institutions are located on a single block and only have one building.
Transferring From Community College to University
If you wish to pursue a bachelor’s degree at a university, we have good news for you. When you complete your associate degree program, you can transfer your credits to a university.
This is a great option for students who wish to enroll in university after graduating from a community college. However, it’s important to keep in mind that universities won’t accept all of your credits. Some universities usually accept 30 to 60 transfer credits. This number will vary from institution to institution.
Another positive factor is that some states have already developed guaranteed transfer programs. Guaranteed transfer programs are partnerships created between universities and community colleges, and they make your transfer process much simpler.
If you studied in Maryland and Arizona, for instance, you can easily transfer your associate degree credits to one of those states’ universities.
It’s also important to note that transferring from a community college to a university will not affect your GPA at your new institution. Your transfer credits will count towards your degree, but your GPA will start over once you’ve transferred schools.
Community College vs For-Profit College
For-profit colleges are institutions that, as the name suggests, have profit-making as their goal. They operate similarly to businesses and the profit they generate goes into advertising, marketing, and paying shareholders and owners.
Community colleges, on the other hand, are funded by the government and by the tuition that students pay. The profit that they generate then goes into paying employees’ salaries and investing in student services, such as dorms.
The main similarity between for-profit colleges and community colleges is that they offer two-year programs. Even so, for-profits are more expensive than community colleges and their graduation rates are much lower than those of nonprofit universities and colleges, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).
Choosing the Right Community College
If you’re graduating high school, enrolling in a community college is the first step towards your professional career. Since universities struggle to prepare students for the workforce, community college is often the safer bet for career-oriented students. Still, with hundreds of institutions to choose from, you must make your decision carefully.
Below we’ll list three factors to consider when selecting the right community college for you.
The very first factor you need to consider is the location of the community college. These institutions are based in communities and most students already live in the region.
If you already have a job, you’ll want to study somewhere that is near your home or your work to make commuting easier.
If you already have a program in mind, your search for community colleges will narrow. You’ll have to consider which institutions offer your desired program, and of these, which are the best.
If you’re still unsure of what you’re going to study, we recommend selecting a school that offers a wide range of programs to choose from.
Financial Aid and Tuition Costs
Although community colleges are cheaper than for-profit colleges and nonprofit universities, they’re still pretty expensive. Tuition is an important factor to consider when choosing an institution.
In addition to making sure that the tuition costs fit your budget, you can also look for community colleges that offer scholarships or that qualify for financial aid.
Choosing the Right Associate Degree
If you still don’t know which associate degree you’ll pursue, there’s nothing to be worried about. Depending on your situation, we have tips to help you choose the right associate degree.
If you’re about to start your undergraduate career, take your interests into consideration. Are you interested in math, literature, or medicine? Even if you’re not sure which associate degree to go for, you can still take courses that pique your interest.
If you’re already in the workforce, take your field into account. Are you interested in upgrading your skills and gaining new knowledge? Or are you looking to switch your career? If you work in information technology and want to apply for a job as a data scientist but don’t have a degree, you can pursue an Associate Degree in Data Analytics or related fields.
Community College Admissions
Once you choose the best community college for you, the application process is basically the same as for universities but simpler.
Choose an institution. Fill out the application form. Pay the application fees. If the school requires it, send a copy of your high school transcripts.
That’s it. See how simple the process of applying to community colleges is?
Community colleges have an open admissions policy, which means that anyone who has a high school diploma or a GED certificate can apply, although it doesn’t mean they’ll get accepted. Keep in mind that each institution has its own admissions requirements.
Most institutions don’t usually require ACT or SAT scores, but some do. Most community colleges won’t require vaccination records, proof of health insurance, or financial information, but some institutions may require these, so be prepared to get your documents ready.
How Much Does Community College Cost?
We’ve mentioned in previous sections that community colleges are approximately three times cheaper than universities and colleges. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that these institutions are inexpensive.
According to NCES, the average annual cost of tuition and fees at a two-year public institution is $3,812. It’s worth noting that this value doesn’t include other costs, such as books and housing, among others.
In case you need to finance your education, below we’ll show you some options.
Federal Financial Aid
You can get federal financial aid to help finance your studies at a community college. The process works the same way as it does for students who are enrolling in a four-year university or college.
The federal government offers grants and loans to students applying to community colleges. If you are awarded a grant, you don’t have to pay it back to the government. Pell Grants and Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants are two options to consider.
If you get a student loan, you need to pay it back to the government. Loans are ideal for students in financial need who haven’t been awarded grants or scholarships and for students who can’t demonstrate financial need.
When you get a student loan from the government, you need to pay back the total amount plus interest. If you can prove financial need, the government will pay the interest. If you’re not getting a loan based on financial need, you’ll have to pay the interest.
Undergraduate students enrolled in community colleges or universities can borrow up to $12,500 per year. According to the US Department of Education, you have a six-month grace period after graduation to start repayments. The monthly payment needs to be at least 50 percent of the monthly payment that your loan provider determined.
If student loans are not something that you’re interested in, you can always try to win a scholarship. Most community colleges offer scholarships to students, and you can also try applying for state-sponsored scholarships.
Montgomery College in Maryland, for instance, offers merit-based scholarships, financial need-based scholarships, alumni scholarships, and programs for high school students who are taking classes at the college.
