Community College vs. University: Which Is The Right Fit For You

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So you've made it through the SATs and are on your way to greener pastures. Everyone is telling you college and university is the way to go, but have you thought about community college? The decision between community college vs. university is one that you should put a lot of thought into.

Community colleges may get a bad reputation for being sub-par, but many offer quality education for those on a budget. They can even act as a stepping stone to university. But before you make this decision, consider the benefits and drawbacks of each, along with your personal goals.

Community College vs. University

The community college vs. university issue can be very confusing at times. There is a lot that goes into each option, and neither should be taken lightly. But when it all boils down, it all depends on you and your plan.

Some students are immediately drawn to four-year universities, which offer many things that a community college doesn't — things like campus facilities, sports, and more robust student life.

However, community colleges are changing the game of higher education and offer students many more options in pursuing their dreams.

That is the core of the community college vs. university debate.

Community colleges give students the chance to start with lower student debt with lower tuition requirements. They also offer more flexible schedules, which can help with part-time students or adult students. However, the quality of education is always called into question when the topic of community college is brought up.

But just because a college is smaller, doesn't mean the quality of the teachers is worse. Some students may thrive in smaller class size over a large lecture hall. It all depends on you as a learner and your future goals.

What is a community college?

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If you are breaking out of high school and learning about college and all it offers, you may not be thoroughly familiar with community college. These are typically smaller colleges, sometimes called junior colleges, that provide a two-year education that you can use as a pathway to a four-year school. Community colleges allow you to earn an associate degree, which you can either use to get a bachelor's or use in the job industry.

These junior colleges are typically much more affordable than a full-fledged university, which is why people find them attractive. Universities are infamously expensive, and that turns away a lot of potential students. But besides the price tag, community colleges will usually be smaller and more flexible with your schedule.

Many of them will allow for part-time learning, where you can take half the credits during the regular semesters and study year-round. This is another reason many people go to them because they maybe have busy schedules or families in need that they have to care for.

The main structure of a community college vs. university is to help you develop the skills you need for the real world and the workforce. They also allow you to build up your college resume and get your core classes under your belt, which you can then use to transfer to a four-year university.

What is a university?

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A university is a path that teachers, parents, and even other students push most to follow. It is the standard in higher education and offers a great deal for you to take advantage of. There are universities out there that focus on a specific skill set or interest like the law or the medical field.

Universities also allow you to gain a bachelor's after completing all of the courses included in a standard four-year program. Moreover, you can pursue further education towards a master's degree or even a doctorate. These universities allow you to find an area that you love before you have to choose a major, by offering a wide selection of classes in many different fields.

There are also many universities out there that specialize in teaching or research, depending on the style you like. Teaching universities focus on hands-on learning, whereas research universities focus on, well, research, and how to gain information. You can also choose from public or private universities, each giving you a different overall experience.

Four-year schools will give you a much more extensive selection of disciplines, activities, student life, and learning styles for you to make use of. While they may not be for everyone, nearly every job out there requires at least a bachelor's degree for them even to consider you, so odds are you'll end up at one at or another.

Difference between university and college

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While the community college vs. university debate rages on, people often confuse university with college.

Often, people will use the terms university and college interchangeably. And let's be honest, most people don't know the difference between the two. The terms are so synonymous nowadays that their differences don't matter anymore. At least, not in casual speech.

However, there are distinct differences between the two. A university, as you know now, is an institution that offers a wide range of undergraduate and graduate degrees. Also, they are typically pretty big and house a vast student body.

Colleges, on the other hand, will be a bit smaller and are often focused on a specific industry. For example, the College of William and Mary in Virginia offers graduate degrees in business law, education, and marine science. St. Joseph's College in New York offers degrees in education, business, creative writing, and more.

While there are differences, most of the time it's appropriate to say either-or.

What Do They Offer?

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The big argument in the whole community college vs. university debate is, what do each of them offer you? That's a big question, to be honest, what a university offers may not ultimately interest you and vice versa.

Some don't care about parties and building relationships and would instead focus on their studies. On the other hand, there are a lot who found lifelong friends and even romantic relationships in university.

