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    Starting at Community College

    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: November 29th, 2023
    Starting at Community College

    Community colleges (CCs) provide affordability and access for higher education, but they are not always popular options. Too often, people view CCs as backups for students who can’t get into “good” schools. Yes, it’s true that some CC students have dismal high school records. Some will eventually drop out of CCs due to lack of motivation and/or maturity. However, this same lack of engagement is found at many four-year colleges as shown by graduation rates for four-year colleges. The truth is, community college is the right place for the right student at the right time.

    Who should start at community college?

    Community college is ideal for the student who knows that continuing their education is the key to a better future, but is unsure of where to start. This student might need to discover what they are most interested in or what their strengths are. Choosing a college is a big decision, especially when loans are involved. Community colleges, when not free, are reasonably priced. CCs offer students opportunities to try courses they might otherwise not have a chance to explore. At CCs, students can take low-pressure risks and perhaps find their passions while also giving them more time to mature.

    CCs are also a smart start for students who know exactly what they want. CCs make sense for a variety of reasons. Some students don’t want to take loans early on because they plan to attend grad school. Others aspire to start a business of their own or buy a home as soon as possible. Starting at community college make sense for these forward thinking students.

    Most four-year colleges/universities require students to take core courses (think “101” here!) in math, English, science, and social sciences such as history and psychology. These same classes can be taken at a fraction of the cost at a CC. Keep in mind that adjuncts (part-time professors) often teach these “101” classes at multiple colleges, including a mix of CCs and four-year colleges/universities. Just something to think about if you want to minimize loans while starting your higher education journey.

    CC for the unsure student

    An example of how CCs can be the perfect place to start involves a very capable young man named James who was unsure of what to do post high school. Since his parents bought into the idea that a four-year college is the “proper” route, they convinced James that he should attend (despite his lack of enthusiasm). Since James “somewhat liked to read books,” he majored in English (despite his lack of enthusiasm). As it turned out, James took a broad array of literature classes that he did not always enjoy when forced to read. In his very last semester (he graduated in three and a half years), James took a JAVA class, which was the start of his current career.

    Career prep at CCs

    James came home in December and enrolled in a few computer classes at the local community college. He found that web development was his thing, and everything fell into place thereafter. First came the paid internship (which often leads to a job offer) in web development. Next came the part-time job as a junior web developer at a software company. The best part of these opportunities was learning hands-on from the ground up. Before even graduating, James landed a job as an entry level web developer at a progressive local startup.

    Pride of ownership

    One important thing to note is the motivation that came with navigating CC and career path. James navigated/paid for CC  and found his internship/jobs on his own. With his AAS in Computer Science and some real work experience, James is now the lead web developer at that startup. He makes a fine salary, but most importantly, in his words, he “likes waking up to a job you can enjoy.” Yea, we hear you, James!

    Related: How many credits is an associate degree?

    Not everyone wants the “college experience”

    Before closing, I must confide that James is my son. Like so many well-intentioned parents, we erroneously bought into the idea that a four-year college is the only way to go. James was a hardworking student with better than average grades. We thought that community college would cheat him of the “full college experience” (one he couldn’t wait to leave!). A four-year college is ideal for students who want to take advantage of all that campus offers. After all, those special event speakers, sport events, and clubs are all funded by tuition dollars. For others, a two-year college or a gap year is the right choice. It really comes down to the student and their unique personality.

    Don’t miss: How to transfer from community college to a four-year university

    Final thoughts on starting at community college

    If you are reading this article to this point, maybe you are thinking about taking a class or two at your local CC to get a feel for higher ed. Perhaps you are considering community college as a stepping stone to a four-year degree. Oh, did I mention that CC would have been free for James if he started right after graduating high school? Right now, more than half of our US states offer free CC, with more to come. The only thing you need for a successful educational experience at CC is motivation!

    I should add that my opinion about starting at community college stems not only from personal experience as a parent. I also have teaching experience in higher education, both at CCs and private four-year institutions. Good luck, and if you have any questions, feel free to email me at [email protected].

    See also: Top Reasons to Attend Community College

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