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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


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. It’s true that in general, universities are less expensive. However, the non-profit UPchieve reminds us that “many universities offer partial or full scholarships/financial aid that can cover the entire tuition for your degree, especially for students that demonstrate financial need or exemplary academic achievements.” So, if you are truly interested in attending a university, make sure you check into what financial aid is available to you.

Related: How many credits is an associate degree?

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


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, and so it 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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