If you have a dream school in mind, enrolling at a local community college might not be part of the plan for your future. But when it comes to paying for college, a two-year school can be a savvy start to your college education.

Student studying at table

Community colleges (also known as junior colleges) offer a two–year degree called an associate's degree. If you have a high school diploma or have earned a GED, you are eligible to attend a community college. These schools rarely consider standardized test scores when making admissions decisions, though certain classes or programs may have more stringent requirements. A student with a strong academic record at a community college can then transfer to a more expensive state or private college for two more years to earn a bachelor’s degree. Going this route offers several benefits:

1. Save on Tuition

Community college tuition is usually thousands of dollars cheaper than tuition for private and public four–year universities. According to the College Board, the average published yearly tuition and fees for a public two-year college is just $3,440—that represents an outstanding opportunity to save some cash! This total cost is only a fraction of the cost of a private college, and still thousands of dollars less than a four-year program at a state college. Plus, even with the relatively low rates, nearly a third of community college students receive financial aid.

2. Save on Room and Board

There is a community college within commuting distance of 90 percent of the U.S. population, so convenience is a big selling point. If you have family obligations or just don't feel financially ready to strike out on your own, a community college can enable you to continue your education without breaking the bank.

3. Work While in School

Four–year schools generally require you to be a full–time student. On the other hand, many community college students take classes part-time as they work or pursue other interests. Spending two years at a community college can give you time to work and save up for the four-year college of your choice. For added flexibility, a number of two–year colleges have multiple locations and offer courses online.

Find your dream school: College Search

4. Get an Academic Boost

For some, community college is a chance to make up for a poor high school record. For others, it is an opportunity to get extra academic guidance and support. Community colleges often have small class sizes, and the priority of the faculty is teaching—not research. Plus, there are generally lots of support services, such as mentoring programs and organized study groups. This support can give students the credentials they need to get admitted to, and succeed at, a four-year school. You might even find that you qualify for a scholarship from the school you're transferring to or from an outside organization like Phi Theta Kappa, the honor society for two-year colleges.

Making the Transfer

If you hope to transfer, meet with an advisor both at your community college and, if possible, the school you eventually want to attend. Be sure to find out from the school how many transfer students are accepted per year, what kind of financial aid is available to them, and how many of the credits earned at the old college will be accepted by the new college. Our books Paying for College and College Admission 101 will help you plan strategically.

Above all, if you consider this route, take your community college education seriously. College is college, whether it's a two- or four-year school, and getting off to a good start can be your ticket to a great future.

Looking for strategic college advice?

Get one-on-one help from former Ivy League and top tier admission officers. Our College Admission Counselors will help you find, apply, and get accepted to your dream school.

Learn More