Whether you’re making plans for after your high school graduation or thinking about a career change, the question, should I attend community college? has likely crossed your mind.
With good reason too. These two-year public colleges award associate degrees and certifications, help students finish general education courses and kickstart rewarding careers.
Reasons to Attend Community College
Associate Degree Holders Make More than High School Graduates
Earning an associate degree will help you earn more than you could with only a high school diploma.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), associate’s degree holders had median weekly earnings of $887 in 2019. Employees with a high school diploma earned just $746. That’s a difference of $7,332 per year.
Even if you start at a community college and don’t graduate, you’d still out-earn those with only a high school degree. Workers with some college, no degree had median weekly earnings of $883 in 2019.
You’ll Have an Easier Time Finding a Job
There are More Good Jobs Available for Associate Degree Holders
A study from Georgetown University in 2017 found that America is seeing a shift toward skilled-services industries. That means more good jobs for those with some college or an associate degree and fewer for those with only a high school degree.
From 1992 to 2016, there was a 3.2 million increase in good jobs for associate degree holders and a 940,000 increase in good jobs for those with some college but no degree. High school graduates experienced a decrease of 1 million good jobs during that same period.
To see just how good of a job you can get, check out our list of the highest paying jobs you can get with an associate degree.
There are Lower Unemployment Rates for Associate Degree Holders
Community college graduates experience lower unemployment rates than those with only a high school diploma. The unemployment rate for associate degree holders in 2019 was 2.7% vs. 3.7% for high school graduates. This follows a trend the BLS sees year-after-year: as educational attainment increases, unemployment rates decrease.
It’s Cheaper than a Four-Year School
Starting at a community college and then transferring to a four-year university to finish your bachelor’s degree will save you a lot of money.
Let’s see just how much:
Published tuition and fees for full-time undergraduate students for the 2020-2021 school year
- Public two-year in-district college: $3,770
- Public four-year in-state: $10,560
- Public four-year out-of-state: $27,020
- Private nonprofit four-year: 37,650
Spending your first two years at a community college versus a public four-year college costs an average of $13,580 less. The savings compared to attending a private university are even more massive at $67,760.
Of course, how much you’ll pay for community college tuition also depends on where you live. For example, prices range from as low as $1,430 in California to as high as $8,600 in Vermont.
It’s a Good Way to See if College is Right For You
The switch from high school to college-level work can be hard for students. Especially if you’re spending tens of thousands of dollars a year at a four-year university and feel pressured to take a full course load so that you graduate on time.
Community college can help ease the transition to college-level work. You can take a full semester or just one or two classes. If you need help, community colleges offer tutoring programs, office hours, and classes on study skills and time management.
If it turns out that college isn’t the right fit for you, at least you gave it a shot and only invested a minimal amount of money.
It Can Help You Figure Out What You Want to Do
Deciding what you want to do with your life when you’re a teenager can feel overwhelming. Many four-year schools expect students to know what major they want to study. Community college is a useful tool that you can use to help you figure out your career path before shelling out lots of money for your education.
Some community college students just take general education courses to stay on track while they explore different career options in their free time. Others might spend a semester trying out a few different options until something clicks. Either way, you’re able to find yourself and figure out your career goals with only a minimal investment.
Fields of study you might find yourself studying at community college include:
- Automotive Technology
- Baking and Pastry
- Building Construction Management
- Cabinet Design
- Computer Science
- Criminal Justice
- Dental Hygiene
- Early Childhood Education
- Graphic Design
- Massage Therapy
- Medical Assisting
- Medical Laboratory Technician
- Paralegal Studies
- Respiratory Therapist
- Wildlife Management
Community College Offers Flexibility for Working Adults and Student Parents
Most community colleges cater to commuters—with no or limited on-campus housing available. This creates a different type of college culture than you’d find at a big university or a tight-knit private school. It’s a school culture with more flexible class options and with more students of all ages.
This makes community college a great option for working adults and student parents. You can complete classes online, take night classes, pay for just a few credits at a time, or schedule classes around your work schedule.
