So, you’re thinking about the future of your education. Or maybe it’s your son’s or daughter’s education. Either way, deciding where to go and what to do after high school can be a very daunting task – what you do here will effect you for a very long time, if not the rest of your life.
That’s why it’s important to know going in what to expect and what your options are. Now, if you’re reading this article, it would seem you’ve already chosen to go to college. If so, then the decision lies between going to a 4-year university and a junior/community college. Both options work best for different families, so I’ll try to point out the good and bad things associated with each one. That way, you can make an educated decision for yourself.
Community College (C.C.):
-Cheaper: Saving money is always a good thing. Yearly expenses for a student taking 15 units average around $11,653, but this could be substantially lowered through living at home, buying used books, etc.
-Smaller class sizes: This is always a plus. More time with the instructor, and more personalized instruction
-Professors that care: The instructors here don’t do as much research if they do any at all, meaning they spend much more of their time and effort on teaching effectively. They generally know their stuff and are passionate about teaching.
-Proximity: Going to a C.C. close to home means less travel, and if you live at home, less money and better meals.
-Ease of transition: Easier change from high school to C.C. than to a university
-Professors may be less “esteemed”: This isn’t usually a problem, but they aren’t generally big names in their fields
-Lack of resources: A C.C. would probably have less extensive campus resources, i.e. libraries, computer labs, advising and counseling centers, student groups, etc.
-Limited or no on-campus housing: This may or may not be an issue for you.
-Lack of “connections”: By this I mean meeting people in the fields you will eventually work in, securing internships, and getting your foot in the door, so to speak.
-Dorm life: Despite all the negative stereotypes of booze and partying, it actually can be an enjoyable and safe experience (I survived it mostly intact).
-Networking: Easier time forming study groups since you’ll generally live on-campus
-Housing: Lots of on-campus housing and dorms, generally with cafeteria meal plans
-Bright professors: These people are actively advancing their fields through current research.
-Lots and lots of resources: Libraries, counseling, advising, clubs, fitness centers, labs, you name it
-Career opportunities before and after you graduate
-Expensive: Really expensive. For me, it runs about $18,000-20,000 yearly for UC Davis. Expect more from higher end public schools, and a lot more from private schools. Expect less from most state schools. This assumes you live on campus as well.
-Crowded: Don’t hope to find an intimate educational atmosphere here. Stuffed classes mean less personal instruction, and less of a chance to talk with your professor
-Professors may not care or even teach: Some professors are too busy with research to care about teaching, so they shrug it off. Others have a teaching assistant do it for them (this isn’t always a bad thing).
-Distance: Go to school a long ways away means moving there and back each year, or semi-frequent car trips if it’s within driving distance
-Transition: Can be a big shock to go from high school to university learning and living environment
So now you know what each involves. I tried to be fair and balanced, because in the end, the decision is completely up to you, and how you think you can best fit the needs of your individual situation. My personal recommendation is that if you are looking to ease into higher education, not sure if you want to pursue an advanced degree, have budgetary concerns, only want a 2 year degree, or want to go to school close to home, go for the community college option. If, on the other hand, you are serious about doing the work necessary to go for an advanced degree, and don’t mind paying lots of money or moving/commuting, go for the university option.
But the best part may actually be:
You also may not have to choose! An increasingly popular choice is going to a community college for two years, and then transferring out to a university. This is an excellent best-of-both-worlds choice that would work well for most people. In fact, for the average post-high school graduate, this is probably the best course of action that I can recommend.