There are several significant differences between community colleges and four-year universities. Which type of school is right for you? Although the final answer depends on many different factors that are specific to you and your situation, here are some general points to keep in mind as you embark on your college search.
- Available funds. Deciding between a community college and a four-year university often comes down to the size of your budget. Community colleges offer comparable freshman and sophomore level general education classes at a fraction of the per credit cost of four-year institutions, which makes them a smart choice for students operating on a tight budget. So if you don't receive a large enough financial aid package to make a four-year school a viable option or if you already know that you're going to have to pay for your education out of your own pocket, then a community college could be your best bet.
- Maturity level. Before deciding between a community college and a four-year university, it's important for you to sit down and make an honest assessment of your maturity level. Any four-year universities that you're considering are probably far enough away that you would be required to live on campus. Community colleges, on the other hand, are usually not residential institutions, which means you'd likely continue living in your current home if you enroll in one.
In order to make the right decision, you should first think carefully about the following questions. Can you wake up on your own every morning and get to your classes on time no matter how much you'd rather just sleep in? Do you have the discipline to complete all of your homework every night without having someone there to remind you to do so? Would you be able to strike a good balance between academics and fun? Can you handle living in small quarters with a roommate who might have a vastly different personality than you? Are you able to do all of the little things such as laundry, light cooking, and cleaning that go along with living on your own?
If you can sincerely answer "yes" to all of these questions, then you would probably do well at a four-year university. However, if you think that you still need help in one or more of these areas, then a community college might be a better option for the time being.
- Proposed major. When trying to decide between a community college and a four-year university, you should consider the field of study that you wish to major in. Community colleges typically offer a very limited number of classes in relatively few subject areas, while four-year universities offer a full range of classes in a much wider variety of subjects. If you are planning to major in Business Administration, English, Accounting, Communications, or similar fields, then you wouldn't lose any ground by completing your first two years of study at a community college. However, if you plan to major in a highly specialized field such as Latin, Astrophysics, or Molecular Biology, then you should probably stick to a four-year university because community colleges are not likely to have the lower division classes that are required for these programs.
- Desired career. Your career goals should play a big part in your decision regarding community colleges versus four-year schools. While many careers require a Bachelor's or advanced degree, not all of them do. It could be that a two-year Associate's degree obtained from a community college is sufficient for your purposes. For example, if you're planning to become a dental hygienist, auto mechanic, medical technician, machinist, or transcriptionist (to name a few), you will be able to enjoy a very rewarding and lucrative career armed solely with an Associate's degree. If, however, you know that you want to be a teacher, lawyer, or doctor, then you'll have to attend a four-year university at some point.