College Admissions

Two Year College Route to a Four Year Degree

With the economy still struggling, the idea of graduating college without major debt is more appealing than ever, leading many students to start their college education at a low-cost community college. It makes sense when you consider that tuition is a fraction of what you pay at a four year college. Since most community college students live at home, they also save on living expenses.


Saving money isn’t the only advantage to starting at a community college. Students who may not be ready to leave home have a chance to get used to college courses, as well as a little more time to mature, before being immersed in college life. If they do well in community college, they can transfer to selective four year colleges that were out of reach when they were in high school.  


In the first year or two, students at most colleges take introductory courses to satisfy general education requirements, and these classes are often smaller at community colleges than at public universities. Students can talk directly to their professors rather than having to go through teaching assistants. 


Many community colleges have articulation agreements with four year colleges in the area that specify what courses a student needs to take in order to transfer. An articulation agreement makes the path very clear, but students who want to attend colleges that don’t have an articulation agreement will be able to transfer to other schools as long as they choose their courses carefully. Most community colleges have academic advisors who can help students make sure they are on track to meet the requirements for four year colleges.


Some community colleges have honors programs, which provide a number of benefits, including the opportunity to take small, discussion-based classes with the most experienced professors. Taking classes with other highly motivated students provides intellectual stimulation and helps student prepare for academic life at a four year college. 


Public universities in many states provide access to community college students. Students who want to attend UCLA or Berkeley know that it’s easier to transfer to those schools from a California community college than from another four year institution. Even highly selective private colleges respond favorably to transfer applicants from community colleges. And if you earn your bachelor’s degree at Cornell, the diploma won’t say that you started at a community college.


Smaller classes, the opportunity to get a diploma from a four year college, and all for thousands of dollars less than four years at a university. What a deal!


As in any deal, there are tradeoffs. The big one is missing out on the total college experience. While parents may be just as happy that their children don’t have easy access to drinking, fraternity parties and casual sex, there is a lot of learning at residential colleges that goes on outside the classroom. Students have opportunities to meet people from different backgrounds, adjust to roommates, manage their time, and become more independent.   


While community colleges do offer some extracurricular activities, they do not, ironically, typically offer much sense of community. Many students work and attend school part-time. College is not the center of their lives as it is for students at a residential campus. 


A few community colleges offer housing, but the percentage of students living on campus is usually low, so campus life is not what you find at a four year college. Students who want more campus life might want to consider a private two year college. These schools can be expensive, but do offer financial as well as scholarships. They also provide a level of academic support that can be critical for students who may have struggled in high school.


Dean College, in Massachusetts, about 30 miles from Boston and Providence, offers a few four year options, but is primarily a two year college that prepares students to transfer to four year schools. Students receive personal attention and academic support, and the school boasts of a 98 percent transfer placement rate. Most students live on campus, where they can participate in a variety of extracurricular activities and sports.


Students who are looking for a warmer climate can head to Marymount College in Palos Verdes, California. The campus, located just outside of Los Angeles, has ocean views, and offers small classes and personal attention. The school has summer study abroad programs and students can spend a semester in London. More than 90 percent of Marymount graduates transfer to four year schools. This year, Marymount will begin offering bachelor’s degrees in business, liberal arts and media studies.


For students who are not outgoing and assertive, it can be difficult to enter a university as a junior transfer, when many students have made their friends and created their social network during freshman year. There will be other transfer students, though, and most schools transfer housing and orientation programs, which help students make a smooth transition.