Do you want a full time or part-time education? Big classes, or smaller more personal classes? Trade degrees or creative degrees?

These are all the things you have to think about because those will point you in the right direction.

Benefits of community college

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Community colleges have a lot of benefits to them. But some of the good things of community college also may lead to some of the worst parts of them.

These institutions offer you a lower cost of tuition, which can help in the long run as you'll get a leg up on your university colleagues. Besides, you'll have a more flexible schedule and smaller classes which may work better with your learning methods. Not everyone reacts well to colossal lecture halls fills with 100 students.

However, all of these benefits have effects that give community colleges the lousy reputation you probably know about. The lower cost of tuition also leads to a far more limited curriculum, meaning they may not offer classes that interest you.

The flexible schedule may also lead to a lighter workload, which sounds great, but you'll find that college is really what you make of it.

That lighter workload can send the wrong message to some students, that life doesn't require hard work. Because of this, there is a big problem with students in community college who become uninvolved and lazy. This leads to lower grades, lack of future goals, and many students get stuck in this cycle and never get out of it.

Even if you are not that kind of student, you'll most likely be around those who are, and it can get old fast.

Benefits of university

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To really decide between community college vs. university, you should know what universities offer and if they are in line with what you want.

Universities, as you now know, offer a much more comprehensive selection of classes and disciplines that you can try your hand at. But beyond that, you're also getting a whole new life. Campus life is unlike anything you'll ever experience, and it's pretty awesome.

You have the chance to meet tons of new people, some of which you may end up building lasting friendships with. Universities also give support in the real world through the Alumni association. These people are people who graduated before you and with you and can help you find a job you love.

They are your support group, and they come in really handy in a pinch.

Sure you may find a handful of lazy students who don't care, just like some in community college. But because the university is far more expensive, those students are usually harder to find. There's no point in spending thousands of dollars to sit there and flunk your classes.

Think About You

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Before you grab your backpack and run out the door to your next step in education, you need to think about what you want, not what everyone else is pushing you towards. Yes, community colleges have their stigmas, but not every school is the same way. Usually, the community college vs. university argument is one that you have to decide for yourself.

Take a look inside yourself and think about your goals, dreams, passions, and your needs. From there, you can make a better decision. Try not to listen to all of the people yelling at you and don't worry about what everything thinks.

This is your life, and you have to choose what's best for you and no one else.

What are you looking for?

While you are thinking about you, take a look at your situation. Did you have the best grades in High School? Do you or your parents have the money for a four-year university?

Starting at a smaller college or community college doesn't mean you aren't smart or worthy of a four-year school. Many people who didn't do the best in high school go to a college to boost their grades so they can get into a bigger university later. There is absolutely no shame in that at all.

The money issue is another one that plagues many students, and again, there's no shame. If you need to save money, go to a smaller college first, work while you study and save up as much money as you can. Sometimes that's the best choice over burying yourself in a ton of debt.

Community college is also a great idea if you have no idea what you want to do with your life. While these schools may not have a wide selection of classes, you can think about what you like and what you want to pursue.

Then you can get a head start on those who wasted two years in a university trying to figure out the same thing. It costs less to experiment and explore in a community college, too.


If you are worried about still not being able to get into your dream college after attending community college, don't worry. Many universities are far easier to transfer into rather than get into straight out of high school.

However, you have to pay attention to how your credits will transfer to your university; otherwise, you may end up with a bunch of worthless classes. Not to mention, many universities have a minimum credit requirement you have to meet before you can transfer in. Each university and college is different, so speak with your admissions counselor for both schools to figure out the best path to take.

Follow Your Dreams

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Figuring out what do to do when debating community college vs. university can be confusing and frustrating at times. However, the most important thing you can do is follow your dreams. Stop listening to everyone around you and listen to yourself for once.

You are the only one who can decide what's best for you, not your friends, parents, or partner, just you. If you want to take it easy and start at a community college that is entirely ok and you should do that. Don't think that you need to go straight to a university right off the bat.

But we want to hear from you, do you have experience with the community college vs. university scenario? Which did you start with? Let us know in the comments below!


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