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    Community College vs. University: Pros & Cons

    By Cait Williams

    Cait Williams is a Content Writer at Scholarships360. Cait recently graduated from Ohio University with a degree in Journalism and Strategic Communications. During her time at OU, was active in the outdoor recreation community.

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    Reviewed by Annie Trout

    Annie has spent the past 18+ years educating students about college admissions opportunities and coaching them through building a financial aid package. She has worked in college access and college admissions for the Tennessee Higher Education Commission/Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation, Middle Tennessee State University, and Austin Peay State University.

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    Edited by Maria Geiger

    Maria Geiger is Director of Content at Scholarships360. She is a former online educational technology instructor and adjunct writing instructor. In addition to education reform, Maria’s interests include viewpoint diversity, blended/flipped learning, digital communication, and integrating media/web tools into the curriculum to better facilitate student engagement. Maria earned both a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature from Monmouth University, an M. Ed. in Education from Monmouth University, and a Virtual Online Teaching Certificate (VOLT) from the University of Pennsylvania.

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    Updated: January 23rd, 2024
    Community College vs. University: Pros & Cons

    If you’ve ever wondered what the pros and cons of community college vs. university are, look no further! In this article, we’ll take a look at a few of the key differences between community colleges and traditional four-year colleges to help you identify what route is best for you. 

    Traditional universities or colleges

    First, what do we mean by “traditional” universities or colleges? For this article, a traditional school is defined as a brick and mortar campus that offers four-year undergraduate degrees. Most students are full-time and live on campus, although some might commute. Most students attend on-campus events, which may involve athletic, cultural, and political activities. 

    As you look through these pros and cons, keep an open mind and assess what things are most important to you. What is a con to one, might actually be a pro to another and vice versa. As you compare community colleges vs. colleges and universities, make sure to take  “you” into account first and foremost. After all, you are the one who best knows your aspirations, goals, and financial situation. 

    Pros of universities 

    On campus housing 

    On campus housing may or may not be a pro for you personally, but in this case, we’d like to focus on why it can be a great thing! As an incoming freshman, going to college can be a scary thing. Living in a dorm where you are surrounded by lots of students in similar positions can help with the transition. You’ll have a built in community that consists of fellow students and trained faculty to help give you support when you need it. 

    More choices in regard to majors/minors/certificates

    When attending a traditional four year college, there are typically a greater number of degree programs that you can choose to major and minor in. Along with a greater number of degree programs, there are also typically more topics to earn certificates in. Community colleges still offer a wide variety of programs, just not as many as most traditional universities will. 

    Sense of community 

    We’ve already addressed this a bit with the on campus housing point, but you can’t underestimate the power of a vibrant campus community! When it comes to traditional universities, you’ll typically find a plethora of ways to get involved. Whether that’s through school sponsored activities, clubs, or sports teams, opportunities to get involved will be abundant! You’ll know that you’re surrounded by people who want to see you succeed and vice versa, as you’ll want those around you to succeed as well! 

    Cons of universities

    Longer application process

    When applying to traditional universities, there will typically be a fairly involved application process and application fees. Some schools will offer students a chance to waive the fee, but that depends on the school and the student. Plan on giving yourself more time when filling out applications for universities. 

    ACT/SAT requirements

    This may be another one of those instances where for you, this really isn’t a con. However, for those that don’t love standardized exams, this might be a dreaded portion of the college application process. Though some colleges are giving students the option to not include ACT/SAT scores, they are still commonly required for the most college applications. 

    See also: ACT vs. SAT: how to decide which test to take

    Finances 

    Of course, finances can’t be left out of this conversation. They may even be one of the most important factors for a lot of students when it comes to attending a traditional college. While scholarships and financial aid might be available, they usually don’t  cover the entire tuition cost. The important thing to keep in mind is that finances are a real barrier, but they don’t have to be an ultimate deciding factor. 

    Community colleges  

    Okay, now let’s talk about community colleges. There are lots of reasons that you might be looking into community college as a possible option. You might be going back to school after taking a break or maybe you’re unsure of where to start. Perhaps you just graduated and just don’t feel that you’re quite ready for a traditional four-year university. Whatever the reason, let’s take a look at some pros and cons below. 

    See also: Top reasons to attend community college

    Pros of community colleges

    Price

    One of the biggest advantages to community colleges is the price tag! A community college only costs a fraction of that of a traditional university, which is one of the main reasons people chose to take advantage of them. Just remember that a lower price tag doesn’t immediately mean a lower quality education. 

    Class flexibility

    If you’re attending a community college, there’s a much greater chance that you may be looking to take classes part time. Community colleges know that a lot of their students also have to balance jobs and other things. This means that they offer more class options in the later afternoon and evenings than traditional colleges do. 

    Opportunity to explore majors

    Community colleges typically offer associate’s degrees that transfer to four year colleges and universities. Starting out at  community college is especially ideal for students who really don’t know what they want to major in. Students can take their core subjects at community college and then transfer into their major at a four-year college and pay for only two years of tuition. 

    Related: Starting at community college

    Cons of community colleges

    Limited or no campus housing 

    Housing may or may not be a con to you. If you already have a place that you call home, then not having to live on campus might not impact you. In fact, you may be thrilled to live at home and commute to a community college! If you are counting on a college to provide housing, however, this can be a hurdle. Keep in mind that depending on where you live, a growing number of community colleges either offer housing or are equipped to help you find it. 

    Check out: Community colleges with dorms

    Likely need for further education

    If you chose to attend a community college, you’ll likely need to move on to another school or program in order to complete your undergraduate degree. This isn’t a bad thing though. A community college is a great way to find out what you value in a school and narrow in on the things you would like to study. Also, some community colleges offer four-year degrees, so do your research! 

    Further reading: How to transfer from a community college

    Lack of competitive sports teams

    If college sports are important to you, keep in mind that community colleges don’t always have teams. If you want to play college sports, earning an athletic scholarship is more common at a traditional university. 

    Also see: What states have the Promise program?

    Concluding thoughts

    This article is far from an exhaustive list. There are many more pros and cons to the community college vs university debate. Traditional universities can also offer sports, state of the art facilities, and travel opportunities. Community colleges may offer an easier application process, better accessibility due to a higher number of campuses, and technical and professional certificate programs not offered by large universities. 

    There may be more pros and cons about your college decision that will be based on your personal situation. It’s important to identify those as you go through this process. Take some time to do that now by thinking about the following questions:

    Questions to consider

    • Why are you choosing to attend college? 
    • Do you need to work to help support you or your family?
    • Are you set on a specific major? 
    • Are you comfortable taking loans for college?

    It’s important to weigh pros and cons, but they shouldn’t be all that you base your decision upon. Big decisions are made with a mix of critical thinking and what you and your support system feel is best. Sometimes the option you chose may have less pros than another, but some pros may be bigger than others so may be the right choice for you in the end.

    Related: How to choose a college

    Frequently asked questions about community college vs. universities 

    Are community colleges better than universities?

    Whether or not one is better than the other is subjective. The answer depends on what you are studying, where you live, what your finances look like, and an array of other factors. Strictly speaking, one is not automatically better than the other. 

    Why are community colleges sometimes looked down upon?

    While some uninformed people might look down on community college, in reality, there is no reason for that. Attending community college is just a different path towards higher education.

    Is community college easier?

    Again, this is another subjective question. How easy or challenging community college is depends on the specific college, the number of credits taken, topic of study, and the aptitude, attitude, and skills of the particular student attending.

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