At a glance
Not all graduating high school seniors are ready for a four-year college.
Taking a certificate program can help teens and young adults find a job.
Community colleges can be smaller and more nurturing than large state schools.
When people think about community college, they often focus on the low tuition. According to the College Board, two-year public community colleges average $3,440 per year for in-district students. That’s much less than the average four-year college.
But for many kids, there are other advantages to a two-year program. That’s especially true for teens who have struggled in school or who need more time to mature. Here are some reasons community college might be a good option for your young adult.
1. Your teen wants credentials for a specific career or job.
Community colleges give students the chance to earn credentials in many career fields. If your teen is interested in one of those fields, this may be a good fit.
Community colleges offer different kinds of associate’s degrees. An occupational degree, like the associate in occupational studies (AOS) degree, usually involves hands-on training. It prepares students for a specific job.
Some common options for these degrees are veterinary technology, computer programming, dental hygiene, and graphic art. But there are many others, too.
An occupational degree doesn’t have a core academic curriculum. In fact, it doesn’t have an academic component at all. All of the coursework relates directly to the job. So if a student decides to pursue a four-year degree afterward, some credits may not transfer toward it.
Associate in arts (AA) and associate in science (AS) degrees, sometimes called transfer degrees, may also be career-directed. But these degrees do have an academic component. The advantage? It leaves options open. If a student decides to pursue a bachelor’s degree, it typically takes only two more years as a full-time student to complete one, depending on the major.
Community colleges may also offer certificate programs in areas like accounting, acupuncture, or not-for-profit fundraising. These are shorter programs meant to qualify students for specific jobs. Students don’t receive degrees, but they do get certification.
2. Your child isn’t academically ready for a four-year college.
Some teens don’t have the grades or SAT scores to get into a traditional college. Or they may not have the types of skills needed to do well there.
Community college give students a chance to improve academically. They may be in a better position to apply to a four-year school later. In fact, many community colleges are affiliated with state schools, which can make the transfer process easier. It may even be automatic, if it’s based on college GPA.
In most cases, as long as students graduated from high school or have a GED, they can get into community college. The application process is simple. It usually doesn’t require a personal essay, SAT scores, or teacher recommendations.
What’s more, many community colleges are set up to provide remedial help. This extra support can help prepare kids for their course of study, no matter where they end up getting a degree. For example, after a year or two of study, a student may want to transfer to a four-year school. The new school will look at the student’s grades in community college, not high school grades.
3. Your child needs to build confidence.
If your teen isn’t socially or emotionally ready to go away to college, community college can be a good way to ease the transition. Most have small classes. Many feel more nurturing than large schools. And students generally live at home.
Another reason your teen’s confidence may grow: the emphasis on teaching. Many community colleges are part of a state university system. Their professors are just as qualified as their state university counterparts. But community college professors tend to focus on teaching rather than research.
If your child is committed, community college can be a great place to thrive. Doing well can make kids feel more comfortable interacting with others. Once they feel more secure, they may be ready to transfer to a four-year school.
4. Your teen still needs a support system.
Many teens who’ve struggled academically still need the tutors and therapists who helped them through high school. Going to college close to home lets your child maintain those relationships. And the lower tuition at community college may help your family afford the cost of these professionals.
5. Your child needs time to adapt to change.
In order to get financial aid or live on campus, first-year students at four-year schools usually have to take a full course load. This may be too much for a teen adjusting to new responsibilities and more challenging schoolwork. Community colleges let students take just a couple classes so they can ease in to college work.
Some people view community colleges as a step down from traditional colleges, or even look down on them. However, whether your child wants to transfer to a four-year college or simply qualify for a good job, community college can be a smart option. Remember that there are many paths to success after high school. With your help, your teen can find one that works.
Community college can help students transition to a four-year college or a career.
Many community colleges are affiliated with state schools, which can make the transfer process easier.
If your child is committed, community college can be a great place to thrive.
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About the author
About the author
Kate Kelly has been writing and editing for more than 20 years, with a focus on parenting.
Jim Rein, MA has lectured on postsecondary options and summer programs for kids and young adults with learning and thinking differences.