Senior year is filled with many questions. Everything from "Will I make the varsity soccer team?" to "Who will I go with to the prom?" For some, academics take a backseat, and sometimes just ensuring that one has enough credits to graduate is enough to satisfy the average high school senior. Teenagers tend to focus on the "now" rather than the "later" and unfortunately, if they haven't been diligent about grades, advanced-placement courses, and SAT scores throughout their high school career, by the time senior year rolls around, their options for college have been narrowed down to just one – community college.
Many high school students view community college as an extension of high school – a place to go for those who weren't smart enough to get into a real college. And, if we are being totally truthful, many parents feel the exact same way. After all, you never hear of a parent boasting about their child's acceptance into a community college. It's more like, "Well, they're still trying to figure out what they want to do when they grow up, so they're taking some courses at the local college."
Let's face it. Most adults still don't know what they want to be when they grow up. How then, can we expect our teenagers to commit to something for the next four years that may alter their lives forever?
There are many advantages of choosing community college over a four-year university. Here are three of the most compelling:
With the cost of education on the rise, many students simply can't afford to attend a four-year university. According to a study conducted by CollegeBoard.com, the average yearly cost of a four-year private university in 2008-2009 is around $25,000. In comparison, a public two-year college is only $2,400 per year. A father of a recent community college grad noted, "If we had sent our daughter to UCLA directly out of high school, we would have spent about $56,000 to get her through to her junior year. She will be entering UCLA as a junior in the fall, and we only spent around $3,000. Going to a community college allowed her to work and save for two years and afforded her the time to apply for scholarships and grants to offset the cost of her remaining two years of college."
Taking the community college route allows students to get all of their general education classes out of the way at a highly reduced rate without compromising the quality of their education.
When it comes to lower-division courses, the quality of education received at a community college is just as good if not better than at a four-year university. At a minimum, a community college professor must have a master's degree and most have a Ph.D. One of the biggest complaints of freshmen attending a four-year university is that typically a teacher's assistant (TA) handles the instruction of lower-division courses. Add to that large class sizes of 100 plus and you have a recipe for disaster – especially for students who may need a little more face time with their teacher. And, the focus of university professors is often on projects other than teaching. As one former professor stated, "It's either publish or perish. The university wants our works published, so that's where we focus most of our efforts, and unfortunately the students get the short end of the proverbial stick." In comparison, community college classrooms typically average around 35 to 60 students max. Smaller class sizes are a huge advantage for students during the critical first two years of a post-secondary education.
Getting accepted into a four-year university right out of high school is extremely difficult. It's not just about the grades anymore. More than ever, universities are looking for students that go above and beyond the 4.0-grade-point average and the mind-boggling SAT score. A student must have a bevy of extracurricular activities to add to their resume, whether it be lettering in a sport all four years or being the president of the student body since kindergarten.
The same rules simply don't apply to those transferring from a community college. In fact, as Mike Claire, President of the College of San Mateo in San Mateo, California, says, "Students have an excellent chance of transferring to a preferred university directly from a community college. Generally, chances for acceptance are much higher than they would be straight out of high school. In California, most community colleges have a Guaranteed Admission Contract with a student that guarantees admission to a particular four-year university if the student meets certain requirements – generally based on their GPA and unit completion."
All in all, community college is an excellent choice for those who are undecided about what to do after graduating from high school. Not only does it give them an opportunity to make the transition from high school to college easier, community colleges also offer a variety of unconventional courses – everything from graphic design to firefighting – so that students can explore options they wouldn't normally be able to at a four-year university.