How Much Does Choosing the Right Community College Really Matter?


Selecting the right community college for your individual needs can make a world of difference in your academic and career success. Use these questions to narrow down your choices and find the community college that will help you make the grade.

Your Post-Graduation Goals

You might choose a community college based on the vocational training or certificate programs it offers. On the other hand, a community college may be a stepping-stone to a 4-year university, if you plan to earn a bachelor's degree. The key to choosing the ''right'' community college is deciding what academic and career goals you want to achieve, then using that criteria to help you find a community college that can meet your needs.

Occupational or Vocational Training

Many community colleges offer certifications in a vast array of fields, such as:

  • Auto repair
  • Criminal justice
  • Computer technology
  • Engineering
  • Environmental services
  • Healthcare technology
  • Security
  • Transportation

People with these certifications average a 20% higher earning potential than those with just a high school diploma. In fields such as information technology, earning one of these certifications can yield higher earnings than earning a bachelor's degree and may cost you considerably less.

A community college certification may mean greater earning potential than a Bachelor

If you're interested in a career certification from a community college, use the following questions to point yourself in the right direction.

Does It Offer the Necessary Certifications?

First research the required or most desirable certifications for your field, and then find out if the community colleges you're considering can award them.

Does It Have the Right Kind of Facilities?

Many professions require hands-on training before you can start working in the field. Ask to tour the training facilities at your prospective community college. Make sure that they're up to current industry standards. You don't want to be taught obsolete procedures on out-of-date equipment.

Are the Instructors Experienced Professionals?

One advantage of community colleges is that they often attract experienced professionals from many fields to serve as professors. While these instructors may not have the same in-depth educational training as teachers at 4-year universities, they often bring invaluable practical skills and knowledge to the community college classroom.

Talk to current and former students in the program and ask for their candid impressions of the school and its instructors. See if you can audit a few classes to decide for yourself before you make a commitment to the training program.

Does It Offer Career Counseling & Job Placement?

Many 4-year colleges and universities have career centers. If you're planning on going straight from your program into a career, familiarize yourself with the job placement resources available at prospective community colleges.

Transfer to a 4-Year College

Perhaps you're considering a career field that will necessitate a 4-year degree. You want to base your bachelor's degree program on the flexibility and economy of a 2-year community college program.

Your community college education can be the foundation for a university degree.

Some community colleges have partnership agreements with 4-year schools, which can facilitate this transition. For example, the public university system in California, which encompasses both the University of California system and the California State Universities, offers the Intersegmental General Education Transfer Curriculum (IGETC) program. Taken at any California community college, the IGETC is a set of courses designed to fulfill the academic requirements for freshman and sophomore years at the public universities in California. Your state may have a similar program.

To find the right community college for your needs, ask yourself the following questions.

Will It Help You Meet Transfer Requirements?

There are many considerations when it comes to transferring the credits you earn at a community college to a 4-year college or university. This article about credit transfer requirements is a thorough guide to the process.

Talk to the admissions offices at both the community college and your chosen 4-year school to avoid unforeseen issues when the time comes to transfer. Ask open-ended questions to get more complete information.

Does It Have the Necessary Accreditation?

You can check the accreditation for any postsecondary institution within the United States using this database from the U.S. Department of Education. Verify the requirements with your chosen 4-year school.

Will It Be Academically Rigorous?

Some students are concerned that their community college experience may leave them unprepared for the academic environment at a traditional 4-year institution. Look for a program such as American Honors to bolster your scholastic skills.

Does It Offer All the Classes You Need?

If you can't find all of your required classes at a community college, or you can't work out the scheduling, consider supplementing your academic program with online coursework that's transferrable to thousands of colleges.

The choice of a community college can shape your future. If you use these questions as a guide, you can select a community college that will help you make the most of your academic and career opportunities.

Choosing the right community college can make an enormous difference in your future.

By Michelle Baumgartner
December 2017
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