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?”
Does the room feel like it’s closing in on you yet?
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 one with a hefty price tag. Altogether, this makes community college an appealing option. It’s closer to home with lower tuition, and you’ll have a more flexible schedule than if you attend a 4-year school.
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:
According to CollegeBoard, the average in-state tuition for a public four-year school is $9,410. If you’re going school out-of-state, you can expect that bill to soar somewhere around $23,893. 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? Keep reading. There are still a few more things you should know.
College comes with a list of expenses in addition to tuition, and it’s up to you to figure out your budget for these things (financial aid packages apply to tuition alone). Some things to consider are fees, books, food, housing, and transportation. CollegeBoard estimates that the cost of books and supplies for one year will be around $1,300. Add that to your tuition and you’re looking at about $9,470 per year.
And no matter what kind of school you choose, the cost of college just keeps rising.
Don’t assume just because you’re attending a community college that you won’t accumulate any student debt. While the odds of leaving school with debt significantly decrease by earning an associate degree from a community college, 41% of students still owe money after graduation. And 21% of students graduating from community college are already over $10,000 in debt.
While some community colleges have a bachelor’s degree program, most only offer an associate or an extremely specialized certificate, such as ASL interpretation or welding. And unless your associate 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.
Which leads to a whole new consideration…
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.
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 associate degree, she ended up having to earn 90 credits. That’s almost an entire bachelor’s degree! Unfortunately, most of those went to waste since they weren’t at the proper level to actually earn her bachelor’s degree.
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, that’s a great idea. Just know it means it’ll 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!
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?
That honestly depends on you and your specific needs. But in our opinion, community college is a bad fit for most students.
If you like the idea of college on your schedule, college without debt, and college customized to your needs, community college isn’t the alternative you’re looking for. What you’re looking for is Unbound.
Starting at only $5,400 a year, Unbound is comparable to community college expenses. But our on-the-go pricing model allows you to earn your degree on your budget. With affordable tuition and flexible payment plans, plus fewer outside fees, 94% of Unbound 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. And 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 already included online, so there are no unexpected fees.
With the amount of flexible, online courses for you to choose from, you can easily earn college credit on a schedule that fits your life and your goals (meaning you won’t have to sacrifice precious work hours for mind-numbing classes).
And you get to do all of this with a cohort 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.