The Benefits And Costs Of Attending A Community College

By Ashley Henshaw. May 7th 2016

With the cost of college tuition rising sharply in the past decade, more and more students are looking to get the most out of their educational investment without going into serious debt. Community college offers one option that could save students money. However, there are potential trade-offs when it comes to the reduced price of attending community college. Any student considering community college should carefully weigh the benefits against the costs to decide if it’s the right option to pursue.

Benefits Of Attending A Community College

There’s one glaringly obvious benefit to attending community college: cheap tuition. According to FastWeb.com, at many community colleges, tuition costs less than half of the cost of tuition to a public four-year university and one-tenth of the tuition at a private four-year university. This is a huge monetary benefit, but there are definitely a few other great perks of community college to consider. These include:

  • No Room And Board Expenses: One of the expenses that many students overlook when considering four-year universities is room and board. This expense can cost several thousand dollars each semester, and that’s in addition to tuition. When going to a community college, students generally live at home or on their own, so room and board doesn’t even factor into the costs. That can add up to significant savings every year.
  • Two-Year Degrees: Many community colleges offer shorter programs for certain academic areas, usually in the form of two-year associate’s degrees. That means that a student in one of these programs will be saving on tuition in two ways. First, they’ll spend less by attending a community college instead of a four-year university. Second, they’ll be in college for half the time if they decide to pursue an associate’s instead of a bachelor’s degree.
  • Reduced Transportation Costs: Students may also save money on transportation by attending a community college rather than a four-year university. Since these schools are often located close to the student’s home, they won’t have to travel as far as they might have to as a commuter student to a larger university. Even students who live on campus at a four-year college may still spend more when they have to fly or drive home long distances over breaks and holidays.
  • Ability To Gain Transfer Credits: For students who want to pursue a bachelor’s or a master’s degree, they can still save a lot of money on tuition by getting some of their general credits out of the way at a community college. In many cases, students are able to complete about two years of a four-year degree at a community college and then transfer over to a university to finish their degree. For those who take this route, it’s critical to communicate with the university they hope to attend to make sure the courses they are taking will transfer over for credit.
  • Less Student Debt: Community college students pay significantly less on tuition than students at a four-year university so they tend to graduate with much smaller student loans (or no loans at all). For many students, this can end up saving them thousands of dollars in student interest in the long run. (To learn about student debt forgiveness, see A Guide On Federal Student Loan Forgiveness.)

Costs Of Attending A Community College

While community college is a great value in many ways, there are a few costs that need to be considered, including:

  • Tuition: Just because community colleges are cheaper doesn’t mean that they are for everyone. These schools still charge as much as two thousand dollars per semester in tuition so it’s important for students to consider whether they can afford this cost or if they will need student loans.
  • Limited Degree Offerings: Community colleges don’t have as many degree offerings as a university, and most offer two-year degrees rather than a four-year degree. Students need to research whether a two-year degree will be sufficient in the field that they wish to pursue. For students who find out that they need to get a four-year degree for the job they want, the best option for saving money is to find out if they can use a community college to obtain transfer credits for the first year or two.
  • Limited Campus Life: There are other perks that community college students miss out on such as an active campus life. At community colleges, sports, student organizations, fraternities, sororities and other activities are scarce. Some students simply don’t want to miss out on these activities. However, it’s also important to consider if campus life should be part of your investment in your education. For example, some students want to get involved with leadership roles in various groups or clubs in order to build their resume. If this is an important part of your educational investment, then it may be worth it to attend a four-year university instead of a community college.

Community college can be a wonderful option for students to get a good education without going deep into debt. However, it’s important to think about more than just which school is the cheapest to attend. Students should consider all of the above factors when making a decision about how to invest their money in their college education.

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