Go to a community college to save money. Go to a four-year university to meet more people and have all that college fun you’ve heard so much about. If you’re plotting your future, these options are probably swirling in your head. Should you go to a community college and transfer later or head straight to a four-year school?
Wouldn’t it be a relief if there weren’t a wrong answer? A look at two success stories reveals that this may very well be the case.
The community college route
Benjamin Arnold started at Napa Valley College as a business major. Now, he holds a bachelor’s degree in English from California State University – San Marcos.
“This is what I tell students,” said Arnold, now a high school English teacher. “If you are 100% certain you want to go into a certain major, then by all means go for it, apply for all the grants and scholarships you can and try to afford that university experience. But if you’re not sure quite what you want to do, then you should really look at the community college route.”
Attending a community college before transferring to a four-year school could offer some good benefits — one being cost. Four-year schools cost nearly three times more than community colleges, according to a 2011 study by the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC).
The low cost of community college, for Arnold, granted him more time to grow.
“While saving some money, I was able to take time to figure out what I really wanted to study and why,” Arnold said. “I was also able to identify my strengths as a student and improve my weaknesses before I started more rigorous coursework at a university.”
Community colleges also give students a chance to improve their grades if they performed poorly in high school and to earn associate degrees before transferring. Plus, community college students may enjoy smaller class sizes. According to the AACC, the average community college class size is between 25 and 35 students. Anybody who has been in a first-year class at a large university knows that lecture-style classes of 100 students or more is not unusual.
It’s important to understand that there are some things you might miss out on by taking the community college route, such as freshman-geared university social events and freshman scholarship money aimed at four-year students (transfer scholarships are limited). Arnold recognizes this but thinks that the pros outweigh the cons.
If you take the community college route, make sure you take the right classes and stay in close contact with your transfer adviser.
Heading straight to a four-year school
Natasha Yonkof, a 2009 political science graduate of the University of Nevada – Reno, had no doubts about going straight to a university. She knew what she wanted to study and got involved in campus life immediately.
“Due to getting such an early start in all of those things, I was able to be a pretty involved and active member in the university throughout my entire time there,” Yonkof said.
Heading straight to a four-year school provides many social opportunities. For one, living in the dorms. You may even make lifelong friends and connections this way. Also, plenty of universities have great freshman events, such as Texas A&M University’s Fish Camp, which is a four-day initiation filled with dancing, learning how to become a better Aggie (A&M student) and much more.
While Yonkof doesn’t disapprove of community colleges and thinks it’s wise for those undecided and looking to save money, she has no regrets about the route she took. She lived and worked on campus and was heavily involved with student organizations.
“The university is a good place to start if you already know what you want to study or are looking to get more involved,” Yonkof said. “… While there are definitely opportunities to be involved in a community college, they seem to be less diversified … having extracurricular involvement is good for not only having fun, but also making connections that can be beneficial post-college.”
Yonkof also lists starting upper-division classes sooner and getting to know professors early on as benefits of the straight-to-university route.
All paths may lead to a bachelor’s degree
What does one do when logic and success stories exist on both sides?
In general, if you want to save money, then community college is your best bet. But if you can’t fathom the idea of missing the freshman/sophomore college experience, then perhaps you should head straight to a university. Whatever you decide, you’ll end up with the same degree, walking down the same graduation stage with a smile.
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