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How to Not Waste Money on Community College

Abigail Endsley
Abigail Endsley

March 30, 2019

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Every once in a while at Unbound, we hear the phrase: “oh, I don’t need your program. We’re doing community college.” As if community college is the universally-understood #1 best way to save money on college.

Unfortunately… community college is the universally-understood #1 best way to save money on college. Even more unfortunately, community college isn’t the #1 best way to save money on college.

Don’t get me wrong, community college isn’t terrible, and it definitely can knock a zero off your college price tag. But only if you’re savvy about how college (and, more specifically, transfer credit) works.

At Unbound, our goal is to help you avoid college debt at all costs. And if community college can help you do that, we are all for it. We just want to be sure you’re actually saving money, and not wasting your time and effort on classes that won’t actually get you anywhere.

Here are 8 ways to do that.

1. Earn an associate.

There are only 2 reasons to go to community college: if you want an associate degree, or you want to save up transfer credit for a bachelor’s. Both are excellent reasons, depending on what you want to do, but the first path is probably safer.

Community colleges don’t grant bachelor’s degrees. They grant associate degrees. By earning an associate degree, you’re earning the main commodity that college offers. That means you can finish the whole thing at one college instead of earning credit that you hope transfers to a university (which is the best way to accidentally throw away money in community college). Hooray!

2. Or… don’t earn an associate.

If you’re not planning to jump straight into the workforce after junior college (i.e. you really want that bachelor’s), skip the associate.

Associate degrees aren’t designed to transfer into bachelor’s degrees. They’re generally intended to help students prepare for the workforce after only 2 years of college. Thus, they tend to be more hands-on than a bachelor’s, and only a small portion of the credit you earn for one is likely to be accepted by your future school. It’s a rare situation when a full associate degree from a community college transfers well into the bachelor’s program at a state school.

If you’re going to community college as a way to save money on your bachelor’s specifically, skip the associate and stick to only earning credit that’s guaranteed to fit snuggly in your future degree.

3. Take a full-time course load.

You may be surprised to learn, a significant portion of a student’s college debt is actually incurred by working through college too slowly.

Think about it. Many students are getting by on grants and scholarships. Grants and scholarships don’t last forever. After all, the Federal Pell grant dries up after 8 semesters. If you have to enroll for a 5th year, or even just an extra semester, where’s that money going to come from?

Do yourself a favor and finish at a good clip.

4. Or… take a part-time course load.

On the other hand, taking a full-time load may not be the best choice those students who are putting themselves through college on their own dime. Those of us who don’t quite qualify for grants and scholarships have to figure out another way to afford college (and the water bill).

Working is a great way to do that.

Since work and full-time course loads aren’t really simpatico (unless you’re an Unbound student), take your time and work your way through community college at the pace your job allows. It may take longer, but at least you won’t be gathering debt which will haunt you the rest of your life. (You’ll earn lots of good work experience too, which will look great on your future resume!)

5. Go in high school.

Plenty of states offer free community college as dual credit for high schoolers. Is yours one of them? If so, you can potentially save big while getting ahead on college.

Free credit is free credit, and if you can guarantee the dual credit you’re earning will transfer to your future bachelor’s degree, this opportunity could be a steal for you… if you’re ready for it… which is our next point.

6. Or… don’t go in high school.

Not everyone is ready for college in high school. And that is okay.

What if your goal is to be a doctor, but because you aren’t academically ready for your science courses, you finish with an embarrassingly low grade? That won’t look so great to graduate schools. Or, what if you don’t know what degree you want? In that case, you’ll more than likely wind up earning a ton of credit that’s not applicable to your future degree (which wastes a lot of time and money). Either way, you’d be better off spending your time in high school focusing on excelling at your coursework while trying new things outside of school to figure out what you’re interested in.

Free community college is great, but only if you’re ready for it.

7. Avoid remedial coursework.

Remedial coursework isn’t college. Remedial coursework is what’s given to students who aren’t yet ready for college-level subjects. These “pre-college” classes are designed to get students up to speed, but they still cost as much as regular college-level courses would, and they don’t contribute to your final degree. So basically, remedial work is just very expensive high school.

If you want to avoid spending hundreds on remedial courses, there’s a simple solution: pay attention in high school. That really should do it! If you’ve already graduated high school, consider taking a self-study prep course in any subjects you’re less-than-confident in before you apply for your first semester.

8. Avoid community college.

You didn’t expect me to end this post without a pitch for Unbound, did you? 😉

As we’ve already mentioned, transferring credits from community college to university can be annoying and—if you don’t know what you’re doing—dangerous. And working while in college can slow you down, even though it’s a great financial choice.

But what if you could take flexible, online courses that are guaranteed to fit around your work schedule and transfer to the college of your choice? And what if that coursework was also flexible enough to seamlessly blend into high school studies as dual credit (with the added benefit of a coach to help you set your study schedule and make progress)?

That’s Unbound. Through our flexible coursework and credit transfer guarantee, we can help you save thousands of dollars on college without the hassle of community college. You can graduate debt free and, bonus, you’ll do it with the coolest online student community you can imagine.

Forgive me for the shameless plug; I really couldn’t resist.

As I said in the beginning, community college isn’t a terrible option for a student. But when you’re considering spending thousands of dollars on your education either way, wouldn’t you like to do it with a team of experienced college professionals watching your back, ensuring you don’t spend a single dollar more than necessary?

Whatever your preference, our advisors can still help you understand what the best option is for your specific situation. Click here to sign up for a free, no-obligation (and no bias) counseling call with our advisors to discuss your options and make sure you’re making the best college choices for you.

Abigail Endsley
Abigail Endsley

A former student counselor and Unbound student, Abigail is passionate about empowering others to achieve their goals. When she’s not dreaming with her friends, you can find her reading or singing Broadway songs. Loudly.

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