Is a Community College First Strategy Right for You?

Community College First Before Four-Year College StrategyThe rising cost of higher education means that you need to think long and hard before committing to a standard four-year program. Is a bachelor’s degree worth $5,000 in student loan debt to you? What about $20,000 in student loan debt? $50,000? $100,000?

Here’s another question: Do you honestly know the answer at age 18?

A ‘moderate’ budget for the 2013 academic year at an in-state public college averaged a whopping $22,826.  For tuition and fees alone, costs averaged $30,094 at private colleges, $8,893 for in-state students at pubic universities, and $22,203 for out-of-state residents.

Given those figures, it’s not surprising that 7 in 10 graduating seniors from public and non-profit universities in 2013 had student loan debt – with an average of $28,400 per borrower.

One available option to buy yourself time to figure out your finances and save money – while still making progress toward your degree goals – is to start out at a junior college and later transfer to a four-year college when you know what you’re doing.

Here are four reasons why starting the college process at a junior college is a smart idea for a lot of people.

1. The Transition From High School Is Easier
Junior colleges are best described as hybrid high school-college experiences. Like high school, they have smaller class sizes, more accessible professors and tighter social circles. Like colleges, classes are challenging and you have to take on more responsibility.

This gives you a chance to make the transition from high school to college life while accumulating credits that you can later transfer to a four-year university.

2. You Will Save Tens of Thousands of Dollars
The typical state university costs more than $20,000 a year to attend. Local community colleges generally cost less than a third of that.

Starting at a junior college allows you to explore your options without draining your savings and burdening you with debt in the process.

3. Credits Are Usually Transferable
Many community colleges structure their academic curriculum to make it easy for students to transfer accumulated credits to degree programs at four-year universities.

Here in Indiana, Ivy Tech, the statewide community college network, even has an honors program for qualified students that aspire to move on to a four-year school after they complete a two-year associates program closer to home – and for much less.  Advisors in this program work with students from day-one to establish a personalized transfer strategy.  Students completing the honors designation have been accepted at Ivy-league colleges and other top-tier schools like Stanford and the University of Michigan.

4. You Can Still Have an Awesome Social Life
Starting at a junior college doesn’t mean your social life has to be lame. Sure, the dorms make it easy to socialize, but for all the money you’re saving, you can rent an apartment near a college campus and attend the same parties and other social activities that everyone else is. Plus you can meet people in class, just like you would at any university.

Photo by TaxCredits.net / CC BY 2.0

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