What Is Community College? A Complete Guide (2024)

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It’s increasingly clear that higher education is beneficial for many promising career paths. But a traditional four-year degree isn’t the only way to attend college.

Community colleges make higher education more accessible, affordable and flexible for students pursuing degrees outside of traditional four-year institutions. At a community college, you can pursue an associate degree or technical training program at a much lower cost than a four-year school. Some community colleges even offer bachelor’s degrees.

Community college programs can prepare learners for entry-level jobs or bachelor’s programs. Since community colleges tend to cost much less than most four-year universities, you can save significantly on tuition by completing general education requirements at a community college.

Keep reading to learn more about community colleges, including their differences from four-year institutions, the pros and cons of attending community college, and what to expect if you enroll.

What Is Community College?

A community college is a postsecondary school that offers undergraduate degrees and vocational and technical education. The highest degree you can earn at most community colleges is a two-year Associate of Arts or Associate of Science. Though less common, some community colleges offer four-year bachelor’s degrees.

Community colleges provide academic majors in everything from general studies and the humanities to biology or history. Community colleges often partner with nearby universities to streamline the transfer process, letting you earn a bachelor’s degree by combining two years of credits from community college with two years at a four-year institution.

Vocational and technical programs at community colleges cover topics like nursing, welding, automotive technology and the culinary arts. These programs, which frequently partner with local employers, prepare students to enter the workforce right after graduation and focus on developing career-relevant skills.

Community College vs. Four-Year University

Community colleges play an important role in higher education as they provide a relatively affordable route for post-high school training or education outside of a four-year institution. Community colleges usually cost less and offer more flexible admission policies than four-year schools.

Community colleges feature associate degrees and vocational programs that emphasize career preparation. Four-year universities, on the other hand, offer bachelor’s degrees and graduate programs. Some community colleges occasionally offer bachelor’s degrees.

How Does Community College Work?

If you’re considering the community college route, you might have some questions. Read on to get your answers.

How Do You Get Into Community College?

The application process to community college typically includes an online application and an application fee. Most community colleges accept applicants with a high school diploma or GED® certificate. Unlike traditional four-year schools, community colleges don’t usually require a minimum GPA or standardized test scores. You also don’t typically need letters of recommendation, essays or statements of purpose.

How Much Is Community College?

Prices vary by school, but community college costs significantly less than a traditional four-year university. The National Center for Education Statistics reports the average tuition and fees at a two-year college cost $3,885 in 2022–23. In comparison, tuition and fees at a four-year college averaged $17,709.

Attending a community college may also help you save money. For example, instead of paying for expensive on-campus housing, many community college students live at home and commute to class.

How Long Is Community College?

Associate degree programs at most community colleges take two years or less if you attend full-time. Enrolling part-time or taking a break in your studies takes longer. Some vocational and technical training programs take less than two years to finish.

Who Should Consider Community College?

Community college is a good fit for many students and accommodates financial and time constraints. In fall 2022, around one-third of undergraduate students enrolled in public two-year colleges in the United States.

If you’re interested in a career requiring higher education other than a bachelor’s degree, like an associate degree or certificate, you can earn these credentials at a community college. A community college can also be a good choice if you need vocational training in healthcare, construction or other trades.

Community colleges often provide small classes, support services and cultural programs that significantly benefit students new to the U.S. or those still learning English.

If you don’t meet the admission requirements for your ideal bachelor’s degree program, you can strengthen your GPA by completing a few semesters at a community college before transferring to your desired bachelor’s program.

Attending your first two years at a community college and then transferring to a four-year school can also help save you money. Tuition and fees often cost much less at community colleges than at state universities, making community colleges a sound decision if you’re on a budget.

Pros and Cons of Attending Community College

Enrolling at a community college is an affordable, flexible way to begin your higher education journey. However, it’s not necessarily the best fit for everyone. Let’s explore some of the benefits and drawbacks of community college.


  • Cost savings: You can save money by going to a community college because most offer much lower tuition than four-year schools. Even completing the first two years of a four-year degree at a community college can translate into big savings.
  • Easier to get into: Community colleges typically have less competitive admission requirements, often requiring just a high school diploma or GED certificate. Many don’t require a high school GPA or standardized test scores.
  • Career-focused programs: Many careers require more education than high school but less than a four-year bachelor’s degree. For example, if you’re interested in becoming a medical assistant, paralegal or air traffic controller, you’ll only need a certificate or associate degree.
  • Small class sizes: Community colleges often offer smaller classes than four-year schools. You can benefit from individualized attention in small classes.

Potential Drawbacks

  • Many careers require a bachelor’s degree: You might not be able to complete the bachelor’s degree you need at a community college, requiring you to transfer.
  • Fewer programs and class options: Community colleges may not offer the same programs or classes as larger universities, narrowing your degree options.
  • You won’t get the traditional college experience: This doesn’t necessarily matter to everyone, but if you want to have the archetypal college experience of living in a dorm and studying on the quad, community college might not be the right choice.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Community Colleges

What is the difference between a college and a community college?

In general, a community college offers associate degrees and vocational training programs, while a traditional college awards bachelor’s degrees and higher. Community colleges typically charge less for tuition than the average four-year school, and their admission requirements tend to be less rigorous.

What are the pros and cons of going to a community college?

Pros of attending a community college include lower cost, a shorter time commitment, smaller class sizes and ease of admission compared to a university. Potential cons include fewer degree and class options, lack of prestige and the requirement to transfer to complete higher education. You might also regret missing the traditional college experience.

Is community college easier than college?

It’s usually easier to get into community college than a four-year school. However, whether or not classes are easier depends on the specific community college, the degree you pursue and the classes you take.

Is it smart to go to community college first?

Going to community college first before attending a four-year college can be smart. Completing the first two years of school at a community college and then transferring to a four-year university can save a lot of money. It can also be a good option if you don’t meet the admission requirements for a traditional college straight out of high school.

What Is Community College? A Complete Guide (2024)
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