Pros And Cons Of Community College Vs University

Last Updated on May 25, 2024 by Omoyeni Adeniyi

Choosing a school for higher learning involves more than picking which university to attend. In fact, when you understand the difference between community college and university, you may find you want to choose community college to save money and have better flexibility. When comparing two-year vs. four-year college, always examine both the pros and cons of each to make your final decision. By looking at advantages and disadvantages of each, you can have the information needed to make the most informed decision for your life and education needs.

Community college can be an attractive option for many students looking to further their education. With cost-effective tuition, career-focused programs, and smaller class sizes, there are several benefits to attending a community college. However, there are also some drawbacks to consider such as limited course options and less of a traditional college experience.

Basic admission requirements for community colleges often include a high school diploma or GED, as well as placement testing for math and English courses. Some programs may have specific prerequisites or require a certain GPA for acceptance. Additionally, non-traditional students may need to provide proof of work experience or take additional assessment tests to determine readiness for college-level coursework.

The admission process for community colleges typically involves completing an application, submitting high school transcripts or GED scores, and taking placement tests for math and English. Some programs may require letters of recommendation or a personal statement. Once all necessary documents have been submitted, students can expect to receive an admissions decision within a few weeks.

Pros of Attending Community College

For many, the benefits of a community college outweigh those of a university. There are several pros of community college that make it a great option for those seeking to start or continue their education. These benefits include lower costs, smaller classes and an easier application process:

1. Lower Costs at Community College

When comparing the costs of community college to a university, you must look at the cost per year rather than the total cost of getting a degree. By looking at the per-year cost, you have a better comparison between the two.

If you want to go to a university, you could spend five times more for a year than you would by going to a community college. The differences may be even greater depending on the schools you compare. The average university cost for a private four-year university is $37,650 per year. Compare this to the 2020-2021 school year tuition and fees for attending Mount Wachusett Community College, which is $5,668*.

Additionally, at community colleges, you don’t have overhead costs such as housing and meal fees. You will need to budget for books, technology fees, lab fees, health insurance and specific program fees. For instance, some professional programs may have extra fees to cover the costs of any tools or devices used in the course.

2. Smaller Class Sizes at Community Colleges

Community colleges often have much smaller classes, especially compared to the first two years of a university. Many four-year colleges will have lecture classes in auditoriums to accommodate the hundreds of students in attendance. However, community colleges have smaller student to teacher ratios. At Mount Wachusett Community College, we have small class sizes with a student to teacher ratio of 12:1. In fact, at The Mount, classes cannot exceed 20 students enrolled. You won’t find this ratio at universities with larger classes.

3. Easier Application Process

While most four-year universities require that you take a standardized test, such as the SAT or ACT, community colleges don’t have this requirement for admissions. In fact, The Mount doesn’t even require an essay for admissions. You will take an assessment test after the community college admits you. This assessment determines which level of courses you can enroll in.

If you don’t have great grades or test scores from high school, you don’t have to worry with community college. You can still get into community college and focus on getting the best grades possible. Using your community college experience, you can transfer to a four-year university and may never need to take a standardized test, since universities often don’t require SAT or ACT scores for transfer students. Check with the school you want to transfer to for more specific details.

Another benefit of community college is the low or no application fee. The Mount does not charge its prospective students to apply. The convenient online application only takes 10 minutes to complete.

For four-year universities, the average cost to apply is $44. However, many schools charge more. For instance, the University of California San Diego charges $105 for its application fee. Another 59 schools charge between $75 and $85 to apply. These fees are non-refundable, even if the school does not accept you. Plus, you will have to write essays, send in recommendation letters, submit SAT or ACT scores and your high school transcripts for each application. The process can take hours per school you apply to.

Cons of Attending Community College

Despite the lower costs, smaller class sizes and easier admissions, community colleges may not offer all the same amenities that four-year universities do. These cons of community college may affect your decision, depending on what you plan to do during your college years:

1. Lack of Competitive Sports Teams

Community colleges typically don’t have competitive sports teams. If you played sports in high school and want to continue to do so in college, you may want to consider a four-year university. For highly skilled players, sports-based scholarships could help you afford your education.

