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Benefits to Starting a 4-Year Degree at a 2-Year College

By Edited Oct 19, 2015 1 8
Science Building at Westchester Community College in New York State.
Credit: Astrocog/Creative Commons/Attribution-Share Alike

Students have many choices when they make the decision to go to college. With a number of different opportunities, including both on-campus and distance learning, a college degree program can be customized to be as rigid or flexible as a student needs. As one option, many students choose to begin their education at a two-year college rather than heading straight off to the dorms at the four-year universities.

There are several key things to keep in mind when starting your college journey. If you know you will definitely be pursuing your education past the associate degree level, this preparation for your long-term goals will be important. A good option is to start at a community (or junior) college. Here's why:

Two-Year Colleges Aid the Planning Process

While there is some flexibility and time to declare a bachelor degree major, you will want to try to plan accordingly so you do not end up starting over once you transfer. Starting off at a two-year school is the perfect way to accomplish this goal.

Proper planning ensures all the right courses are taken at your community college so you do not have to take many extra courses to meet the four-year degree requirements. Courses taken at a community college are typically highly transferable (especially if they are "general education" courses - which is what you should probably focus on anyway at this point until you are 110 percent sure what your major will be. Even students who think they are sure often change their minds once taking the degree-specific classes).

However, there are usually a handful of courses that do not transfer well, so while registering for your courses, be selective. There is no worse feeling than taking 60+ credits during your first two years of school only to learn many of those credits will not be accepted towards the bachelor degree. If you talk to your academic counselor at your college, he or she can help you construct a plan.

If you already know which four-year university you plan to attend, it is still a good idea to speak with a counselor or admissions representative at that school to ensure the credits you plan to take will be accepted by that institution. It is important to carve your path as one that will enable you to transfer smoothly. Understanding the ins and outs of transfer will also help you prepare better.

Improve a GPA

Not all students excel in high school and, as a result, they struggle to get into highly competitive four-year schools. Most applications are accepted by community colleges due to open admission policies, and this gives a student the opportunity to boost his or her GPA better preparing for his or her transfer.1  Additionally, community colleges often have "handshake" agreements with for their graduates to transfer to either a specific university or an open-ended number of four-year schools.


If you are unsure of what your bachelor major will be, that's OK. Most academic counselors usually recommend a liberal arts or general studies degree to allow exploration in a variety of disciplines.  This guideline also allows you to focus on the aforementioned general education courses, which is what you'll need to take anyway; the majority of four-year degrees will require basic courses, such as math, comp and lit, science, humanities and social sciences.

Comp and Lit textbooks
Credit: Leigh Goessl

Taking required comp & lit courses (or related courses) are often good classes to include in early semesters.

This doesn't mean you can't take any specialized courses. If there is room in your schedule, take an exploratory course or two that you find of interest. If you aren't sure what you ultimately want to pursue, just be careful not to jump into too many of these types of classes initially because they may not apply to your four-year goals once you finalize your degree decision. The main objective should be to try and bring as many credits as you can with you to the next level of your education so you aren't spending excess money and taking unnecessary courses.

If you opt to go the liberal arts or general studies route, there will be enough room for electives which will allow you to explore a few different areas to help you decide on a major. However, if you do have a definitive career goal and already know what bachelors degree you'll be pursuing, carefully choose classes that will apply to your future studies so you don't waste time and money on non-transferable classes.

Real-life Experience Included in the Classroom

Another benefit to attending a community college is you will likely have professors who are working full-time in their area of expertise and teach college courses as a second job. In these cases, you truly get the best of both worlds because you receive classroom knowledge and gain the benefits of learning it from someone currently working in the industry. In today's competitive job environment, this "inside" information can prove to be invaluable as adjunct professors can share first-hand what the real-life experience will be working in your chosen field. Often this is very different than what you'll learn in textbooks. You can use this knowledge to further make your education and career decisions.

Equitable Education at an Affordable Cost

Sometimes people worry they won't receive a high quality education at a two-year university, but this is an untruth; community colleges typically offer excellence in education at a significantly lower cost. U.S. News refers to starting a degree at a community college as the 2+2 plan, noting this route can save thousands of dollars.2 If finances are an issue, or if you want to avoid accumulating high debt, you'll undoubtedly save a lot of money starting at a two-year school and still receive a high standard of learning that is equitable to the same type of courses you'd have to take at a four-year school anyway.

Often the less rigid decision making and lower costs of a two-year school relieve some of the pressures a student starting out has to deal with.  As a result, more focus can be placed on constructing long-term goals; this also helps with making the transition of moving to a four-year university.

According to College Board, in the U.S., over 40 percent of undergraduate students first attend a community college.3 These schools are an excellent jumping point when beginning the higher education journey. I took this route myself and then subsequently worked in a community college for a number of years. During that time I saw many students pave a clear path to their bachelor degrees and beyond.

Community colleges prepare students well for the transition to a four-year university.

SBCA administration, professors and graduating college students of 2012
Credit: Sbcaphil/Creative Commons License/Attribution and Share Alike


Nov 7, 2014 9:50pm
Wish I had considered this route more seriously :(

Hopefully others will take a look at starting at community/2 year college!
Nov 8, 2014 2:58am
Thanks dannyone for reading and commenting. I do advocate community college as a good route, especially if finances are an issue. I had to take one missing "gen ed" class during my junior year of college (and I really didn't see much difference from the other history courses I'd taken at community college - it just cost me a lot more).
Dec 27, 2014 3:18pm
I like the two-year approach followed by the 4 year. Class sizes are small plus your teachers are easier to get a hold of after class. Plus, teachers seem to be more willing to work with students at 2-year schools. Thanks for sharing this article.
Dec 28, 2014 2:44am
Thanks for commenting and sharing your thoughts Browna86. These are good points ( in my experience, many definitely made themselves available immediately after class).
Jan 1, 2015 11:06am
Yes, Leigh, I agree with you about the benefits of community college. This was the route I took. I enjoyed the flexibility of part time classes while I was working and raising my family, as well as the financial savings and the small classes. Also, because I went to high school in the UK I didn't have the necessary high school transcripts to apply to first year university. However, the college admissions process was much simpler than applying to university. I just had an interview with an admissions officer who accepted my GCE exam results from the UK and actually gave me college credit for some of them.
Jan 2, 2015 3:51am
Thanks Lesley for commenting and sharing your experience. Many community colleges do allow the admissions flexibility which I think is so awesome. Nice you were able to gain some credit from your exam too! (I am not familiar with the GCE exam, but it sounds a little like the CLEP test in the U.S.)
Jan 2, 2015 9:33am
I'm not sure what the CLEP test is. GCEs (General Certificates of Education) are external examinations in specific subjects at two levels. Students take "o" levels in between 5 and 10 subjects at the age of 16. "A" Levels are taken in up[ to 5 specialized subjects at age 18 (at this point a student will be specializing in either arts or sciences) and are considered the equivalent of Grade 13 in Canada or sometimes first year college. The exams are created and marked by university examination boards (e.g. Oxford, Cambridge, London) but taken in your own high school.
Jan 4, 2015 4:02am
Thanks so much for the additional explanation. CLEP is also "gen ed" related courses, a few of my college friends also returning to school as adults took them to gain college credit in core subjects. I just looked up the testing and it says there are "CLEP offers 33 exams in five subject areas".
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  1. Bridget Kulla "Advantages of Attending a Community College." FastWeb. 04/03/2009. 1/11/2014 <Web >
  2. "Starting at Community College Can Save Thousands." U.S. News. 1/11/2014 <Web >
  3. "Community College: FAQs." College Board. 1/11/2014 <Web >

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