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The cost of college is always a hot topic. With costs rising each year (with seemingly no end in sight) students and their families are looking for money-saving tricks to make college more affordable. One great option? Going to a community college. Community college fees are often significantly lower than any private or public colleges. If you already have a dream school in mind, enrolling at a local community college may not be part of the plan for your future. However, when it comes to paying for college, a two-year school can be a great way to start your college education. So how much does community college cost?

According to the NCES, the average cost of a two-year community college (including tuition, fees, room and board) in 2016–17 was $10,655 per year. When you compare that to the average cost of a public four-year in-state college, which was $17,987 per year, it is a difference of $7,332 in savings every year.

What about the cost for all four years? Approximately $71,948. That is almost $72k for a bachelor’s degree. (And keep in mind, the cost tends to go up each year, so it is likely higher than that.)

So, what if you went to a community college first? If you did two years at a community college, then transfer for another two years at that public in-state college, that cost would be more like $57,284, which is an average saving of $14,664 for a bachelor’s degree and is a significant amount of savings.

More and more students are choosing the 2+2 Programs—earning an associate degree, then transferring to a college/university for the next two years and earning a bachelor’s degree. You can take care of your general education courses at a community college, then focus on your major classes when you transfer to a different college/university; and it’s a great way to save money on tuition costs!

It is More Than Just Tuition

Community colleges (sometimes referred to as junior colleges) offer a two–year associate degree. If you have a high school diploma or a GED you are eligible to attend a community college. Community colleges rarely consider standardized test scores for admissions decisions, although certain classes or programs may have more stringent requirements. Any student with a strong academic record at a community college can typically transfer to a more expensive state or private college for two more years to earn a bachelor’s degree.

When you attend community college, you save much more than just the cost of tuition. There is a community college within commuting distance of about 90 percent of the U.S. population, so convenience is a huge selling point. If you have family responsibilities or just do not feel financially ready to go out on your own, a community college allows you to continue your education without breaking the bank.

Save on Room and Board

Often students live at home with their parents, which can result in saving hundreds of dollars every month on rent and utilities. This can add up to a few thousand over a period of two years. Especially if students are working part-time.

Work While in School

Four–year schools typically require you to be a full–time student. However, many community colleges allow students to take classes part-time as they work or pursue other interests. Spending two years at a community college can give you the flexibility and time to work and save up for the four-year college of your choice. For even more added flexibility, many two-year colleges have multiple locations and offer courses online.

Get an Academic Boost

For some, community college is an opportunity to make up for a poor high school record. For others, it is a chance to get extra academic guidance and support. Community colleges usually have small class sizes, and the priority of the faculty is teaching as opposed to research. Plus, there are usually lots of support services, like mentoring programs and organized study groups. This support offers students the credentials they need to get admitted to, and succeed at, a four-year school. You could even discover that you qualify for a scholarship from the school you are transferring to or from an outside organization like Phi Theta Kappa, the honor society for two-year colleges.

Making the Transfer

If you hope to transfer, make sure you meet with an advisor both at your community college and, if possible, the school you eventually hope to attend. Be sure to find out from your school of choice how many transfer students are accepted each year, what kind of financial aid is available, and how many of the credits earned at your community college will be accepted by the new college. 

Above all, if you want this route, take your community college education seriously. College is college, regardless of if it is a two or four year school and getting off to a good start can be your ticket to a great future.

Still wondering if community college is right for you? Ask yourself:

  • Do you like smaller class sizes?
  • Do you want to stay closer to home?
  • Is saving money worth the additional work of transferring?
  • Will your credits transfer between your community college and your preferred transfer college?
  • Does your desired major have stringent class requirements you might not be able to complete in two years at your transfer college?
  • Have you toured the community colleges close to you? Do you like them?
  • Have you met with your high school counselor about community college options?

There are a lot of myths about community colleges like “They’re not as high quality” and “They won’t give you good connections.” But these are just myths. Of course, there are pros and cons as with any decision. But for many, the benefits of significant cost savings are worth it. While community college and living at home might not sound like the most thrilling option, you’ll be pleased you chose this path when you graduate and without the burden of a mountain of debt.

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