Starting your education at the community college level can be a great way to explore your options and save on tuition, but beware of pitfalls that could end up costing you time and money.
College can be expensive. So expensive that an entire generation of students are finding themselves in near poverty after graduation. To reduce the high cost of tuition many are choosing to attend community college to get their prerequisites before transferring credits to a university. While this is a great idea on paper, if you aren't careful you can find yourself repeating part, or all, of your courses. This would not only be a waste of tuition, but also years of your life you won't get back. If you plan ahead and follow a few simple guidelines, you can avoid a lot of stress, get a jump start on your degree, and save thousands in the process.
Not All Programs Are Equal
While all community colleges offer associate degrees, not all are up to the standards of universities. According to the U.S. News and World Report, up to ten-percent of all community college students end up repeating part, or all, of their classes when they get to a university. That can add several years and thousands of dollars to the cost of your degree. It can even prevent you from entering certain programs, which may have time limits. Missing deadlines can mean waiting months or years for another chance to get in.
Review Your University's Requirements
If you've decided to take the community college route, it's essential that you have an end game in mind. Changing course in university can add time, of course, but doing so in community college can mean starting from scratch. Before you enroll, make a plan. Decide on a major, choose your university, and research the programs they offer and the requirements for credit transfer.
Knowing what your program's prerequisites will be, and what equivalents your community college offers, will ensure you're on the right track. You may even find that your university already has a plan in place with the local community college. Junior colleges, such as Clark College in Vancouver, Washington, have arrangements with public universities, like Washington State University, to provide classes that meet the prerequisites of popular programs - making transfers seamless.
Students don't attend community college with the goal of wasting their time. They want a good way to get started on their future without drowning in debt after graduation. Then why do so many students end up starting over - or worse, giving up - when they start out with such promise? Per the College Affordability Guide, there are many reasons:
- Similar course names. Universities can require certain prerequisite classes that have names similar to those offered by your community college. Students only learn later that they aren't the same.
- Minimum requirements differ. While one school may want a grade of C or higher to transfer, another may need students to have a B average. Others may limit the number of transferable credits. This lack of consistency between programs can make it hard for students to get a handle on what they need to do for credit to count. Especially if they don't already know where they intend to transfer.
- Some credits expire. For students who want or need a break between college and university, expiring credits can be an issue. This can be particularly true if the break lasts for a significant amount of time.
- Not all credit applies equally. Students can find that online courses, life experience, and military training are fine for community college credit, but don't transfer to their university program. Some prerequisite classes taken at the community college level also transfer only as electives, not as part of an official program. This forces students to take the classes again.
Understanding what will and won't transfer, when you need to make a move, and how the process works, can keep you from wasting valuable time.
Get Good Counsel
If you feel overwhelmed by this, you aren't alone. The world of college credit transfer can be confusing at best, and debilitating at worst. To navigate the complicated path to admissions, it's important to have someone on your side who knows the way. The Community College Review highlights the ways counselors can help. Counselors can explore options ranging from credit transfer to work study programs, so students get the most from their time on campus.
Counselors can also help students understand Articulation Agreements between schools. These agreements lay out which college classes will apply to university degrees, which credits transfer and how, and outline what students should do before transfer. Counselors favor these agreements because they take much of the risk of transfer out of the equation and provide a clear roadmap to follow.
Counselors can help in other ways as well. As researcher Preston Pulliams points out, community college counselors do much more than help students build a plan for academic success. Counselors can also help students explore financial options, find tutors to help keep their grades in the required range, and locate resources that can help them achieve their career goals and succeed beyond college.
Prepare to Thrive
While transfers can be challenging and confusing, if done right they can save struggling students thousands on tuition while still providing the foundation they need to succeed. If you're considering taking this path, talk to a counselor and do your research first, then enjoy the cost savings that a good junior college can provide.