Community colleges are a popular choice for adult students who return to their education after a long period of time. These schools have also seen an uptick in enrollment from students who have just graduated high school and are looking to continue their schooling, but aren't ready to leave home or want to save money.

Over the past decade or two enrollment at two-year schools has expanded. Additionally, with each passing year, more and more options are being integrated into the community college setting to better meet the needs of a more diversified population, making it an attractive alternative to four-year schools.

Despite this growth, community colleges still have a stigma attached to them that somehow implies an inferior education is received, but nothing is further from the truth. Many students today are realizing the myths surrounding community colleges aren't true and have become more inclined to apply to these schools.

 English: A picture of the entrance to the CA building at Northern Virginia Community College (Annandale Campus)
Credit: By BrianAdler (Own work) CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

What is it about community college that is becoming so attractive and why might these two year institutions be the best choice? Essentially, it comes down to what a person's individual goals and objectives are as he or she shapes his future. Solid reasons why starting and education at a community college might be the best choice include:

1. Finances

Hands down, community colleges are far more affordable than four-year universities. The tuition is a fraction of the cost and the other mandatory fees are also less expensive. If finances are tight, starting one's education in a community college is an excellent choice to help reduce the debt acquired over the course of the degree program. For instance, the core general education courses are pretty much the same at both two-year and four-year schools, but the price tag attached to each shows the biggest difference. Why pay more for equivalent coursework?

No debt
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2. Flexibility

Community colleges provide a fantastic level of flexibility. With traditional classrooms or online classes, students have plenty of choice in how they want to learn. In addition, most community colleges offer day, evening and weekend classes to fit any kind of schedule. Many offer satellite campuses, bringing education closer to home.

As another benefit, students can also take as little or as many credits as desired with no pressures of having to pull a full-time course load while working or taking care of their families.

3. Transition

Some students simply aren't ready to head off to the dorms or engage in a full-time curriculum. A two-year school offers an individual a great opportunity for a period of transition and growth. At the end of the two-year journey, an associate’s degree or a one-year certificate is earned. These credits earned can later be applied to a four-year degree program.

4. Open Admissions Policies

Many students put themselves under a lot of pressure applying to universities. Since there are a good number of colleges which are highly competitive and limited applications accepted, this generates a lot stress. Not only is applying to a four-year university a lot of paperwork, there is also the chance of rejection or being wait-listed.

With community college, there is no worry about this anxiety because students are generally accepted with no problem; the paperwork is significantly less complicated also. Students can often walk in the door, file an application, register for classes and pay their tuition and fees (they also can defer payment until the due date). All of this can be accomplished in a matter of minutes. Students don't have to wait for several months to find out whether or not their application has been accepted.

5. Highly Transferable Credits

A terrific benefit of community college is the credits are typically highly transferable to other universities. This advantage allows students to reap the numerous other benefits the programs offer and then enter a transfer school as a third-year student, continuing towards a bachelor degree.

It is rare credits earned from two-year schools aren't transferable, but it's always a good idea to carefully choose courses if the plan to eventually move on to another university. Students should always check with advisors because they can help get them on the right track of what courses to pursue that will apply to the next level of their education.

6. Career Path

Entering a curriculum at a community college gives students a unique opportunity to obtain a degree and also experience hands-on learning. Depending on personal goals, students can choose a curriculum which is geared towards a career and will provide up-to-date training. Many of the courses are designed to provide the tools for skill building and prepare for readiness to move straight into a career setting if this is the path sought.

Or, if a student isn't sure of which path he or she wants to take, a two-year associate degree route offers the opportunity to explore different disciplines without the high price tag associated with four-year institutions. As noted above, credits are highly transferable for students who decide they do want to eventually transfer.

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Not sure which way to go? Going to a two-year school is a great way to explore different disciplines and find the right educational path.

7. Increase a GPA

If a GPA in high school wasn't high enough to be accepted at the university of choice, community colleges offers students a chance to raise that number. Transfer colleges will generally look first to the student's college track record rather than their high school grades. The benefit to this is a second chance at applying to one's dream college, with the additional bonus of earning credits to bring to forward.

8. Professors Focus on Teaching, Not Research

Many professors in university settings are pressed for time because they are involved in other projects outside of the classroom. This is not seen nearly as much in the community college setting; professors are typically very available to their students.

Additionally, many instructors are adjuncts which mean they teach part-time while they hold full-time jobs in their area of expertise. In the community college setting students can get the best of both worlds because not only is classic textbook learning achieved, but also the knowledge of real-life experience from professors is gained. 

9. Location

Students desiring to stay close to, or live, at home find community colleges are an excellent opportunity to do this and still earn a degree. Even if the main campus is a distance, many community colleges offer extension (or satellite) sites where the individual can take courses close to home. Of course, online courses are almost always an option too.

Community college isn't for everyone, but it is the best choice for many students. Before applying to any school it's a good idea for students to think about direction they want to go, including their immediate situation and any goals for the future. After doing this, consider if starting off at a two-year school can provide the path to get there.