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What's a community college?

Read our guide to community colleges, covering how they differ to traditional universities, community college lifestyle and what you can achieve by studying an associate’s degree...

What is a community college?
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When one thinks ‘higher education in America’, thoughts immediately jump to spending four years in a university environment. However, there a number of alternative options which are becoming just as accepted and viable for those wishing to pursue higher education in the States, the most notable being community college.

 

What is a ‘community college’?

A community college is a smaller education provider which is usually located so that students who cannot move far away from a suburban environment can still pursue further education. For many domestic students, this is a wonderful option to have if they have a relative or young family whom they cannot leave alone; this way they can still live at home if necessary, and travel to campus for classes. As a result, community college is a popular option for mature students or those returning to study after a break. This means that you can expect to meet fellow students with a wide range of backgrounds and circumstances, which is always very interesting.

You can view community college as either a step between high school and university, or an affordable alternative to university itself (especially if you have a tight budget).

 

What can you study at community college?

Students can choose classes from a broad range of subjects, similar to those which they might study at high school. However, they can choose to specialise in a particular subject, which may influence what they wish to study at a later stage.

Students at community college can achieve an associate’s degree in two years. Then if they wish to, they can transfer to a university to get their bachelor’s degree after a further two years of study. This is known as the ‘2+2’ route (two years at college plus two years at university). The way this works is that the material a student covers in two years at community college prepares them to join an undergraduate degree halfway through. However, this will depend on what you want to study at university, and you will be required to take certain classes at community college so you can join at this later stage and keep up. Therefore, if you have a rough idea of what you may want to study at university later, consider this when you choose your classes at community college.

 

Overcoming negative perceptions

In the past, community colleges have unfortunately had a bad reputation for being for those students who weren’t strong enough to be accepted into a university, or that they have inferior facilities. However, perceptions are changing, especially in America where alternative routes into desired careers are now being taken and students are appearing more open-minded. Plus due to economic downturns, many students cannot look to their family to fund their studies at university and therefore seek out an associate’s qualification at community college. The depiction of community college in media has also changed, with TV programmes like Community offering a new perspective.

 

TV shows like Community are changing how people view community college in America and around the world
TV shows like Community are changing how community colleges are perceived in America and around the world.

 

Cutting costs

One of the great things about community college is that the degree programmes last for two years. This means more affordable tuition and earning a degree in half the time of a four year university! If a student still wishes to pursue university-level study, an associate’s degree can be put towards a bachelor’s, usually resulting in only two more years of further study to achieve the degree. This cuts the cost of a bachelor’s by half. By attending both community college and a university at undergrad level, the student spends less than a student who attends an undergraduate university for the entire four years!

Community college also features a variety of technical, vocational and formal fields, which a university focusing on a particular, core area will lack. This allows the student to earn a degree in less time, but ultimately prepares them for the job market, often with hands-on training and experience for a career after graduation.

Plus, because class schedules at community college are flexible, students can work part-time to earn money for rent, living costs etc. Living costs in a smaller town may also be lower than they would be in a large city where most universities are located. Many domestic students choose this option so they can still live at home and pay less in rent (or nothing at all).

 

Social aspect

Community college doesn’t necessary involve the traditional university experience of living in dorms, football games or sororities and fraternities, but instead creates a smaller academic environment which suits some better. So if you don’t mind forfeiting these for the financial benefits, then community college could be just for you!

Community college can be considerably less overwhelming for students who are quieter or shy (especially coming from another country with limited English skills). Community college can be a good stepping stone to a university campus atmosphere if a student chooses the 2+2 route described above.

For international students, the smaller, tight-knit community may be more appealing, with more staff support available on a campus with less students. Community college students can still take part in clubs, activities, work on campus and even study abroad. Increasingly, community colleges are working hard to replicate as many of the university elements but on a smaller scale.

Furthermore, community college attracts domestic students from a wider variety of backgrounds and experiences which have brought them to community college (as opposed to university where most students have simply come directly from high school). Therefore the stories, ideas and attitudes you're likely to encounter will be more interesting (especially since more and more international students are choosing the community college option).

 

Accommodation at community college

On-campus accommodation usually isn’t offered by community colleges, which mean domestic students can save money by living at home. This also means that mature students won’t have to completely change their living circumstances and uproot other family members. However, for international students this cost needs to be factored in. Depending on the location of the community college, cost of living may be cheaper or more expensive than attending a traditional four year university in the USA. On-campus housing is sometimes available though this will be very limited and sometimes there will be extra charges for students wishing to arrive early or continue living there between term breaks.

Plus you may want to consider the social benefits. With more students living off campus and more spread out, you won’t have the same social aspect as you would on a university campus where mostly everyone (in first year) live, study and socialise in one spot.

 

Finding a community college

You can search for an associate’s degree or community college through us! Check what fellow site users have said about a college in student reviews, or click through to their website or contact the college to ask a question directly.

When it comes to researching further, you can check the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) or this ranking table of colleges, compiled by College Measures and CNN

 

Applying to community college

There aren’t any significant differences for international students when applying to a community college and an associate’s degree can help when applying for a bachelor’s degree. It’s a great way to work your way up to a university. If you are coming off having studied in the US for two years, this can be a solid precursor to studying at university level and support your university application (e.g. you can refer to your experiences so far studying/living in the US and show that you have managed to support yourself thus far). Ultimately it’s up to the student, and what options they have when earning their degree. Community college is an excellent choice in earning a higher education degree in the USA, as it will provide unique opportunities and experiences for international students.

 

Some community colleges to get you started...

Broward College

Valencia College

Tallahasse Community College

 

 

Now that you know more about community colleges, browse associate's courses in America available now.

 

 

 

Learn more, watch our interview...

Watch clips from our Google Hangout with a former community college student from abroad; Taro answers the following questions:

‘What classes can I take at community college?’

‘Should I go to community college first?’

‘What’s the difference between community college and university?’

 

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About Author

What is a community college?

Paul Ellett is the editor for Hotcourses Abroad. His role is to plan, produce and share editorial, videos, infographics, eBooks and any other content to inform prospective and current international students about their study abroad experience. When he's not thinking about student visas in Sweden and application deadlines, Paul is an avid fan of comedy podcasts and Nicolas Cage films.

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