Saving money without sacrificing quality

The Benefits of Community College

by Rebecca Rogge

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If you have chosen (or are considering choosing) a community college education, you may be concerned you are sacrificing educational quality by opting for a community college over the more expensive alternatives. It is common knowledge that tuition at your local community college is exponentially cheaper than both private and public university educations. It is commonly believed, therefore, that the quality of community college is also exponentially less.

This does not have to be true. What is true is that community colleges often feature local campuses, a practical focus, and hard-working professionals. Your time at community college can be an incredible opportunity to save money and gain valuable experience and knowledge. The success of your community college experience will be directly linked to the effort you personally put into making it a success.

Look into degree transfer programs with state universities. Increasing numbers of community colleges are offering guaranteed transfer programs to that state's colleges. Students typically complete two years of primarily basic level courses at the community college, saving thousands of dollars, and then complete upper level courses at a regular four-year college.

Maximize your schedule by taking advantage of flexible class schedules. Community colleges have a strong focus on adults and continuing education. Instead of class schedules designed for the full-time student, which often necessitate reserving large blocks of time for classes spread throughout the week, community college schedules cater to the working professional. Many degree programs can be pursued completely during nights and/or weekends or even online. This can allow you to keep a full-time job while attending school, without the hassle of shifting classes and arranging work excuses.

Take advantage of your professors and fellow students in a good way! Community college professors typically have a master's degree instead of a Ph.D. and extensive practical, on-going experience in their field. They also often have more practical advice than a research and academics focused instructor with a doctorate and may have many local contacts in their area of expertise, which is an invaluable resource. Your music appreciation professor will know when the good performers are coming to town and is friends with the conductor of the local symphony. Your nursing instructor may have friends in the local hospital and can give you an "in" when you start looking for a summer internship or a job! The nighttime English professor may work days at the local newspaper. The same can be true of your fellow students. At a four-year college, most students are fresh out of high school. At a community college, adults who have already built valuable experience surround you. Cultivate these relationships. They are key to the success of your community college experience.

Take advantage of the "community" part of community college, with the many clubs and professional groups available. Sacrificing an expensive college experience doesn't mean you have to give up involvement or student life. Clubs are a great way to meet others in the field you are pursuing, find a study partner, and get involved in the community.

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Get to know the people in the academic offices. These insiders are a wealth of information when it comes to saving money and maximizing quality. Ask about scholarships. Get the scoop on payment plans and the cheapest places to buy books. Many community colleges offer student discounts to local museums and musical and theater performances. Ask!

Take your time! Use your time at community to explore your alternatives; take experimental classes without wasting your money. Interested in massage therapy? Add a once-a-week class on top of your more basic classes; you can always claim it as an elective (required for most degrees) later. If you are unsure what career path you want to pursue, time at community college can be invaluable in both broadening horizons and providing career focus.

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If you are already enrolled in a more expensive institution, look into transfer policies. Most schools will allow you to transfer many basic classes; a semester or a summer term at a community college can instantly save you thousands of dollars. (And, after all, Math 101 is pretty much the same in Hicktown Community College or Yale University!) Just make sure that you have approval in writing before enrolling in these "transient student" classes, or your attempts at money-saving may result in money-wasting when your home college refuses to accept your credits.

Use your time at community college wisely, and you will gain valuable knowledge and experience. Form relationships which will benefit you for years to come, whether your education concludes with community college or you use your time there as a stepping stone to further education.

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