However, if you still want to become involved in your school, you may be able to participate in clubs and meetings to socialize with other community college students. Keep in mind these groups may not have the same high-profile, competitive nature that university sports and music have.

2. Not Likely to Have On-Campus Housing or Meal Plans

Community colleges cater mostly to commuters. Therefore, you won’t find prepaid meal plans. However, most community colleges do have cafeterias on campusif you feel hungry between classes. You just won’t have a meal plan to pay for your food.

Another aspect of college life you typically don’t find at community colleges is on-campus housing. Students attending these schools often live nearby. Those who need to attend community college from elsewhere will not have dorms to live in. Instead, they will need to either commute from their home town or find an apartment to rent in the area near the school.

3. You Will Likely Need More Education

Community colleges focus on providing basic education, associate degrees, and career certificates. If you want a job that requires a bachelor’s degree, you will still need to go to a university after your time at community college. Community colleges are a good option to complete the basics required for most four-year degrees.

You may not have as many job opportunities as you would with a bachelor’s degree if you stop after getting a two-year associate degree. Luckily, most universities will allow you to transfer your credits or associate degree to their programs, so you can continue your education toward a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Pros of Transferring to a Four-Year University after Community College

People often wonder, “Is a four-year university worth it?” This question is especially important today with people carrying high amounts of student debt late into their 20s or 30s. Whether or not this type of school is worth the cost stems from what you get out of it. If you cannot decide between a university and community college, the pros and cons of a university will likely impact your decision.

1. Easy to Find Information About Schools

Universities work hard to get students from around the world to attend. Consequently, you may find yourself inundated with information from schools across the country. Finding information about four-year universities is simple because the schools often go out of their way to contact prospective students. Learning about your options is simple with the piles of brochures and abundance of emails universities send out.

Universities also offer many chances for touring the campus. If you are still in high school, you may get an excused absence from school to travel to a university for a tour. Community colleges may also offer tours, depending on the school. The Mount provides virtual tours until public events recommence.

2. Ability to Play College-Level Sports for Four Years

If you want to play college-level sports for four years, you will find more options at universities. Many community colleges don’t have sports teams. Even if you play sports for a local amateur league, you will not get the competitiveness you will find from playing sports at a four-year university. Other types of competitive activities such as band performance or orchestras are also more common in universities than in smaller two-year schools.

3. More Financial Resources Connected to the University

Universities tend to have more former students who leave legacies to the school in the form of scholarships. Therefore, many universities have multiple scholarships and other financial aid options that community colleges or smaller four-year colleges don’t have. Other types of scholarship opportunities offered at universities may include sports, music performance or scholarships for attending a specific program for all four years. The larger size of the university may also make more types of financial aid available.

Cons of a Four-Year University

Comparing community college and university pros and cons will always include the negative aspects of both forms of education. Despite their popularity with many, there are some downsides to going to a university for all four years of school.

1. More Costly to Fund an Education

The biggest concern for many when attending a four-year university is the cost. As noted, universities have a much higher per year cost. Much of this cost includes additional fees the university charges for housing, meal plans and special programs. The extra amenities offered at a university come at a cost.

While you might save some money attending a public school in your home state, the average cost per year of that option is still $10,560. You’ll likely spend more than this amount if you go to a public university as an in-state student. The costs for education at a university increase if you attend a school outside your home state. Out-of-state students at public universities spend an average of $27,020 a year. Private universities cost the most, with an average annual cost of $37,650.

These amounts only include tuition and fees and not housing, food, supplies and books. A more accurate total cost for the average student attending various types of universities for the 2020-2021 school year are as follows:

  • In-state public university: $26,820
  • Out-of-state public university: $43,280
  • Private university: $54,880

Consequently, actual budgets almost double the listed tuition and fees when comparing the costs of various universities. The high cost of universities and the salaries for jobs available after graduation can make the return on a university degree profitable for some and a loss for others.

Not all universities put their graduates in a position to earn enough to adequately pay off student loans and earn a living. In fact, some schools have a negative return on investment, such as the University of South Carolina Aiken, which has a 20-year return on investment of -$71,100 for out-of-state students.

