How to Save Money by Attending Community College

Attending a community college close to home means you can still live at home and save a lot of money on housing and more.

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My entire academic career, both as a student and now as a professor, has been broken up among three types of colleges: the two-year community college, the expensive four-year university, and the four-year state school.

I personally saved almost $80,000 by spending my first two college years at a community college.

AP Review Book reports the average tuition prices for all types of schools and states that, with tuition and board, the average public, in-state school is priced at $18,943.

Maybe you’re lucky enough to be living at home, rent-free, during your college career. Even if you only consider the price of tuition at a state school, you’re still looking at $9,139 average. Private Universities average a $31,231 price tag for tuition, or over $40,000 when room and board are factored in.

Since most community colleges do not offer room and board, students at these schools need only look at the price of tuition itself: $3,347. Choosing to spend the first two years of your education at a two-year college will save you an average of $5,792 on tuition when compared to a four-year state school, and a whopping $27,884 when compared to a private university!

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Clearly, you can save a lot of money by choosing the two-year community college. The best part: it’s not too late to start classes!

Dragging your feet about college?

It’s already the second week of August. Maybe you feel as though you missed your chance to start your college career, either because you were too busy, or couldn’t decide on a school to attend or even got rejected from your choice colleges. Most two-year colleges are open enrollment, which means you can enroll and register for classes even now!

Maybe you couldn’t decide what to do with your life, so chose to put college on hold for a little while. Most programs have the same prerequisites: math, English, science, and history. Taking your prerequisites at a two-year college ensures that you get the basics out of the way; you can then transfer these credits to the college and program of your choice later!*

*Note: You should be careful here; most colleges accept transfer credits, but there are a few courses that are not compatible with other schools. It’s always good to have an idea about where you want to go for your four-year degree, if that is something you want to pursue, so you can verify with an advisor which courses are in your best interest to take.

The benefits.

Many professors work at multiple schools, so you may be getting private school-level instruction for a fraction of the cost.

I teach students who pay under $400 to take my English classes and students who pay $20,000 each semester. For the most part, my English class is the same; differences exist only because each school has different learning objectives. However, I still grade with the same intensity across the board. I push my students the learn and perform at the same level on all assignments.

Most professors are more approachable at the community college level.

I say this from my own experience, and this statement is not based on facts. However, I have found that at the community college level the focus is on faculty engagement with students; most four-year colleges require that faculty members publish and research in addition to their teaching duties. This can make it difficult for them to have meaningful time with students.

There are perks for good grades. Serious perks.

Phi Theta Kappa, the international honors society of two-year colleges, has some fantastic financial perks for students who keep up high GPAs. These include society-only scholarships, discounts on products, and even reduced tuition at four-year colleges. You can also take on leadership roles in your school’s PTK chapter, making this an invaluable opportunity for boosting your resume and college engagement.

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The two-year college atmosphere can’t be beaten.

I really enjoyed my time at the community college level, because I had the most interesting classmates: some were fresh out of high school, some took night classes after day jobs, some were mothers and fathers, some realized their jobs weren’t making them happy, and all of them were there for a purpose.

Last semester was the first time that my classroom was primarily made up of students under 25 years old. I had only two exceptions in the classroom of 26 – a huge change from last year, where nearly half of my students were working parents. It’s impossible to predict the classroom dynamics at this school, which makes it a fun peace to teach, and as a student means that you will likely find someone to connect to.

For your consideration:

Of course, I urge you to consider whether college is something you need to do at all. There are many trade schools that provide hands-on job training that may be perfect for what you want to do in life.

Because most two-year colleges do not offer room and board, it’s likely that you will miss out on some of the “college experience” during your time here. For some people, that’s a blessing: more time to study, less pressure to party! For others, it feels as though high school is continuing, and may not be the atmosphere they want out of a college.

If you do think college is in your future, I recommend trying out a two-year college because of my own great experience there. Post-community college I chose to attend a private four-year university that did not offer any tuition discount for PTK members. I know, I know… it was foolish on my wallet. However, this was my dream school – I had decided I wanted to attend that particular school since I was a child. Because I spent my first two years of college at a community college, I saved almost $40,000 each year in tuition fees. Even better: my entire community college transcript transferred to this school, with the exception of a math class. To remedy that, I took one more math course over the summer with the community college, paying less than 1/3 of the price I would have paid to take an additional math class at the four-year college.

What are your thoughts or experiences on choosing a college to attend? Are the financial benefits of attending a two-year college worth sacrificing some of the “college experience?”

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