Private Student Loans
If you can’t get a federal student loan, you can try to get a private student loan from a bank, a credit union, or even from the school you’re applying to. The main difference between these private loans and federal loans is that federal student loans have more benefits, such as fixed interest rates.
Private student loan repayment plans, interest rates, and postponement options will vary based on who you’re borrowing the money from.
Another type of financial aid is work-study programs. The federal government offers these programs to students who demonstrate financial need. If you get into one of these programs, you’ll get a part-time job either on or off campus.
The Federal Work-Study Program (FWS) is a great way of financing your education and getting relevant work experience because it prioritizes finding jobs in your field of study.
Overview: Most Lucrative Associate Degree Careers
It’s not unusual for students to question whether getting an associate degree is worth it. Lots of people believe that enrolling in community colleges is a waste of time if you can just as easily go to a university.
That couldn’t be farther from the truth because associate degree careers can be pretty lucrative. Earning this degree will help you get better jobs than you would if you had only a high school diploma. You will also get to join the workforce in less time than university students.
Below we’ll show you the seven most lucrative associate degree careers. All the data in the table was sourced from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
|Profession||Median Annual Wage|
|Air Traffic Controller||$130,420|
|Nuclear Medicine Technologist||$79,590|
|Diagnostic Medical Sonographer||$75,920|
|Funeral Home Manager||$74,200|
The High-Paying Associate Degree Jobs
Below we’ll briefly talk about each of the highest-paying associate degree jobs, including the expected job growth between 2019 and 2029. Like the table above, all the data was sourced from BLS.
Job Growth: 1%
Air traffic controllers are the professionals responsible for controlling and monitoring airport runways and also managing the movement of aircraft in the air. Their tasks include monitoring the weather and informing pilots, issuing instructions for pilots during landing and takeoff, and controlling arriving flights.
This profession is expected to have many professionals competing for few job opportunities in the upcoming years.
Job Growth: 7%
Radiation therapists are health professionals who work closely with cancer patients and other patients who need to undergo radiation treatments.
They operate radiation machines, protect patients from exposure to radiation, and calibrate the machines that are used in their treatment.
The demand for radiation therapists is expected to grow by seven percent between the years 2019 and 2029, especially in areas with an aging population.
Job Growth: -19%
If you earn an Associate Degree in Nuclear Science, you can get a job as a nuclear technician. These professionals help engineers and other nuclear research professionals.
They also work in nuclear energy production. Nuclear technicians are usually responsible for monitoring the levels of radiation and instructing staff on safety procedures.
There’s a lot of negative sentiment concerning the use of nuclear energy when there are other alternatives that are environment-friendly. Because of that, available jobs are expected to decline by 19 percent between 2019 and 2029, according to BLS.
Job Growth: 5%
Different from nuclear technicians, nuclear medicine technologists work with radiation in health services. They’re responsible for administering radiopharmaceuticals to patients. These professionals also operate imaging equipment such as scanning equipment and CT scanners.
Because this profession involves working with radiation, workers retire earlier and leave open job positions. According to BLS, job openings in this profession are expected to grow by five percent between 2019 and 2029.
Job Growth: 6%
With an Associate Degree in Dental Hygiene, you can work as a dental hygienist. These professionals perform multiple tasks, including educating patients about oral hygiene, applying fluorides, and removing tartar and stains from patients’ teeth. Their work is supervised by a dentist.
While getting entry-level jobs in this profession can be quite difficult due to large competition, this profession is expected to grow by six percent from 2019 to 2029.
Job Growth: 17%
If you’ve never heard of diagnostic medical sonographers, that’s because they’re also known as diagnostic imaging workers. They are the professionals who operate imaging machines such as ultrasound machines and echocardiographic machines.
Out of all professions listed above, this is the one expected to grow the most. Image examinations are still highly requested by physicians, and many patients prefer these scans because they don’t involve radiation. Because of that, demand for these professionals is expected to grow by 17 percent between 2019 and 2029.
Job Growth: -6%
Funeral home managers, or funeral service managers, are responsible for organizing funeral preparations. Their tasks include preparing the body for the funeral as well as filing legal documents such as death certificates.
According to BLS, many customers now prefer cremation over traditional burials. Therefore, job availability in this profession is expected to decline by six percent between 2019 and 2029.
Online Community College
In case you’re unable to be on campus for classes, you have the option of enrolling in an online community college or enrolling in online programs offered by regular community colleges.
Most community colleges will offer online programs, which are a great option for students who have to juggle their studies with their professional careers. The advantage of these programs is the flexibility it gives you in terms of your class schedule and learning pace.
Now, if you enroll in an online college, there’s another advantage than just the flexibility of being able to choose when you’ll study. These online colleges don’t have a large infrastructure, so the tuition costs are automatically cheaper.
If you’re choosing a community college, budget and time may be two factors that will make a big impact on your decision. In that case, online community colleges may be ideal for you.
Should You Attend a Community College?
If you want to join the workforce as a skilled professional as quickly as possible, then yes, you should attend a community college. These institutions offer associate degree programs that take approximately two years to complete.
If you’re already working, but want to refine your skills and remain competitive in your field, you should also enroll in a community college. In addition to associate degrees, many of them also offer one-year certificates and trade school diplomas that will make a real difference on your resume.
Another reason why you should attend a community college is that they’re considerably more affordable than four-year universities and colleges. These institutions also allow you to have more control over your learning pace, and you can opt to be a part-time student.