Community College vs. University: Which Is Right for You?

community college vs university

The community college vs. university debate is something that will most likely go on as long as they both exist. Some argue that universities have better courses and a higher standard of teaching than a community college, but that is untrue. There are many great community colleges out there that will provide you with the education you need in a shorter amount of time.

Did we also mention that you can also save a bunch of money while you attend community college? There is no need to worry if you find yourself at the crossroads between a four-year university and a local community college; we’ve got your back. In this brief article, we will go over the differences between the two institutions so you can make the best decision for yourself!

Community College vs. University

Before we get into the significant differences between a community college vs. university, we should go into each of these institutions. A community college, also known as a junior college, is a two-year institution that provides affordable education. Many people go to two-year community colleges before they go into a university to help save on some of the costs associated with going to a four-year college.

A community college contains excellent resources. Your community college can help you get the required GPA you need to transfer into your dream university.

These junior colleges also offer certificate programs if you decide you do not want to pursue a degree. Most students go to a junior college if they have an interest in a trade job such as being an electrician or a plumber. Some students prefer only to receive their associates through a community college before they enter into a workforce.

What Is a University?

A university, also known as a four-year college, is an institution where you can earn your bachelor’s degree. There are a few community colleges that offer bachelor’s programs.

For the most part, if you want to get your bachelor’s, you will need to attend a four-year university. Another significant difference between a university and a community college is universities offer graduate programs.

Benefits of Community College

One of the most significant benefits of going to a community college is saving a ton of money. The tuition at community colleges is generally lower than most four-year universities.

Transfer With Ease

As mentioned earlier, some students go to a community college first before they transfer out. There are some community colleges and universities that have agreements with one another.

These agreements allow community colleges to guarantee admission into specific four-year institutions. These students get to transfer immediately after completing their associate program.

When you start your college journey at a community college, you get your college credits at a lesser cost. For example, certain universities charge you around $500 per credit hour. Community college only charge around $120 per credit hour.

Another huge win for community colleges is that you won’t have to worry about living on campus. Most universities require their new students to live on campus.

Living on campus can cost thousands of dollars a semester. You can save on housing costs by commuting to your local community college from your house.

Community Colleges Provide Flexibility

If you need more flexibility in your already busy schedule, you may want to check out your local community college. Most of these two-year institutions have night and weekend classes for you.

This is great for students who work or who plan to work while they are in school. This also helps out those non-traditional students, such as parents who want to get back into school.

If you want to only go to school part-time because you want to balance between work and school, you have that option available to you as well. You may need to take a few extra semesters of school to complete your degree plan. Although it may take longer to complete your degree plan, you will at least have balance in your schedule.

Not Ready for a Four-Year?

Some people in this world graduate high school knowing exactly what career path they want to take. Some of those careers require a four-year institution. There are others who know where they want to be, but their career path does not require a bachelor’s.

For example, some jobs only require you to have a certificate or an associate degree. If your career path only requires an associate’s or a certificate, community college is the place for you. Even if you are unsure where you want to go, community colleges are an excellent way for you to explore while still saving you money.

The last thing you want to do is commit to a four-year university, complete your degree plan, and absolutely hate your career path. 20% to 50% of students enter college unsure of what they want to do, and about 75% of students end up changing their major at least once throughout their college career. If you are unsure, you should attend a community college to gain a better understanding of what career path you want to pursue.

Less Competition

A lot of students prefer to attend a community college because there is less competition. In a four-year university, students constantly compete to be at the top of their class or have the best grades possible.

Community college classes tend to be smaller and are more supportive than the cut-throat competitive environment that a four-year university has. If you are someone who needs a little more time to develop your academic skills, then going to a community college may be the best choice for you.

Prepares You for Your Career

Another major reason to go to a community college is to help prepare you to find a job in your field of choice. As mentioned earlier, you may have a career path in mind that only requires a two-year post-secondary education. Starting at a community college can help prepare you for the expectations of a four-year school versus you attending a four year right after high school.

