Graduating from high school is a big deal, but now there’s more. Now you have to decide whether you’re going to go to a four-year university, or stay local and study through the first two years of college at a community college.
When you make this tough decision, consider what it will mean for you in the long run. With the increasing cost of tuition, it may mean a mound of student debt when you graduate. No matter how strongly you feel about being prepared for the debt, it washes all away when you receive that first bill and determine how many years it will take for you to pay off your student loans.
There are of course many reasons to go to a university; however, these four may tempt you to obtain the first couple years of your education at a community college.
You’ll Save Money
Well, obviously. Community colleges are considerably less expensive than a four year institution. A typical community college tuition in California will cost about $900 per year. Tuition at a California state school (CSU) will cost approximately $6,500 per year, and tuition at a UC (University of California) is about $13,000 annually. If you’re considering an independent or private school, you’re looking at $30,000+.
Take those amounts and add in the cost of room and board. If you go to a CSU and are living on campus, room and board will cost almost about $10,500, while that at a UC will cost about $13,000. You can assume to pay almost $10,000 for room and board at a private/independent school. Room and board typically includes a meal plan, but that may not cover all of your costs associated with food and entertainment when living on campus. These figures are all thanks to CaliforniaColleges.edu.
If you decide to go to a state school, the least expensive scenario (if community college is not a factor), you can expect to pay is in the $70-80k range for your entire college education in just tuition and room and board. These numbers will fluctuate slightly depending on on or off campus housing arrangements. Add another $~20k if you turn your four year degree into a five year one.
You’ll Save Time
Starting your college education at a community college can be a huge time saver. At this type of institution, you’re inclined to take only your general education requirements. These are classes that everyone must take in order to graduate. Each course is designed to hit one fundamental aspect of courses they offer at the Major level.
General educational classes are intended to help you figure out what you want to major in. Naturally, you will finish these classes at a community college and possibly dabble in some elective courses. The general courses take about two years to complete, and after these two years at a community college you’re ready to move to a four year university with a major in mind to complete your degree.
When you are applying to a four year university, they ask you what your major will be. This happened to me. I applied to multiple four year universities (all UC), and each asked me for my major. Well, I believed at the age of 17 that I wanted to be a doctor, so I indicated biology. I got in to my top pick and instantly started taking major coursework. That was the worst mistake I could have made.
Even though I was a bio major (which in hindsight I should have been undeclared), I should have started my general education classes just to get my feet wet. Instead, I took the most challenging classes and was failing. My counselor begged me to find a new major. I did, but I wasted one whole year, so my four year education quickly turned into five.
I hope that my experience can help you make solid decisions, one way or another, about how you’ll spend the first two years of your college career.
The transition from high school to a community college is a lot easier than going to a university campus. Community colleges are not quite as big as four years, and they are typically in your home town, something that creates comfort for a lot of people. The lecture halls are not as big, meaning the class sizes your first two years are a little more intimate. Additionally, you’ll find that talking with your professors during their office hours will be easier and less intimidating. Many people learn a lot about themselves in the first couple of years after high school, so the comfort of staying in town where you know many people may be appealing.
Live at Home
If you have supportive parents, chances are that if you decide to go to a community college they won’t kick you out of the house when you turn 18. Although dorms are fun and attractive, there are disadvantages that are covered in the advantages of living at home. You can save money on food, laundry, and other general living expenses. Your parents may require a small fee for staying with them, but it’s safe to bet that it won’t be nearly close to how much you would pay if you were at a four year university. Remember, at a state school you can expect to pay about $10k a year for room and board, whereas if you’re at home the cost would be less than half of that.
Do you have other compelling reasons to go to a community college vs. a four year institution during your first two years? If so, please share your thoughts in the space below.