Copyright

Community College vs. University - The Big Differences

college

If you are wondering whether to attend a community college or a university, you should have a solid understanding of the major differences between the two. Keep reading to get the lowdown so you can make an informed decision about the next step in your education.

Two Types of Schools

As a prospective college student, you probably have an idea of what field you want to enter and perhaps which degree you'll need. Beyond that, though, you may be faced with quite a few choices when it comes to your education. One of the biggest decisions you'll make is choosing between a community college and a university. In this post, we'll take a look at the big differences between these two types of schools so you have the information you need to make a smart decision about your future.

Difference #1: Degrees and Programs Offered

First on the list of differences between community colleges and universities is the type of degrees and programs offered. Community colleges are sometimes referred to as '2-year colleges' and mostly offer associate's degree programs that you can typically complete in two years or less, depending on enrollment status (i.e., full or part time). According to an article on Learn.org, associate's degrees can be used on their own for jobs that require a 2-year degree or to prepare you for transfer to a university. Most community colleges also offer short-term certificate and diploma programs that train you for a specific career.

On the other hand, universities generally offer programs that result in bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees and take longer to complete (4+ years). Both community colleges and universities offer a variety of programs of study, but universities typically have a much larger range of options and sometimes have smaller colleges within them (e.g., College of Education; College of Performing Arts).

ponderingstudent

Difference #2: Cost

Alongside degree programs, cost is probably the biggest difference between community colleges and universities--and one of the main factors when it comes to choosing a school! That said, community colleges are much cheaper than universities; in fact, the College Board reports that the average annual cost of tuition and fees for a public 2-year college is $3,440 for in-district students. However, according to the same source, the average annual cost for a public 4-year university is $9,410 for in-state students and $23,890 for out-of-state students. For a private 4-year university, you can expect to cough up $32,410 per year in tuition and fees. The differences are crazy, aren't they?!

Due to these huge price differences, many students choose to complete a two-year degree program at their local community college and then transfer to a university to complete their studies and earn a higher degree. Just remember that if you're thinking of doing this, always check to make sure your credits and degree will transfer when the time comes.

Difference #3: Admission Requirements

Community colleges typically have much less strict admission requirements than universities. In fact, many have open admission policies, meaning any person who graduates high school and applies gets accepted. However, certain community college programs may have stricter admission requirements, such as those in nursing, law enforcement, allied health and engineering technology.

Universities tend to be much pickier when it comes to admissions, which means you better be ready to do more than just submit an application. For example, Purdue University has admission requirements that include taking certain courses and earning certain grades in high school, completing essay questions, receiving a minimum score on the ACT or SAT, and more.

studentsongrass

Difference #4: Living Arrangements

Another big way community colleges and universities differ is in living arrangements. Community colleges usually don't offer housing to students, but universities almost always do in the form of dorms and on-campus apartment complexes. Meal plans are also offered at most universities. This on-campus living adds another dimension to the overall cost of school and is known as room and board. According to the College Board, you can expect for room and board to tack on about $10,000 per year at public 4-year universities and roughly $11,500 per year at private 4-year universities.

Students who attend community college often live at home and drive to school, which can save money. However, some community college students must move closer to school, which leaves them in charge of rent and food. Depending on location, this may or may not be higher than room and board at 4-year universities.

Difference #5: Class Sizes

Class size is also something to consider when deciding on a community college or a university. Universities tend to have much larger class sizes due to the amount of students that attend the school, and this can mean less one-on-one attention from teachers for you. Since community colleges usually have a much lower overall student population, class sizes are also much smaller. In fact, according to an infographic created with information from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), the average class size at community colleges ranges from 25-35, while classes at universities can have 150-300 students! If you enjoy one-on-one teacher attention, this can have a huge impact on your school decision.

femalelaptop

Final Thoughts

Now that you have the major differences between community colleges and universities laid out in front of you, you should have a clearer idea of which type of school will work best for you and your individual needs. Remember to keep in mind the differences between degrees, cost, admission requirements, living arrangements and class sizes when making your decision.

By Erin Riskey
October 2017
college postsecondary education options

Never miss an update

Support