Community College or University: Best School Type for You?

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Anirudh Kumar
Anirudh Kumar

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In my last article, we review the most common structures of secondary education (private and public universities, and community colleges). That article provides context for this current article, where we ask: which is the best school type for you? Now, choosing between private and public universities is a topic of its own; in fact, can be explored even on our own blog already! Here, I aim to address the benefits and downfalls of universities versus community college. In the end, this might help you find the best school type for you.

Welcome!

If you know the basic differences between universities and community colleges, you’re probably wondering: which would be the best school type for you? There are a few cases in which the answer is definite; but for most people, it comes down to a matter of preference and what kinds of things are more important to them.

When you begin investigating the best school type for you, work with a parent, peers, or counselors. Once you have a firm understanding of the topic to come to a decision, weigh the pros and cons. Remember, there tends to be a negative stigma around community college as somehow being “inferior;” don’t let that influence your choices, because it couldn’t be further from the truth!

Is University the Best School Type for You?

Benefits of university:

Probably the best part of going straight to university after high school: you’re in! College admissions are arguably the most stressful part of any high school career. After that, locking yourself into a university can be a huge relief. Of course, being in college is no excuse to start slacking off—still, not worrying about college admissions is a great benefit.

Another benefit lies in the consistency of attending university for four years. Those who go to community college will have an abrupt (and often difficult) change when transferring to university. Those who attend from the start will have a lot more time to adjust; classes generally get harder as you progress, so transferring in straight into third-year courses can be a massive pain.

Yet another great thing about universities is the resources and networking opportunities available to you. Clubs, internships, student programs, sports, academics, and like-minded students are all of higher quality and quantity at a university. This, is in addition to broader availability to students, sets this tier apart when compared to the types of resources available at community college. Students looking to get more involved with academics, career searching, sports, community service, and so forth? You may find more readily available to you at universities.

Drawbacks of university:

The one (obvious) downfall to attending university for four years is a massive change in financial costs; community college will cost less than $5,000 each year, whereas public schools average around $10,000... and private schools average much higher, around $30,000! The obvious gap here is why many think it makes sense to go for community college for two years — there are huge savings to be made. Don’t forget costs for housing, food, and textbooks when working the numbers!

Is Community College the Best School Type for You?

Benefits of community college:

As mentioned earlier, one of the biggest advantages of going to a community college is the heavily-reduced tuition costs, making it an attractive option for those open to saving thousands of dollars a year (or even tens of thousands for those considering a private university as the alternative). With student loans being one of the biggest burdens to young adults these days, it’s obvious that saving money can be a huge priority depending on you and your family’s needs.

Drawbacks of community college?

One con about community college is that transferring can be extremely difficult once finished. Ideally, you would want to spend two years at community college and then transfer to a university to complete your degree. The problem is that switching schools is always hard, especially when considering the academic gap between community colleges and universities (on average; look into the specific community colleges and universities you’re considering to get a better picture of your situation). You may find yourself overworked after arriving at university, whether it be accelerated academics, a campus in which you find yourself lost, an overwhelming amount of resources and options, friend groups harder to assimilate into, and so on.

Another thing to consider is applications. As such a student, you will find yourself repeating much of what you did in high school (striving for good grades, going for multiple extracurriculars, writing your best college essays/applications, etc), and many may find the repetition of this stressful process as not worth the savings. Not only that, but if you were to get into a university but decide to go to community college instead, and then fail to get into that university (and similar ones) as a transfer student, you may feel heavily disheartened at losing a valuable opportunity.

The last negative to community college is the quality of education. The reason these institutions charge so little compared to universities has to do with the reduced amount of resources — you may find that many types of classes are not offered, school organizations/sports are limited, and the academics are not up to par with your standards. Again, we’ll say this varies by school. To many students, financial savings may not be worth sacrificing two years of a premium experience.

Conclusion

In the end, it all boils down to personal preference. If money is a priority and you think you can handle the aforementioned negatives about community college, go for it! If having a higher-quality experience and a slight reduction of stress appeals to you more, feel more than free to head straight to a four-year university.

Whatever your choice, don’t fall into any biases against either type of academic institution. Both offer great opportunities and have their individual negatives, so it always comes down to a personal level; whatever you decide is best for you! Don’t forget to read our foundational post for this discussion, the preview of this post, here.

Questions? Let us know!