Community College Cost

As stated earlier, the most significant difference between a university and a community college is that community colleges cost less. The College Board reports that the average annual cost for tuition at a community college is around $3,500.

The average cost of a public four-year university is about $9,400 a year for in-state students. Out-of-state students at four-year public universities pay around $23,000 a year for their tuition. Students who attend private universities average around $32,000 a year for their education tuition.

Due to these significant differences in costs of universities, many students choose to complete a two-year program at their local colleges before transferring. If you don’t want to rack up student loan debt, you may want to consider going to a community college.

Admission Requirements

Another significant difference between a junior college and a university is the admission requirements. The requirements for a community college are a lot less strict than their four-year university counterparts.

Most junior colleges have open admission policies, meaning that anyone who graduates high school and applies to the college receives an acceptance letter.

Depending on your career path, there may be a few requirements. For example, if you want to go into law enforcement, nursing, or engineering technology, you may need to have a certain GPA, or you may need to take an exam before applying.

University Admission Requirements

Almost everyone knows how competitive it is to get into certain universities. They have a particular reputation to uphold, so they only accept the best of the best. When you apply to these universities, you may quickly find that they only accept certain GPAs and test scores.

Depending on where the university is located, you may have to take your SAT or ACT. Some universities accept either one, whereas others prefer to use one score over the other.

These exams help tell the colleges how prepared you are to take on college-level courses and certain universities want students who are well above average. You may need to meet other application requirements, such as completing essay questions or needing several letters of recommendation.

Living Arrangement Differences

As stated earlier, if you decide to go to your local community college, you won’t have to pay for additional housing. Junior colleges are a lot smaller than universities, so there are no on-campus apartment complexes or dorms.

Most students live at home with their parents, or they get their own apartment with roommates. Universities usually have on-campus complexes and dorms and typically require you to live on campus during your first year. This extra housing cost can run you around an additional $10,000 a year.

Class Sizes Differ

Community colleges have smaller classes than universities do. As stated earlier, this is an added benefit that many community college students like because they get more one-on-one time if needed.

It is not uncommon for universities to have more significant class numbers. These classes can have between 150 to 300 students, which means that you will have to wait to meet with the professor or you will have to speak with the teacher’s assistant. Community colleges usually have between 25 to 35 students in each class, making it easier to get the attention you need from your professor.

Academic Quality in Each School

In the past, receiving a degree from a junior college was extensively looked down upon. Many people thought that if you attended a community college, it was because you did not get into any top universities when this is not true.

Over the past few decades, community colleges have become more and more popular. Their classes are similar, if not the same, as a university’s courses.

These classes are equally as challenging and on par with what a university student would take. Community colleges require their professors to have their masters or a doctoral degree in what they teach before teaching on campus.

Community College Cons

Although there are many great benefits that a community college has to offer, there are a few cons that you may want to consider. For example, there aren’t many competitive sports teams at community colleges.

Some junior colleges do have competitive teams, but for the most part, most of them do not. There are still clubs and other organizations that students can get into if they want to be more involved in their school.

Meal Plans and On-Campus Housing

As mentioned above, community colleges do not have any on-campus housing or meal plans because they are smaller schools. Most students live at home and commute to their classes.

A few community colleges have cafeterias on campus, but for the most part, they do not. If anything, they may have vending machines or other snacks on campus for you to have between your studies.

Fewer Scholarships 

Community colleges rarely offer scholarships. Most of these schools also do not offer any work study programs to offset the cost of tuition. This means that most students pay as they go. You still have the option to use any grants or student loans received from the government. You also can obtain private loans if needed. 

Four Years vs. Two Years

Obtaining your associate’s or your bachelor’s degree is great, depending on where you want to be in your career. If you want to save more money and still receive an excellent education, you may want to opt for a community college.

If you want to learn more about different college facts and essential information you need to know before you apply, check out our blog! We have a ton of great information for you to check out, so you are well informed before making any major college decisions!

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