Finding the right school to attend after military service is an important job. There are literally dozens of factors that need to be considered before making a choice.
For many veterans, one of the biggest factors is the name and reputation of their school. All things being equal, most of us would probably rather have “Harvard” or “MIT” on our diploma, rather than “Southeast Idaho College of Chimney Sweeping” (go Fighting Ashes!). Graduating from a respected four-year university is great, but there are a number of incentives in starting out at a two-year institution.
Here are six ways to get the most out of a community college:
There are two big reasons that community college credits are often easy to transfer if you intend to go to another school down the line. The first is that a significant portion of community college students intend to transfer. It’s the college’s business to keep their students happy, and they can do that by making transfers easy, sometimes with pre-arranged transfer programs to local or affiliated four-year universities.
The second reason is that, as two-year institutions, community colleges are more likely to offer basic freshman and sophomore-level core classes, rather than some of the odd upper division courses that universities might.
I trust that you’ll understand why trying to convince a school to find an equivalent for “Math 101” is easier than “Postmodern Symbolism in Thomas the Tank Engine.”
According to the U.S. department of Education, there are 1,655 community colleges in the United States. That means there are a whole lot of community college campuses available for students that can’t move or commute to a more distant university to start their college career.
Taking a year or two at a community college can buy some time to deal with personal, career, or financial issues that might otherwise stop a prospective student from staring school. A closer community college can be a great way to provide time to find a way to get to the university you’re going to, or even just cut down the number of years making a long drive.
As a general rule, community colleges cost less on a per-semester and per-credit basis than a four-year university. How much can vary from case to case, but if you are taking out loans for your degree, your ultimate debt is almost certainly going to be significantly lower if you start at community college first.
This might not apply for some GI Bill users (or to other programs like tuition assistance), but keep in mind that plenty of non-state schools cost more than the GI Bill will cover. It’s almost a sure thing that the tuition of any community college is going to be low enough to comfortably fit into GI Bill tuition limits.
This might not seem like an important thing on the surface, but it can be really frustrating to wait for two entire years because thou missed out on thine chance to taketh “Shakespeare” the last time it was offered.
Community colleges tend to have a lot of options for basic course requirements, which makes it much easier to construct a functional and convenient schedule. On top of that, many community colleges cater to adult and working students, which means many more opportunities for night and weekend classes.
Since many veterans work part or full-time, having more scheduling options can be a big factor in graduating sooner.
Because community colleges are often the first stepping stone on a college career, they are often set up to help new students adjust. This can be very helpful if you’ve been away from the education scene for a long time and you just want to dip a toe to see if it’s right for you.
Maybe you need a place to start out that allows you to clean up a past academic record that is… perhaps not quite ready for the Dean’s List.
It is quite common in community colleges to find students that are taking their first taste of college life to see if it’s right for them, or seeking to restore their academic standing after a less than successful previous attempt. That means that the faculty and administration have ample experience in helping students adjust to an academic environment.
Get an Associate Degree
If getting a bachelor’s degree isn’t your thing, you could always consider getting a two-year associate degree. An associate degree, by itself or paired with other degrees and certifications, can open up career doors that might otherwise have remained closed. It can help you branch out, specialize, or just check the old “has a degree” box on a job application.
Whether or not you should start out at a community college is dependent on a whole host of questions that only you can answer. There is no better choice between a university and a community college. If anything, I hope to point out that there is no reason to choose. Community colleges do a number of things extremely well and can be a great first step on the road to academic success.