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What You Need To Know Before Enrolling in Community College

Kristen Austgen
Kristen Austgen

July 22, 2016

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It’s that time of year again. That time of year when school has been out just long enough for the high of graduation to fade. The graduation ceremonies are over, the parties are winding down, and that surreal feeling of summer has settled in.

And with the thrill of graduation comes the inevitable question:

“What are your plans after high school?”

If you’re still considering your options at this stage, this question can make the room feel like it’s closing in, ready to suffocate you.

Because the truth is: Huge life decisions are hard. And college can feel like one of the biggest decisions ever for a young adult. Beyond that, college is expensive. A worthy investment, to be sure, but an investment with a hefty price tag.

Which is what makes community college such an appealing option. It’s closer to home, with a lower tuition, and you’ll have a more flexible schedule than if you attend a 4-year school.

Win/Win/Win/Win, right?

As always, knowledge is power. Here are eight things you should know about community college to be confident it’s really the right choice for you:

Tuition

According to CollegeBoard, the average tuition for a public four year school is $9,410. Keep in mind that this is in-state tuition. If you’re going to a school out-of-state, the tuition will increase—a public four-year school averaged $23,893 for out of state students. And those are just averages. Depending on what school or state you choose, the tuition could be even higher.

At a mere $3,435, the tuition at community college seems like a huge savings, right? Well, keep reading. There are still a few more things you should know.

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Expenses

Even if you qualify for financial aid, keep in mind that it only contributes to your tuition. College comes with a list of expenses that aren’t covered under tuition, and it’s up to you to figure out your budget for these things. Some things to consider: fees, books, food, housing, and transportation. CollegeBoard estimates that the cost of books and supplies for a year at a community college will be around $1,300. Add that to a yearly tuition of $3,435 and the total rises to: $9,470 for your estimated two years.

And no matter what kind of school you choose, the cost of college just keeps rising.

Debt

Don’t assume just because you’re attending a community college that you won’t accumulate any student debt during your time there. CollegeBoard found that the odds of you leaving school with debt does significantly decrease if you earn your associates degree from a community college. However 41% of students still owed money after graduation. And 21% of students graduating from community college were already over $10,000 in debt.

Curriculum

While some community colleges have a bachelor’s degree program, most only offer an associates or an extremely specialized certificate, such as ASL interpretation or welding. And unless your associates degree is for an incredibly specific job—like an air traffic controller, or a dental hygienist—it’s not much more than a stepping stone to a bachelor’s.

Of course you can take community classes and transfer your credits to another school. But…

Transferring Credit

It’s important to make sure the school you plan to attend will accept your transfer credits. Some won’t. For instance, even if you’ve already taken a specific class, you may have to take it again simply because the college you’re transferring to won’t accept the credit.

Scheduling

Community colleges generally offer night classes and online classes to give you more flexibility. But if you don’t enroll in the classes you want as soon as possible, they may fill up, leaving you scrambling to figure out what credits you can take that semester.

I have a friend who couldn’t get enrolled in the classes she needed to graduate because those classes were constantly full. She needed to stay enrolled for insurance reasons and to get “priority enrollment” for her classes, so instead of earning the usual 60 credits for her associates degree, she ended up having to earn 90 credits. That’s almost an entire bachelor’s degree!

Class Offerings

Expect your community college to have a smaller variety of classes than a four-year school. Before you enroll, check and see what the college offers and make sure you’ve considered whether or not they have enough of the classes you want (or need) to take. After all, if they don’t have what you need to eventually get your bachelor’s, you’ll just be wasting time and money.

Time vs Money

If you’re planning to work and go to school part time, know that this means it will take you longer to earn your degree. It’s the horrible work/study tug of war. Time spent sitting in a classroom could be spent working to pay off the price of your degree; time at work could be spent studying to earn your degree. It’s like a cat chasing its tail!

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Is there a better choice?

So, is community college the most inexpensive, more reliable, most flexible way to get your education, even if you manage to avoid all these potential pitfalls?

No. It’s not.

If you like the idea of college on your schedule, college without debt, and college customized to your needs, Unbound is the alternative you’re looking for.

And we have the numbers to prove it:

Starting at only $2,500 a year, Unbound has three levels of enrollment, so you can earn your degree with a price tag that fits your budget. With affordable tuition and flexible payment plans, plus fewer outside fees, Unbound has helped thousands of students graduate without debt.

With Unbound, you’ll work with an Academic Advisor to figure out which classes are the best for you and for your degree. We guarantee every credit you take will transfer before you take it.

With a catalog of over 36,000 courses to choose from, your options are truly unlimited. No more being unable to enroll in a course because it’s full or waiting another semester for that class you wanted to take. Additionally, all the books you need for your Unbound courses are included in the price of the course. This significantly reduces the number of several-hundred-dollar textbooks required by your degree.

We provide you the tools to easily earn your college credit on a schedule that fits your life and your plans. Meaning you won’t have to sacrifice precious work hours for mind-numbing classes.

And you get to do all of this with a crowd of like-minded individuals you connect with for reasons beyond that random class project you both have to work on.

Community college might be exactly what you need, and if it is: that’s fantastic! But the most important thing to know about community college is this: It’s not the only option available to you.

If you’d like to learn more about Unbound and how it works, just click here.

Kristen Austgen
Kristen Austgen

Kristen wrote and published her first novel, Futility, in 2013. When she’s not helping direct plays or working on her next book, she loves sipping tea, playing with her beagle, and chatting with aspiring authors.

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