This article is a continuation of “Community College or University? Part 1 — Structure” which you can also find on the Empowerly Blog. In it, I go over the basic structures of post-high school education (private universities, public universities, and community colleges) to provide a brief overview that is to be used as context for this current article. Choosing between private and public universities is a topic of its own, and can be explored by searching for the various blog posts on Empowerly already published; here, I aim to address the benefits and downfalls of universities in general versus those of community college.
Now that you know the basic differences between universities and community colleges, you’re probably wondering which is right 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. Work with a parent, peers, or counselors once you have a firm understanding of the topic to come to a decision; remember, there tends to be a negative stigma around community college as somehow being “inferior”, but don’t let that influence your choices because it couldn’t be further from the truth!
University: Pros and Cons
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, so locking yourself into a university can be a huge relief. Of course, being in college is no excuse to start slacking off, but regardless, not having to worry 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, but 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 from community college 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 and availability 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 may find more readily available to them at universities.
The one (obvious) downfall to attending university for four years as opposed to attending community college for two years and university for two 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!
Community College: Pros and Cons
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.
One con about community college, slightly mentioned earlier, 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. Starting right off at a university means you generally never have to worry about college applications ever again, but that’s not true for community college students. 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 financial benefit of community college. Not only that, but if you were to get into a university after high school and decide to go to community college instead, and then fail to get into that university (and similar ones) after applying 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, these things vary; be sure to research what community colleges you would consider before you assume any negatives). To many students, financial savings may not be worth sacrificing two years of a premium experience.
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!