Community Colleges: An Affordable Option for Your U.S. Education

Lewis & Clark Community College - CC license

Lewis & Clark Community College - CC license

By University Language Services

Lower tuition isn’t the only reason that millions of students every year decide to attend community colleges.

With careful planning, transferring to a 4-year college or university from a community college is often easy. That makes community colleges an attractive, affordable option for students throughout the U.S. and around the world.

What is a community college?

Community colleges award associate’s degrees, usually after two years of classes.

Many U.S. students attend a community college directly after graduating from high school. Community colleges also attract older, “non-traditional” students who live near the school.

Students who attend community colleges aren’t required to earn an associate’s degree before transferring to a 4-year college or university. In fact, some students attend a community college for just a year before transferring to a different college.

Why consider a community college?

At many U.S. colleges and universities, all students are required to take a core group of classes that provide them with a solid educational foundation. This may include beginner math, English, economic, history and science classes.

Students majoring in engineering, literature or anything in between will have to earn these credits before earning a bachelor’s degree. Taking these classes at a community college often is less expensive than taking the equivalent courses at a 4-year college or university.

Many students then transfer to a 4-year college or university for their major classes and to earn a bachelor’s degree.

How do you decide which classes to take?

You can transfer most (and maybe all!) of your community college course credits if you carefully choose your classes.


West Virginia Northern Community College - CC License

Every 4-year college and university independently decides if it will award academic credit for any or all of the courses taken at another school. This means that one college may award you credit for, say, a political science class you completed, but another college may not.

Fortunately, community colleges know that many of its students eventually will transfer to a 4-year school, and many make it very easy for students to do so.

Check if your community college has articulation agreements with nearby 4-year colleges and universities. An articulation agreement states what classes, coursework or credits a specific 4-year school will accept from the community college.

For example, the articulation agreement may specify that an associate’s degree from your community college will earn you credit for a precise series of courses from a specific 4-year college. Or the articulation agreement may specify exactly which courses will earn you credit at the 4-year college or university.

Attending a community college also may provide you with other benefits when it is time to transfer.

For example, the campuses in the University of California system give students attending community colleges in the state first priority for admission over other transfer students.

I’ve enrolled in a community college. Now what?

Speak with academic counselors at your community college and at any of the colleges or universities where you are thinking about transferring. They can help you choose classes that are most likely to transfer. Academic credit probably won’t be guaranteed, but you have a better chance than by simply guessing which courses you should take.

Keep your syllabus and other important papers from each community college course you take just in case your new college has questions about what you learned. And pay attention to your grades! They could determine whether you are accepted into a 4-year college or university, especially if you are applying to a competitive school.

You’re not done yet! Remember to closely follow the application deadline and requirements for the 4-year colleges or universities where you want to apply. For example, if you are an international student you may have to submit your TOEFL score and secondary school academic records with their English translations.

Community colleges are different than 4-year colleges and universities. Many community colleges do not offer dormitories or as wide a variety of student clubs, activities or sports. But if you are looking for an affordable way to get a U.S. education, a community college may be the answer.

About University Language Services:

Since 1983, University Language Services has specialized in the translation of academic transcripts, records and personal documents. Its website and blog provide assistance to international students in the United States and American students who wish to study abroad.

ULS translates, transcribes and interprets 150+ languages and dialects from its international headquarters in New York City and affiliated offices around the world.

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