How to Choose: Community College vs. University

When trying to help your high school senior decide whether it would be better to go directly to a university or to ease into college life by attending community college classes, keep in mind one size does not fit all.

There are pro’s and con’s to both, and it really comes down the individual student. How are her grades? Is he an independent self-starter? Does she know what she wants to study, or does she need to take some time to figure that out? Consider your student personally as we compare the two options below.

Community College: 

Students who take what’s being called a “gap year” in between their senior year of high school and their freshman year of college, to do things like study abroad or volunteer, enter college as better leaders and are more likely to succeed academically. But unless that student is highly self-motivated or statistically comes from a higher-earning household, a gap year often leads to delaying college indefinitely. Since we know that college graduates typically have a higher lifelong earning potential than high school graduates alone, you should encourage your adult child to at least take classes part-time at the local community college. This is a great option for students who need a break of sorts from academia, who need to ease into the adjustment of college life, or who still want time in their schedules to volunteer.

The cost of attending community college is a big factor in why most attendees take this option. It’s approximately $2,400 to go this route as compared to the $14,000 you’ll pay to take classes at a public university.

Community college classes are small, typically having 20 students or fewer in each. This means each student has more access to the professor. The intimate atmosphere is more conducive to group discussion.

Often community colleges have no G.P.A. requirement to get in, so students who may not have done so well in high school get a chance to build their G.P.A. before attempting to transfer elsewhere.

Some degree programs can be completed entirely at community colleges. An Associate in Science is a two-year degree that can be earned without ever having to transfer. It’s perfect for students who want to get to work in a particular field, like dental hygiene, and start making a decent living as soon as possible. Some A.S. degrees prepare students to continue studies in biology, chemistry, or engineering.


Because of the investment, going away to a four-year university is great for the student who typically finishes what they start. If your adult child has been known to follow in her friends’ footsteps and she goes away to a school where all of her friends are going, she runs the risk of quitting if they do. If the student is independent and goal-oriented, she’ll stick it out, even if she ends up alone on her journey.

Living on-campus provides students with a microcosm of what life after college will be like. It’s a safe zone where people learn how to be adults, adhering to rules, engaging in community, and understanding how their choices affect their success of lead to their failure. Going away to a university is a great opportunity for teens to learn to cut the cord with their parents.

There are many more curriculum options at universities than there are at community colleges. Students have the opportunity to delve into incredibly complex and unique courses, taught by accomplished professors. They can also earn Bachelor of Arts degrees, which are mandatory to pursue even higher education and are much more competitive than associate’s degree alone.

Whichever decision your child makes, make sure that they are making the right decision for them.

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