College is not for everybody, at least not a regular four-year college. If you’re interested in a smaller college environment or you’d rather get a two-year associate degree, a good community college might be for you. Though junior and community colleges offer an environment that is more personal and a little less intimidating (while also costing much less) than four-year universities, prospective students still have to meet certain eligibility requirements in order to wow the admissions team and gain an acceptance email.
If you’re a soon-to-be high school graduate who is turned off by bigger colleges but still wishes to get an advanced education (or simply seeking to start at a junior college and then transfer to a four-year higher education institution later on for tuition purposes), you’ve come to the right place. Below we’ll outline the requirements for community college to help you determine if this is the ideal next step in your educational journey and if so, to set you up for success in the enrollment process.
What Are Community Colleges?
In the U.S., there are close to 1,200 community colleges, which are two-year colleges that offer the opportunity to get an associate degree, which you can then use to transfer to a four-year college and get a bachelor’s degree. But these colleges offer much more than this. Community colleges usually have smaller class sizes, a comfortable learning environment, and best of all, affordability, so students aren’t buried in crippling student loans by their 20th birthday. They also tend to have degrees that are very practical (that far outweigh the cost of attendance), and as long as they’re properly accredited, you can rest assured you’ll get a top-notch education.
More than 12 million of the college students in the United States – almost half of all undergraduate students – are now attending a community college. Community colleges also accept transfer students, international students, and even the average home-schooled student, as long as they meet the requirements set by the college itself. Simply put, community colleges suit the needs of millions of students every year in this country, and for many, it’s the smartest, most cost-effective head start to their higher education and professional careers.
Community colleges offer other advantages as well, even for pre-college teens. For example, they offer summer and evening classes that get high school students used to the college experience without it being overwhelming, as well as English as a second language (ESL) classes, skills training, and workforce development training, to name a few. They also offer federal student aid to students who need it, and many of them offer certificate programs as well, which allow you to get a job as soon as you graduate, thus accelerating students’ career development and potentially catapulting them ahead of peers who chose the four-year college degree path.
How to Get Into a Community College
Before you receive your high school diploma, you’ll need to know what the admissions requirements are for the community college you plan to attend. Many students take the required SAT/ACT in their junior year so they’ll have time to retake it later on if they’re not happy with their first score. Even community colleges are becoming more competitive to attend, so deciding early on what colleges you’d like to apply to and studying up on their admission requirements is crucial.
The first requirement is usually that you have to be 18 years of age (check your state law to learn what the official age is in your state) or have graduated from high school. You’ll likely need a copy of your official transcripts, as well as your SAT or ACT scores. While test scores may be necessary, most community colleges don’t require that they be super-high, so you don’t have to stress out over that. Some community colleges have an open-door admissions policy, which means you can get in as long as you’ve already graduated from high school, meaning you can skip the ACT/SAT.
You’re also very likely to be required to submit some type of financial information indicating how you intend to pay for your classes. This information usually goes to the school’s financial aid office, which helps you determine if you’re eligible for any type of financial assistance. For federal financial aid, financial aid applications typically do require some personal information, including a U.S. Social Security number to prove you’re a citizen, if you’re applying as a national resident seeking financial assistance. Community college students often need help paying for college, so this is a very common request and not something to stress over.
Are There Additional Admissions Requirements?
Of course, the main thing you have to keep in mind is that each community college has different requirements, and their admissions office has all the details you need to make sure you don’t forget or overlook anything important. It can be difficult for new students to keep track of everything they need to do to qualify for, apply to, pay for, and enroll at a particular community college, but Admissions is there to help make it a lot easier for you. Again, check with them early because high school juniors (and even sophomores) can learn about proactive, early steps that make it easier for them to apply to the school once they’re ready to do so.
Some of the additional requirements some community colleges request can include:
- Certain medical tests, such as a COVID-19 or tuberculosis test
- A personal essay that allows the school to get to know you better
- A physical or medical exam
- Additional early assessment tests or placement testing
Since each college is different, the community college you choose may have requirements not listed here, which is why it is recommended that you check with them as early on as possible. The sooner you find out what they need from you, the sooner you’ll be able to prepare those items and submit them to the school.
Preparation Is Key
When you feel prepared for getting into community college, it’s a great feeling. Starting in your sophomore year learning what their requirements are is a smart idea. Even though many community colleges don’t require that you take certain courses while you’re still in high school, it’s still a good idea to take challenging classes so that you’re better prepared for college. The academic advisor at your high school can help you decide the best classes to take.
As a general rule, you’ll need the following to get into community college:
- An application form, which you can usually fill out online
- Your educational credentials, which include official high school transcripts (translated into English if you’re an international student)
- Test results for applicable tests, including ACT/SAT, TOEFL, and anything else needed to analyze your English language ability
- Other documents required by that particular school, which can include vaccination record, proof of health insurance, passport or visa, and/or financial information
Another tip to remember is that many community colleges have a rolling admissions process, which means you can submit your application anytime throughout the year and it will be reviewed immediately. Regardless, you still need to start early because requesting test scores, transcripts, etc., can take a lot of time on your part. And even with a rolling admissions process, there will likely be deadlines to adhere to, so you have to be prepared.
