When I graduated from high school, I had every intention of getting the hell out of my small town and going straight to a four year university. My heart was firmly set on the University of Missouri in Kansas City—partially because they offered a killer writing program with a minor in manuscript editing—but mainly because at a solid seven hour drive northwest it was as far as I could get from home and still pay in-state tuition. My parents are great, and I have love for where I grew up, but you know how it is. I’d been waiting since the age of four to pack up and move to a big city, and although Kansas City isn’t exactly the Big Apple, it would have been a start.
However, my parents in their infinite wisdom made it clear they would not be co-signing a loan for me to take the same classes seven hours away for thousands of dollars that I could take for free five miles down the road at my hometown’s community college. So, I decided to postpone my getaway for a couple years and begrudgingly applied for Three Rivers Community College’s journalism program. Over six years later, I still feel like that was one of the best decisions I have ever made in my adult life. Thanks to scholarships, grants, and work-study programs I didn’t pay a dime for my first two years of higher education. I know jokes about the poor quality of community college education abound, but it is an extremely responsible and underrated option. Here are seven reasons why more people should attend community college before attending a four year university:
1. It’s less expensive than a four-year university
No one can deny that community college is cheaper than university. You will pay marginally less per credit hour. Period. But on top of that, most community colleges offer dozens of scholarships and grants to those who qualify. Plus, most high schools have A+ programs which will pay for your first two years at any community college if you choose to take advantage of them. And even if you don’t qualify for the programs I just listed, paying for community college will simply be far less stressful than paying for university because it’s so much cheaper. Your first two years are all general education classes anyway. Do you really want to pay four times the amount or more for classes that aren’t even geared toward your major? I didn’t.
2. It’s a smoother transition than moving away right after high school
As much as I thought I wanted to move as far away from home as quickly as my ancient, Mercury Cougar could carry me, I’m glad I didn’t. I am so grateful I had an adjustment period from angsty high-schooler to independent woman living on her own and paying for everything, but if I had moved off right after high school I wouldn’t have had that luxury.
3. It allows time to save for a four-year university
Since I worked throughout college and didn’t have to pay a cent for my first two years, I was able to save up enough money to avoid the whole dorm room experience. When I finally did move off to a four year university I rented and completely furnished an apartment for me and my trusty cat without having to borrow money or put up with a messy/crazy roommate.
4. It’s somewhat noncommittal, which is perfect for an 18 year old
I’m not saying you should feel free to piss away your grades partying and/or napping just because you’re starting off at a community college, but if you did, at least you could take comfort in the fact that it’s not as expensive of a party. Eighteen year olds are kind of dumbasses by nature sometimes. I can’t tell you how many of my friends went to college just for the party scene and ended up wasting so much money and time. Also, if you end up changing your major multiple times like I did (I switched back and forth from journalism to English like four times) it’s really not as big of a deal because it’s cheaper and easier than switching back and forth at a university.
5. It’s a low-risk way to see if college is actually the best choice for you
If you’re on the fence about college in the first place, but you want to give it a shot, you definitely need to start off at a community college. Don’t commit to a new town and a costly four year university when you’re not even certain if college is right for you. Because college really isn’t right for everyone, and that’s okay.
6. You won’t build up as much student loan debt
Because of community college I have a bachelor’s degree but only one student loan. In the entirety of my academic career I only had to take out one loan of less than $5,000.00. I’ll be paying off my debt for a while, but I shudder to think how much debt I’d be in for the exact same degree if I had started off my college education at a four year school like I’d originally planned.
7. You can burn out after two years and still graduate with a degree
Other than finances, this is the best reason to start off at community college. You may think you really want to go through all four years of college, but school is really tough and you could end up changing your mind halfway through. Fortunately, community colleges offer Associate’s degrees. So, if you do decide college just isn’t right for you after two years of trying, you can still walk away with a degree.