Some community colleges are planning to do a lot more for student parents by offering specialized programs. Here are a few examples:
- Arapahoe Community College in Colorado: No-debt healthcare apprenticeship program for student parents where the parents get paid to try out a career in healthcare
- Everett Community College in Washington: Weekend College for Parents program where parents take weekend-only college courses and have access to drop-in childcare
- Dallas College: Funds to help student parents afford non-tuition expenses like nursing uniforms and GED testing
Before Attending Community College, Know This
Community college certainly does sound great, but there are two things you should know before signing up for your first class.
1. Your Credits Might Not Transfer
If you’re going to community college intending to transfer to a four-year school, you need to plan ahead. Not all community college credits will transfer to every four-year college/university or count for every academic program.
Talk to the school you want to transfer to before starting at community college. Find out ahead of time which classes will transfer and which won’t. In some states, community colleges and public state schools already have transfer agreements in place that you can find on the state school’s or community college’s website.
Having a transfer plan ahead of time will ensure that you’re not spending money or time on classes that won’t help you earn your bachelor’s degree.
2. It Isn’t Always Cheaper
In general, community college saves you thousands of dollars compared to a four-year school. However, if your ultimate goal is to attend a four-year school, it’s still worth applying to a few—especially some nearby options.
Some private universities offer generous financial aid packages and merit-based scholarships to incoming freshmen. Even if a four-year school looks more expensive on paper, it might not be. You could qualify for need-based financial aid like federal grants, state grants, school grants, and/or scholarships. It might even be enough to cover the cost of tuition while you live at home or the full cost of attendance.
Apply to a few, file the FAFSA, and see what happens. If those options are still too expensive, community college will still be there.
Final Thoughts On “Should I Attend Community College?”
Community college provides students with a cost-effective way to launch a new career or complete the first half of a bachelor’s degree. Earning a degree there can help you earn more, secure a better job, and save money too.
If you do decide community college is right for you, go into it with a plan in place. Maybe it’s a plan to help you pick a major within a year. Or a transfer plan so you can transfer to a four-year school without losing any credits. Perhaps your plan is to take one class, so you can figure out how to balance parenting, school, and work.
For more helping deciding whether or not you should attend community college, check out these articles:
- What College Should I Go To?
- Should You Take a Gap Year Because of Coronavirus?
- What is the Average Dental Hygienist Salary?
- Can I Get Student Loans for Trade School?
- The Top 15 Highest Paying Trade Jobs
- How to Pay for College
Compare the Best Student Loan Refinance Rates
Here are our top student loan refinance picks for 2019
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College Ave: College Ave Student Loans products are made available through either Firstrust Bank, member FDIC or M.Y. Safra Bank, FSB, member FDIC. All loans are subject to individual approval and adherence to underwriting guidelines. Program restrictions, other terms, and conditions apply. (1)The 0.25% auto-pay interest rate reduction applies as long as the borrower or cosigner, if applicable, enrolls in auto-pay and authorizes our loan servicer to automatically deduct your monthly payments from a valid bank account via Automated Clearing House (“ACH”). The rate reduction applies for as long as the monthly payment amount is successfully deducted from the designated bank account and is suspended during periods of forbearance and certain deferments. Variable rates may increase after consummation. (2)$5,000 is the minimum requirement to refinance. The maximum loan amount is $300,000 for those with medical, dental, pharmacy or veterinary doctorate degrees, and $150,000 for all other undergraduate or graduate degrees. (3)This informational repayment example uses typical loan terms for a refi borrower with a Full Principal & Interest Repayment and a 10-year repayment term, has a $40,000 loan and a 5.5% Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): 120 monthly payments of $434.11 while in the repayment period, for a total amount of payments of $52,092.61. Loans will never have a full principal and interest monthly payment of less than $50. Your actual rates and repayment terms may vary. Information advertised valid as of 1/27/2021. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation.
ELFI: Subject to credit approval. Terms and conditions apply. To qualify for refinancing or student loans consolidation through ELFI, you must have at least $15,000 in student loan debt and must have earned a bachelor’s degree or higher from an approved post-secondary institution.
