Community College: Is It a Valid Alternative to a Four-Year College?

As tuition rises, community colleges are being viewed more and more as an attractive choice. They still offer a degree like their four-year counterparts, but what draws students to them is the alternatives they offer.


Tuition: According to the U.S. Department of Education National Center for Education Statistics, the average cost for one year of community college in the 2012-2013 school year was only $9,180. But for four-year colleges, that price spikes to $22,261. And if you're thinking of a brand-name school? Be prepared to shell out as much as $49,138 to go somewhere like Columbia University.

Schedule: If you want to get a degree but can't put your life on hold for several years, community colleges offer flexible scheduling by way of evening and night classes. Many four-year colleges don't.

Location: There's only one Harvard, one Stanford and one Northwestern, but with 1,655 community colleges, you're likely just a short bus ride away from one.

Academics: Community colleges generally have a more relaxed atmosphere, with smaller class sizes and an easier pace that's more comfortable to work with. You still get educated, but not with the threat of another student ripping out pages from a library textbook so other students don't have an edge.


Program Choices: If you have your heart set on one program, great. But if you're looking for a wider breadth of courses, you're out of luck. Four-year colleges have a huge variety of courses and degrees, while you may feel stuck at a community college.

Campus Life: Four-year colleges are great at having just about any group, club, event or activity you can choose from. Community colleges, on the other hand, are more commuter-based schools, and campus life isn't usually a priority.

Housing: If you like the idea of living on campus, you may be out of luck at a community college. It'll most likely be up to you to find housing if you want to move out of your parents' house, as many community colleges don't have a huge selection of dorms or housing options.