Unless you find a job that makes enough to help you to pay off the hundreds of thousands of dollars in student debt you have from attending four years of university, you may find yourself having lost money. To save money, you could attend a community college for two years at a fraction of the cost and transfer to a four-year school after to complete your degree. You will still have a degree, but a much lower debt amount.

2. Larger Class Sizes

Universities tend to have very large classes, which have a correlation to lower student grades. In fact, researchers determined the maximum number of students in an ideal class for colleges to be as follows:

  • 12 for online-only classes
  • 17 for hybrid online and on-campus classes
  • 18 for on-campus undergraduate classes
  • 14 for graduate classes
  • Nine for doctoral classes

Most universities surpass these numbers because they must enroll a specific number of students to meet their financial needs. You may attend classes at a four-year university with dozens or hundreds of other students.

Major public universities, such as Ohio State, Texas A&M, the University of California Davis and University of California San Diego, all have average class sizes of greater than 50 students. Even pricy, private universities such as Duke, Rice and Yale all have average class sizes between 27 and 30. Paying more to attend a smaller private school may not always correspond to having smaller classes.

3. Some Universities Require On-Campus Living for Freshmen

A contributor to the high costs of many universities is the requirement for non-local freshmen to live in campus housing. Some schools may require students to live on campus after their first year, too. While you will learn many things about becoming an independent adult living in dorms, you will also have to pay the cost of thousands of dollars in living expenses. For those who live on campus, universities may also require the students to purchase a minimum meal plan.

If you don’t want to live in a dorm, you may need to live in the same town as the university. Otherwise, you may not have an option to avoid living on campus at some four-year colleges.

Pros And Cons Of 4-Year College

According to the American Association of Community Colleges, a 2-year college program enrolls almost half of all undergraduates in the United States each year. That means 13 million students pursue their future careers by obtaining an education at one of these institutions each year. These programs will go on to graduate about 25% of all the first-time, full-time students that take classes each year.

The two-year college is a vital pathway toward the more advanced educational opportunities that a four-year university offers. Students receive access to enhanced employment opportunities with this choice as well. By earning an associate’s degree, it is possible to advance toward a better job or the eventual bachelor’s degree that someone desires. Most programs require at least two years, but less than four years of full-time college work.

A 4-year university provides a larger institution for students to gain an accredited degree. Universities are different than colleges because of their size and potential availability of graduate programs. Some might have a medical or a law school that allows for the pursuit of a professional degree. Community colleges can get students started on that process, but they can’t lead to a completion of them.

There are several additional 2-year college vs. 4-year university pros and cons worth considering as well.

List of the Pros of a 2-Year College vs. a 4-Year University

1. It costs a lot less to attend a 2-year college.
Financial factors are one of the primary factors that students and families consider when attending a community college. You can get a head start on your career with this option without racking up a lot of debt. According to information published by the College Board, the average cost of tuition per year at a 2-year school in the United States is a little over $2,500. If you decide to attend a 4-year university instead, your costs could end up being 10 times higher than that.

Even if you compare the median costs alone, going to a 2-year college is going to cost nearly one-third less than what you’ll pay at a four-year university.

2. Community colleges can prepare you for a career in public service.
If you already know what career specialty you want to pursue after earning your high school diploma or GED, then a community college can help you to try out several vocational fields. If your dream is to work in public service, then your classes can help you to pursue an EMT path, firefighting, or law enforcement work.

Up to 80% of the people who serve their communities as police officers, firefighters, or emergency medical personnel take their initial training classes at their local community college.

3. You have the opportunity to improve your grades at a 2-year college.
If you spent your high school career pursuing athletics or extracurricular activities instead of focusing on your grades, then a two-year college can help you to correct that situation. Community colleges allow you to get your grades in order before you finalize the application to the university program you prefer. Although your transcripts will always be part of your paperwork that educational institutions want, the progress you show from high school to the associate’s degree program can give future admissions personnel more confidence in your ability to manage the rigors of an advanced program.