The Pros and Cons of Attending a Community College
Just like anything else in life, there are advantages and disadvantages of attending a community college. These include the following:
- Class sizes tend to be much smaller than classes at larger schools.
- You can apply to them and likely be accepted even if you weren’t accepted by a bigger college.
- You get more interaction with your professors since there’s a very low student-teacher ratio.
- It will cost you a lot less money to get your degree than it would for a four-year school.
- Community colleges are usually close to home and allow for commuting, rather than having to splash out tens of thousands on room and board.
- Not all majors are offered.
- Sometimes, it is difficult to transfer credit to a four-year school later on (though this is typically possible, depending on the particular four-year institution).
- They usually don’t offer the opportunity to live in a dorm.
- They don’t usually have as many opportunities for extracurricular activities.
Nevertheless, when you compare the pros and cons of attending a community college, most people find the benefits outweigh the negative aspects. One of the first things you’ll want to do is determine whether they offer the specific program and major you want. Their academic programs vary from college to college, but you don’t want to take tons of college classes just for the sake of being in college if they don’t build towards the degree and career you’re seeking. Instead, you’ll want to be able to apply most or all of your college courses to your degree (and probably to your subsequent job and career).
Yet another tip to consider is that you can use your 529 college savings plan to pay for community college, just like you would if you were going to a four-year college. These savings plans are rather picky about withdrawing funds as cash (or for non-standard or non-educational purposes), but you can withdraw the cash at any time to pay for your classes at your community college.
Being Successful in Community College
Community college allows you to obtain college credit and get a two-year degree, and even though this doesn’t always mean that all those credits will go towards a bachelor’s degree, you can go pretty far with a two-year degree these days, particularly if it is directly relevant and applicable to your chosen job, industry, or career. If your degree program is something such as graphic arts, which makes for a very lucrative career, your two-year degree will prove to be invaluable once you graduate. If you look in their college catalog, you can learn for sure which programs the schools offer, which is imperative before you proceed with enrollment.
Once you take the first step and submit an application, work on the accompanying documentation, and graduate from high school, you can easily become an official degree-seeking student. Community college classes are not necessarily easier than classes attended by full-time students at four-year colleges, but community colleges usually provide more personalized attention from your professors, which can improve and accelerate students’ grasp of the material. That being said, if you want to make sure you succeed at community college, here are some tips to remember:
- Have a clear vision of your goals, both professional and personal.
- Develop a relationship with your advisor or counselor.
- Spend time with professors during office hours.
- Develop excellent study habits.
- Utilize the resources your school offers, including clubs, organizations, study groups, and more.
- Explore different career opportunities for when you graduate.
- Learn to manage your time well.
All colleges are challenging, including community colleges, so be prepared to study hard so that you can make the most out of your degree once you graduate. Remember that these colleges are home to both permanent residents and students from other countries, so you’ll be able to enjoy the diversity that some people assume is only applicable to large four-year schools. If learning and meeting people from all over the world is something you’re interested in, community colleges are very similar to larger ones. That said, community colleges also host older students pursuing a degree or career change, younger advanced teens eager to get ahead, and driven, career-oriented students who want to take the most efficient route to mastering a certain skill or topic without drowning in university debt. Therefore, you can meet quite an interesting and impressive crowd of students who may enhance your college experience in ways you’d never expect.
Never Feel Alone
If you need additional information on any aspect of community college, there are advisors and counselors who can help. Also, never assume that you have to know for sure what your major is before you apply. In fact, when you’re submitting your materials to the school, it won’t matter what your major will be because everyone has to submit the same things. In many ways, this makes community colleges better than others, because you never have to feel alone when you’re making these decisions.
It’s also a good idea to contact an admissions counselor by email or phone before you submit anything, particular if you have doubts, questions, or require clarification to ensure you follow the required admissions policies with all your application materials. This is important because although rare, the information on the school website is sometimes incorrect because it hasn’t been updated. Fortunately, this is usually not difficult to do with community colleges, whereas at bigger four-year schools, it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle and feel like you don’t matter. In contrast, the community college admissions counselors can help you submit your ACT/SAT scores, official college transcripts (for transfer students) or high school transcripts for incoming freshmen, and other documentation, and if you do as recommended and stay in contact with your counselor or advisor, you’ll never feel like you’re attending school all on your own.
While applying for community college isn’t difficult or even that time-consuming, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t start the process as soon as possible. Different schools have different requirements, so check early on in your high school career what the requirements are for the school you wish to go to. If you have more than one school you’re interested in, review their requirements carefully because a lot of them are likely the same or very similar.
While not all professions and majors are suitable for solely a community college degree, yours may well be perfect for it, at the least as a more affordable jump start to your ultimate higher education experience. You can check with your advisor while you’re still in high school or consult the free university of Google (the internet) to make sure, but certain respectable and lucrative careers offer great salaries with only two-year degrees as requirements. Point being, the more research you do, the better you’ll feel about your preparation for community college and therefore, the better you’ll do academically and personally once you arrive on campus. Now that you’re well-versed in the requirements for community college and all it has to offer, it’s up to you to determine your next best step in your postsecondary education journey.