LendKey: Refinancing via LendKey.com is only available for applicants with qualified private education loans from an eligible institution. Loans that were used for exam preparation classes, including, but not limited to, loans for LSAT, MCAT, GMAT, and GRE preparation, are not eligible for refinancing with a lender via LendKey.com. If you currently have any of these exam preparation loans, you should not include them in an application to refinance your student loans on this website. Applicants must be either U.S. citizens or Permanent Residents in an eligible state to qualify for a loan. Certain membership requirements (including the opening of a share account and any applicable association fees in connection with membership) may apply in the event that an applicant wishes to accept a loan offer from a credit union lender. Lenders participating on LendKey.com reserve the right to modify or discontinue the products, terms, and benefits offered on this website at any time without notice. LendKey Technologies, Inc. is not affiliated with, nor does it endorse, any educational institution.
CommonBond: Offered terms are subject to change. Loans are offered by CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS # 1175900). If you are approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your credit profile, your application, the loan term selected and will be within the ranges of rates shown. All Annual Percentage Rates (APRs) displayed assume borrowers enroll in auto pay and account for the 0.25% reduction in interest rate.
Splash Financial: Terms and Conditions apply. Splash reserves the right to modify or discontinue products and benefits at any time without notice. Rates and terms are also subject to change at any time without notice. Offers are subject to credit approval.com
Earnest: To qualify, you must be a U.S. citizen or possess a 10-year (non-conditional) Permanent Resident Card, reside in a state Earnest lends in, and satisfy our minimum eligibility criteria. You may find more information on loan eligibility here: https://www.earnest.com/eligibility. Not all applicants will be approved for a loan, and not all applicants qualify for the lowest rate. Approval and interest rate depend on the review of a complete application.
Earnest’s fixed-rate loan rates range from 3.89% APR (with autopay) to 7.89% APR (with autopay). Variable rate loan rates range from 2.50% APR (with autopay) to 7.27% APR (with autopay). For variable rate loans, although the interest rate will vary after you are approved, the interest rate will never exceed 8.95% for loan terms of 10 years or less. For loan terms of 10 to 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 9.95%. For loan terms over 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 11.95% (the maximum rates for these loans). Earnest variable interest rate loans are based on a publicly available index, the one month London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR). Your rate will be calculated each month by adding a margin between 0.26% and 5.03% to the one month LIBOR. The rate will not increase more than once per month. Earnest rate ranges are current as of April 23, 2019 and are subject to change based on market conditions and borrower eligibility.
Auto Pay Discount: If you make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic, monthly deduction from a savings or checking account, your rate will be reduced by one quarter of one percent (0.25%) for so long as you continue to make automatic, electronic monthly payments. This benefit is suspended during periods of deferment and forbearance.
The information provided on this page is updated as of 04/23/19. Earnest reserves the right to change, pause, or terminate product offerings at any time without notice.
Earnest loans are originated by Earnest Operations LLC. California Finance Lender License 6054788. NMLS # 1204917. Earnest Operations LLC is located at 303 2nd Street, Suite 401N, San Francisco, CA 94107. Terms and Conditions apply. Visit https://www.earnest.com/terms-of-service, e-mail us at email@example.com, or call 888-601-2801 for more information on our student loan refinance product.
Ascent: Ascent’s undergraduate and graduate student are funded by Bank of Lake Mills or DR Bank, each Member FDIC. Loan products may not be available in certain jurisdictions. Certain restrictions, limitations; and terms and conditions may apply. For Ascent Terms and Conditions please visit: www.AscentFunding.com/Ts&Cs. Rates are effective as of 11/1/2023 and reflect an automatic payment discount of either 0.25% (for credit-based loans) OR 1.00% (for undergraduate outcomes-based loans). Automatic Payment Discount is available if the borrower is enrolled in automatic payments from their personal checking account and the amount is successfully withdrawn from the authorized bank account each month. For Ascent rates and repayment examples please visit: AscentFunding.com/Rates. 1% Cash Back Graduation Reward subject to terms and conditions. Cosigned Credit-Based Loan student must meet certain minimum credit criteria. The minimum score required is subject to change and may depend on the credit score of your cosigner. Lowest APRs require interest-only payments, the shortest loan term, and a cosigner, and are only available to our most creditworthy applicants and cosigners with the highest average credit scores.
*The minimum amount is $2,001 except for the state of Massachusetts. Minimum loan amount for borrowers with a Massachusetts permanent address is $6,001.