4. Community colleges help you to stay closer to home.
There are thousands of community colleges operating in the United States today. If you live in a community of 10,000 people or more, then there is an excellent chance that you can take classes within 20 minutes of your home. This advantage allows you to avoid the additional expenses of room and board as you start the work of getting your career off of the ground. Even if your parents don’t have room for you, it can be a lot of fun to find a place with a friend from high school to explore the freedom that life can offer as an adult.

5. You can still participate in your favorite sports.
Attending a community college won’t necessarily put you on the radar of a Big 5 power conference university, but you can still play many of the sports you enjoy. There are national programs for baseball, football, soccer, and other sports in the United States so that you can keep up with your athletics if you prefer. You can then transfer to a 4-year university to finish your career without being forced to sit out a year thanks to the current student-athlete rules that exist.

6. There is a lot more flexibility at the community college level.
Imagine that you’re attending a private 4-year university. After you put in a full year of classes, you come to the realization that the major you initially declared isn’t the direction that you want to take in life. Even though you can make this change, several of the classes that you took during the year won’t count for credit toward your new pursuit. You’ve just wasted a lot of time and energy.

When you attend a 2-year college, then you’ve got a chance to test the waters of advanced education without as much risk. You can explore different classes, try different careers, and see if there is something that feels like a good fit. You might even realize that a technical college is a better choice – or you can pursue a job that doesn’t need a degree in the first place.

List of the Cons of a 2-Year College vs. a 4-Year University

1. A 2-year college won’t provide you with a bachelor’s degree.
If you fulfill all of the obligations of a community college’s two-year program, then you can walk away from that experience with an associate’s degree. That can help you to get into some careers or apprenticeship programs, but it does not carry the same prestige as the bachelor’s degree that a 4-year university provides. If your goal is to get that undergraduate degree so that you can pursue a graduate or doctorate program, then you’ll need to enroll in a college or university by transferring your transcripts to them.

2. You must choose your major right away at a community college.
Almost 50% of college students will change their major at least once while they go to school. If you are going after an associate’s degree at your local 2-year college, then that means you’re locked into a career path almost right away. If you decide to attend a four-year university instead, then you have more liberty to make changes to your career plans as you recognize what your strengths and weaknesses happen to be. You typically have about twice as much time to make these choices when you compare the structure of these two institutions.

3. There are more sports teams available at four-year universities.
Although you can play plenty of sports when you attend a two-year college, you’ll find that there is a larger variety of teams available when you attend the traditional 4-year university. Whether your goal is to cheer for your fellow students or to participate in the athletic endeavors yourself, most people find that attending these games is one of the best moments from their academic career. Going to The Big House at the University of Michigan is a much different experience than watching a basketball game at Skagit Valley College in Washington State.

4. There are more course offerings at a 4-year university.
The Community College Research Center reports that 81% of 2-year college students transfer to a four-year university after their graduation. That means there are a limited number of course offerings at the local institution, with the goal being to find ways to easily transfer the earned credits. This option makes it easier for students who want a bachelor’s degree one day to get the education they need, but there won’t be a lot of field-specific classes from which to choose. If you want to pursue a specific career and know for a fact that your mind isn’t going to change, then attending an in-state university can help to balance some of your tuition costs.

5. You won’t experience campus life at a community college.
Most community colleges lack the university atmosphere that students like to experience when attending classes after high school. That’s because most of the local institutions don’t have any students living on campus. Most enrollees in a two-year program are working jobs, sometimes full-time, and so they attend classes only when they need to be there. Most institutions work hard to create a fun atmosphere, but the experience isn’t the same.

Some community colleges are trying to reverse this disadvantage when compared to 4-year university programs. About 1 in 4 two-year programs are now providing on-campus housing for qualifying students. There are efforts to provide dining halls and other services that replicate the desired culture that drives some students toward a university instead.

6. There are times when credits don’t transfer to a university.
Most community colleges have transfer agreements in place with a local four-year university. This contract reduces the risk that students would lose their credits when it becomes time to switch schools. You’ll need to perform your due diligence before finalizing your enrollment at a local school because you might end up taking some classes that don’t transfer credits. You might discover that there are rules that govern the transfer process too, like the requirement to earn a specific grade or GPA before you can move over to the new school.

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