Reasons You Should Spend Your First Two Years at Community College

You don't often hear people encouraging young students to attend community college. It's almost taboo — as if it's the place you go only when you can't get into a prestigious four-year university.

But that generalization does a disservice to college-bound students, most of whom can certainly benefit from community college on a number of levels.

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I was a community college skeptic, too. Then financial circumstances left me without a choice, and I enrolled in a local two-year, with plans to transfer. The process was unexpectedly smooth and rewarding. And while that's not going to be everyone's experience, the lessons I took might come in handy this application season.

Here are four reasons to spend your first two years at community college.

1. Let's start with the obvious: money.

Unless you managed to score a full-ride scholarship — or have some other means of graduating from a four-year college without incurring student loan debt — community college offers a practical solution to one of the biggest problems with America's higher education system: affordability.

On average, tuition and fees at a community college add up to about $3,300, according to The College Board. Private four-year schools cost roughly 10 times that amount, and that's without factoring in housing costs.

Attending community college allows you to avoid such costs and stay at home for your first two years: About 90 percent of Americans live within commuting distance of a community college. That also means spending more on gas than you would living on campus, but it's still a lot cheaper than paying for a dorm or apartment.

2. Community college can give students a blank slate, academically speaking.

Say you left high school with less-than-stellar grades, but still want to attend a four-year college with competitive admission requirements. Community college can help you there as well. Students who transfer from a community college have a second chance to perform to the best of their ability and apply to the four-years with an improved GPA.

Yes, most colleges require you to submit high school transcripts as well as your community college transcripts, but if you show dramatic improvement over time, that's going to reflect well on you.

3. It allows you to develop a better sense of your academic and professional goals.

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Nobody can know for certain what career path they'll ultimately pursue after high school. But sometimes it can feel like that's exactly what's expected of you when you enter a four-year college.

While most students are required to take a number of "general education" courses for their first couple years in college, four-years require students to select a major right off the bat. Attending community college gives you extra time to make that decision — so by the time you're ready to transfer, you're older, wiser, and in a better position to decide which academic path you'll take.

4. The learning environment.

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The average classroom size at community college tends to be much smaller than it is at a four-year university, which means professors are generally more accessible.

And unlike professors at many four-year schools, community college professors aren't required to work on research and writing projects in addition to their teaching responsibilities. Their main focus is on the students.

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