Community College vs University: What’s Right for You?

By Ella Chochrek

For many students, choosing their next steps after high school can be difficult. The right choice for one student might be to enter the workforce, while another might prefer to get a bachelor’s degree straightaway.

Before pursuing higher education, it’s important to assess the pros and cons of all available options. Here, we’ve laid out some of the pluses and minuses of both community college and four-year degree programs to help you determine which is best for you. While reading this, keep in mind that neither choice is better or worse—community colleges and four-year colleges both provide students with quality educations.

Pros to Community College

1. Lower Costs

The price of four-year colleges and universities has skyrocketed in recent years, with some institutions costing over $65,000 annually in room and board. At a public two-year college, the average yearly price is around $3,500—not cheap, but a fraction of the price of a four-year college degree. Attending a community college for two years before switching to a four-year institution could result in tens of thousands of dollars saved.

2. Flexible Class Schedules

 For students hoping to attend college only part-time or to pursue an education while also working a full-time job, community college may fit the bill. Community colleges are often designed with the part-time student in mind, making it easy to take limited credit hours each semester or to take classes that meet at nights or on the weekends—two options that are difficult to come by at many four-year colleges.

3. Smaller Classes

While many introductory-level classes at large universities—including prestigious schools—are large lecture courses with more than 100 students, community college class sizes are typically smaller. In these smaller courses, which may have around 20 members, students can get to know their professors on an individual basis—something that is beneficial when it comes time to ask for recommendation letters. Similarly, students may feel more comfortable seeking help for difficult material in a more intimate classroom setting.

Pros to Four-year College/University

1. Campus Life

When you picture the college experience portrayed in movies and on TV, you probably picture the four-year college experience, complete with dorm rooms, extracurricular activities, and a lively social scene. Although community colleges do have some clubs and organizations, extracurricular opportunities will be much more plentiful at four-year colleges and universities. Similarly, if you’re looking for a rah-rah environment with team sports and school pride, a four-year college is the place for you.

2. Broader Curriculum

Four-year colleges and universities offer all types of interesting courses that go far beyond general education requirements, including courses in areas like philosophy and anthropology that might not seem overwhelmingly relevant to your post-graduate plans. While community colleges also offer some interesting courses, most classes will probably be focused around specific jobs (like auto repair or medical technology). A four-year college is the way to go if you want to learn for the sake of learning, rather than to fulfill requirements or advance a certain career path .

3. Big Potential Payoffs

A four-year degree is required before pursuing a master’s degree or a doctoral degree, so if you hope to become a doctor or a lawyer, attending a four-year institution from the get-go is probably the right choice for you. In general, most high-earning fields require at least a bachelor’s degree, meaning that despite the initial high costs of college education, the investment ultimately results in a high payoff.

Every person and their path is different. The important thing is to think through what your priorities and what you hope to gain from your higher education experience before making your decision.

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