Economy Sparks Increased Interest in Community Colleges

Economy Sparks Increased Interest in Community Colleges

How to get the most out of your community college education.

Want to get a college education but not sure you’re able to commit the time and money to a 4-year college or university? There are many reasons why students are unsure about whether to get a college degree at a 4-year college or university: For some, paying for college is the primary concern. Others are eager to start working or aren’t sure what field of study they want to choose.

If you find yourself unsure about whether to get a college degree, keep in mind that many students are turning to other types of schools and degrees, most notably, getting an associates degree at a community college.

The recent job climate and economic downturn have been contributing factors in the growth of 2-year community colleges. Not only do these schools offer students the ability to earn a degree and get valuable job skills, but they tend to be cheaper than 4-year colleges and also allow students to transfer to a 4-year college to pursue a bachelors degree if they decide they want to after obtaining an associates degree.

Given this rise in interest in community colleges, the U.S. News & World Report recently published tips on how to get the most you can out of your community college education. From paying for college to how to start your career when you graduate, this advice can help you make smart decisions about your education.

1. Paying for Your Community College Degree

Like a 4-year college or university, community college costs include tuition, fees and textbooks. Unlike a 4-year school, you will not have to pay for room and board, but you will have to pay for parking and transportation to and from school.

In other words, while there are big savings to be had paying for college at a 2-year school, you should be sure you budget for all of your expenses. Financial aid is available for students pursuing an associates degree at a community college, so be sure you talk to a financial aid advisor at the community college for assistance.

Your advisor will give you assistance with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)) form, which is the form you need to fill out for federal financial aid, as well as for many forms of state aid and institutional aid. In addition to the FAFSA, ask your advisor about scholarships, grants and college loans that many be available to you.

Keep in mind that scholarships and grants do not need to be repaid, but college loans do. There are significant differences in the interest rates and terms on federal loans and private loans, so be sure you understand exactly what you have to pay and when for each loan you’re considering.

2. Transferring to a Bachelors Degree Program

Many students start their college education with an associates degree at a community college and then transfer those credits toward a bachelors degree program at a 4-year college or university. For some, financial savings is the primary motivator, while others want a chance to build up their grades so they can get into a better school or want more time to figure out what area of study they want to major in.

Your best bet for an easy transfer is to plan your associates degree with your transfer in mind. Not all courses are eligible for transfer credit, so talk to an academic advisor at your community college as well as at the 4-year college you’d like to attend about the courses you should take to be in the best position to transfer.

Ask your advisor about what kinds of articulation agreements they have with 4-year colleges and universities. Community colleges often have agreements with both private and public colleges to help students transfer more easily. Colleges will occasionally change their transfer requirements, so be sure you get the latest information.

3. Taking Advantage of Community College Offerings

When you’re choosing a community college, find out about the programs it offers outside of the classroom. Some community college offer honors programs for gifted students, while others provide tutoring services and academic advising.

Talk to an academic advisor and other students about what opportunities are available to you. These choices could make a big difference in the quality of education and assistance you receive.

4. Choosing a Career or a 4-Year College After Your Associates Degree

While transferring to a 4-year college or university is a common goal for students at community colleges, it’s not the only option for students. An associates degree is the only requirement for a number of rewarding, in-demand careers, especially in fields like nursing, law enforcement and computer programming.

Consider your short-term and long-term career goals when deciding your next move after your associates degree. An important first step is to find out about your community college’s job placement opportunities and the graduates’ success rates in finding careers after graduating from that community college.

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