Whether you had your heart set on going to the same college as your best friends or you’ve been dreaming of having a specific alma mater for as long as you can remember, whatever the reason, it stings when your Plan A college choice falls through. As you consider your other options, I’d like to present one you may not have considered: community college.
While you may have heard about the community college option before, you might not know the full story. Most of what you hear about community college is that it is a cheaper alternative to a four-year institution. While the financial benefits are true (which I’ll get into later), they are only one of many benefits available to community college students. The other big community college opportunity that you may not have considered? Transfer.
Community College is the Path Back into Your Dream School
With the exception of a few schools (I’m looking at you, Princeton), community college students have the ability to transfer into any school in the country after just two years of course work. So if you had your heart set on an Ivy League school or your local state college, community college is your second chance for admission. In fact, you might even have a statistically higher chance of getting into a four-year school as a transfer student than you did as a high school senior. Last year, I compared the freshman acceptance rates to the transfer acceptance rates of 20 randomly selected schools from a Top 100 Universities list and found that, on average, students have a 30% greater likelihood of being accepted as a transfer student than as a freshman applicant.
Statistics aside, if you want to transfer from community college successfully, you are going to need the right strategy. The major component of a successful transfer strategy is course selection. The courses you take in community college and the grades you earn in those classes are the single most important aspect of your transfer application. You should have a 3.5 GPA or higher to be a competitive applicant at colleges with highly selective admissions, and above a 3.0 GPA for other institutions depending on their selectivity. When it comes to your courses, you should be taking courses that (A) fulfill your community college’s associate’s degree requirements, and (B) prepare you to start as a junior in your major after you transfer. You could use a tool like Transfer Bootcamp to automatically find the best courses for transfer or you could look up the courses that your transfer institution requires of its freshman and sophomore students and attempt to take similar classes at your community college. When all is said and done, if you perform well in the right classes, you can continue to earn your bachelor’s degree at the schools of your choice.
Choose Community College, Not Student Debt
Hindsight is 20/20, and the same rule applies to student loan debt. The situations that cause many students to take on unnecessary amounts of student debt may sound familiar: maybe you were accepted into your dream school, but received significantly less financial aid than expected, or perhaps you were rejected from your top choice and the back-up schools required you to take on student debt. This is one of those “what do I do now?” moments that occur all too frequently. The fact is, you don’t have to choose student debt, because community college is always an option. With an average full-year tuition cost of just $2,076, plus access to federal financial aid and scholarships, spending two years at a community college and then transferring could save you over $55,000 in tuition and fees alone compared to a private college.
Now, just because community college is cheaper than a four-year school doesn’t mean that you’re getting a lower caliber education. Community college professors hold master’s degrees and PhDs, and some of them even teach part-time at top-tier universities. What makes a community college education less expensive than a four-year college education is the lack of the bells and whistles of traditional colleges (sports stadiums, student housing, etc). With all that said, if you find yourself in a situation where your options are debt or community college, choose community college!
Combine transfer with the financial benefits of community college, and you’ve got a powerful education strategy that could open up a myriad of doors. All of this, and I haven’t even scratched the surface of opportunities for community college students (scholarships, internships, career pathways, etc). Hopefully, you’ll strongly consider the community college option and, who knows, you might just end up at your dream school after all.Diane Melville is Founder & CEO at Transfer Bootcamp and the author of “The Community College Advantage: Your Guide to a Low-Cost, High-Reward Community College Experience.” Find her on Twitter @DianeMelville Image credit: calaware.org