Map Out Your Community College Course Plan

Tips for choosing your path through community college

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You’ve made the decision to enroll in a community college and get your A.A. degree. But maybe your post-graduation goals aren’t crystal clear. There are certain steps you can take to figure out what path is right for you without wasting time and money.

Some schools have a strong alumni network that you can use to help you figure out what you want to do.

The courses you take in college generally fall into three categories:

  • General education requirements
  • Major-specific courses
  • Electives

As you look through your college’s course catalog, keep in mind that a solid course plan has a mix of those three course types.

Step 1: Plan to fulfill your general education requirements

If you’re unsure about your academic and career paths, the general education requirements can help you realize what you like and dislike. You’ll be required to take courses in the physical sciences, social sciences, humanities, and mathematics. For instance, if you take biology to fulfill a requirement and really like it, use that knowledge to help you choose a major. Take more science classes. Paying attention to your preferences and your major can choose itself.

For your electives, stick to courses that interest you. If you take some classes for “fun,” you’ll open your mind to new, potentially exciting concepts. Mary Gumlia, an academic counselor at Solano Community College, says, “If a student expresses a love for and interest in art, I might recommend that the student enroll in an art class that counts towards general education or a major for the associate degree. This would allow the student to further explore an interest that might lead to a major/career.”

Step 2: Consider a General Studies or Liberal Studies major

But maybe you end up wanting to major in everything. What do you do then? Many community colleges offer an A.A. in General Studies or Liberal Studies, which lets you take a wide range of courses. This option provides maximum flexibility for transferring to four-year institutions, for exploring career options, or for achieving goals for personal enrichment.

Step 3: Make a plan for 3 or 5 years out

According to a study by the Community College Research Center, only 22.3% of full-time community college students earned a credential or A.A. degree after three years. Given that it could take awhile, it might help to plan ahead. In fact, an article in U.S. News and World Report recommends that students plan where they want to be three, five, or eight years from now. This gives you a rough idea of the direction in which you want your life to go.

Consider that you may want to transfer to a four-year institution. It would be in your best interest to take courses that would allow you to transfer smoothly. The specific plan varies from state to state, and this is where talking to your academic counselor comes in.

Step 4: Use your resources

This step doesn’t have to come last. In fact, you can do this at any point in your academic career.

The American Association of Community Colleges’ 2011 Fact Sheet reveals that the cost of tuition and fees at community colleges are often over 50% less than a four-year university. For many students, it is the most cost-effective option. Furthermore, 84% of community college students work and 60% of those students work more than 20 hours a week. You probably have a lot on your plate. In order to make the most of your time and money, take advantage of the resources your school offers.

Talk to academic and career counselors at your school. They will know not only the best resources within the school but also resources within your area for internships, jobs, and more education.

Community College Course Plan: Quick Facts

  • Some schools offer a college student success course. Solano Community College’s course is called Counseling 50, and it “offers students the opportunity to discover college major and/or career options and develop related goals,” according to counselor Mary Gumlia.
  • Some schools have a strong alumni network that you can use to help you figure out what you want to do. For example, if you’re interested in radiology, there might be a radiologist at a local hospital who also graduated from your school. They might be willing to answer your questions or even let you shadow for a day.
  • Look ahead. While you’re browsing the course catalog, you may see really interesting high-level courses. Be aware that many of these courses have prerequisites and it might be in your best interest to work those into your schedule.
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