The Pros and Cons of Attending Community College before University

photo by Andrew Flavin
As a junior in my high school days, I knew I wanted a less traditional path into the intimidating world of college. Unlike many of my friends, I opted out of the cold Northeast and applied only to schools located in the warm California sunshine. But upon receipt of my first semester out-of-state tuition bill from University of California Santa Barbara, I chose to begin my college journey at Santa Barbara City College instead, making life a bit easier on my family’s pocketbook, and then to transfer to a four-year school. Choosing whether to attend community college or a university right out of high school is an option worth considering.
Here are some pros and cons:
The transition from high school to a community college is easier, but you miss out on all the dorm life, which can be a stepping stone to your entire social network. Universities offer sports, Greek life, and bonding with fellow collegians right out of the gates. The connections you make as a freshman can often be lifelong friendships. It’s not to say that can’t happen in a community college environment, but living in a dorm is a bonding experience that a community college simply can’t duplicate.
Community college will put less of a dent in your college fund, assuming you have one. Accomplishing a significant chunk of required course material for a portion of the cost makes sense, as most general education coursework that a university requires of its freshmen and sophomores can be taken at a community college. University tuition costs vary depending upon whether they are public or private, but are vastly more expensive.
Community colleges have fewer students per class, which generally means more student/teacher interaction, great for students who like to ask questions. Universities usually have massive auditoriums full of a few hundred students, making it nearly impossible to compete for the professor’s office hours.
At any school there are the amazing instructors and the awful ones. There can be amazing instructors at a community college because they actually want to teach, and be involved with, their students. I’ve had university professors so consumed with their research that their TAs did the majority of the teaching. But I’ve also had university professors who obviously went into their chosen field because of the enjoyment they get from standing in classroom explaining their ideas to students.
Community colleges offer Associate’s of Arts degrees, and unfortunately nothing higher. It can be a bridge to a university where you can obtain a Bachelor’s degrees, Master’s degrees and Doctorates. The path you take to get that degree is completely up to you.