Should I Take Classes at a Community College to Save Money?

Let’s talk about starting at a community college and transferring to a four-year school to save money. For some students, it is a great way to save on tuition, housing, and meal costs. For others, it ends up costing them more than if they had simply spent all four years at the college or university from which they wanted to earn their bachelor’s degree.

For clarity, I will be referring to community colleges as CCs and four-year colleges/universities as FYCUs in today’s blog as I give some examples of things a students should consider before they choose to start at a community college after graduation.

  1. What are the transfer policies and equivalents at FYCU(s) you want to earn your bachelor’s degree from?

It’s important to know the FYCU’s policy on transferring credits. If you don’t, then you will likely “lose credits” when you transfer. According to a Government Accountability Office study, students found that fewer than 60% of the credits they’d taken at a CC ultimately transferred into their bachelor’s degree.

This typically happens for two reasons, the FYCU is picky about the total number of transfer credits they will accept. For example, you take 80 credits at the CC, but the FYCU policy does not allow more than 60 to transfer.  Each FYCU gets to determine which transfer classes fulfill their requirements and some are very picky.  Therefore, you absolutely must talk with your FYCU(s) to ensure that, for example, the Intro to Biology course at your local CC will transfer into the Ecology degree you plan to pursue at the FYCU.

Ideally, the CC you attend and the FYCU that you want to transfer into have a Transfer Agreement that you can follow. This means that they have worked together to find courses that are guaranteed to transfer from one to the other in the degree you are pursuing. Ask about this!

  1. What are the scholarship policies at FYCU(s) you want to earn your bachelor’s degree from?

Many FYCUs will offer much better scholarships to incoming freshmen versus transfer students. In some cases, this means that any savings that you get in your first two years by starting at the CC could have been the same or even more if you had started at the FYCU and spent all four years there.

Here’s an example for a student with a 3.75 GPA at a CC and FYCU near where I live:

Transfer StudentTuitionNon-transfer StudentTuition
CC Tuition$4,000FYCU Tuition$10,500-$4000 Scholarship= $6500
CC Tuition$4,000FYCU Tuition$10,500-$4000 Scholarship= $6500
FYCU Tuition$10,500FYCU Tuition$10,500-$4000 Scholarship= $6500
FYCU Tuition$10,500FYCU Tuition$10,500-$4000 Scholarship= $6500
Total Tuition$29,000$26,000
You need to ask the FYCUs that you plan to attend to create a 4-year comparison for you like the one I have above. No one cares if they took out an additional $2500 in loans for freshman year if it saves them $3000 in loans over the course of their degree.

But…

I do want you to take advantage of the cost savings that can be found at most CCs. Here are two ways to do that:

  1. Take classes as a dual enrolled student if your high school schedule permits. Most districts will pay for all or most of the tuition for dual enrollment courses. If you take one per semester beginning in your junior year of high school, you will start college with nearly an entire semester already complete.
    Given that the average college course at a public FYCU costs over $1250, taking 4 classes at the CC that your high school pays for is the equivalent of earning a $5000 scholarship!
  2. Take classes as a guest student in the summer after your freshman, sophomore, and junior years of college. Once you have gotten used to taking 5-6 classes at once in college, it feels so easy to take 1-2 every summer. Just make sure that you contact your FYCU’s Registrar’s Office to have them sign off on a Guest Student contract form that will ensure that everything you take will apply to your degree.
    Given that the average college course at CC costs $750 less than at a public FYCU, taking 6 classes as a guest student is the equivalent of earning a $4000 scholarship!

If you take my advice and do both, then you will likely get the following benefits:

  • Increased access to social and academic opportunities that are usually available at the FYCUs
  • The peace of mind of having a guarantee that the courses you are taking will transfer to your FYCU degree
  • A cost savings of nearly $10,000 off that bachelor’s degree!

And, you will likely graduate a full year sooner!!

I hope that this article was helpful, and I know that the options can be confusing. But that’s why I am here- to help you and your family make sense of all of the options that are available to help you find the fastest and best path to success.

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