Community College VS University: Which One is Right for You?

If you are sitting locked in an arm wrestle match (like quite a lot of people these days) and don’t know if community college or university is right for you, then read on and enlighten yourself in the next 5 minutes about your options in a battle of community college vs university.

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When it comes to writing this analysis, it is very important to compare both the pros and cons of community college vs university in terms of cost, quality of education, social life, and job opportunities that arise through campus events or the school’s name recognition. Without further ado, let’s start.

Breaking down the cost differences

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Community College: cost of tuition is the first thing that’s really good about community college. You are usually paying around one-third or one-tenth of the price depending on where you go. According to College Board, the average tuition and all other fees for a full-time in-state student for a two-year community college are around $2,713 compared to $7,605 a public four-year university.

During my time at NOVA (Northern Virginia Community College), I paid around $1,800 per semester as a full time student. This really seemed like paradise until you looked west towards California and realized they barely scratch $800 in their tuition so that’s a fun comparison that’s also saying that tuition fees do not necessarily have to be around $2,713 like the national average but can be considerably cheeper depending on which state you live in.

One thing to keep in mind is that community college is the best option if you happen to suddenly move out of state like I did in which case I had to end up paying out of state tuition which  was around $5,000. In that case, going to a state university would have a been a nightmare so community college really is cheeper and sometimes dirt cheap if you go to the right one.

Aside from tuition, you are also saving big time by not living in dorms which could be additional $3,000-5,000. Other fees could be health fees, more expensive books, and food which could add up to being additional $1,000-3,000 per semester. You are saving money by staying at home with your family, eating at home for the most part and not paying for additional health fees or overpriced textbooks.

The only down side about community colleges, is that you have to actually commute to school so that is cost associated with having a car, insurance, and gas unless you take Uber, bus or hop on with somebody else for free. Other than that, community college is cheap.

Side note: this is not on our site but it’s a useful source so if you’re interested, check out this list of 50 best community colleges in US.

University: if you go to a state university instead, tuition could be on average around $5,000-6,000 per semester for a full time student (12 credits). If you go to a private university, this could range from $4,900 for places like Rust College (MS) on the lower end, all the way up to $28,000 on the higher end like Columbia University (NY). These numbers are according to US News so feel free to check them out for yourself.

You also have to pay for boarding and dormitory which again could range from $3,000 all the way up to $11,000 for the private schools. In addition to dorm fees, many times you also have pay for mandatory student health fees. Books and class materials (if there are any) tend to be more expensive as well so keep that in mind when you are considering the two.

Quality of education

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Community College: The funny thing about community college is that education can be a total hit or miss and sometimes that hit can be better than your university. What I mean by that is sometimes community colleges have education (aka instructors) that are much better than other state universities. That is not saying that all are but there have been those instances.

One of my friends at work went to about 6 different universities and one community college and thought the professors at his community college and level of education was much better than the state universities that he went to.

University: Now on average the educations will be higher in most universities than in community colleges. This is significantly enhanced if you are attending a private university or ivy leagues which would of course have much higher standards. Overall if it’s a state university, it will have education that is usually better than community college but even in my case that was different. To this day, the best business professor that I’ve had was at a community college which says quite a bit.

Now the education will be for fact on a higher level and better if you go to a private university or any ivy leagues. For a list of the best ivy leagues in US, check out the ranking and breakdown on Prep Scholar.

Job and career opportunities

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Community College: This is something that community colleges will do a mediocre job at best. Get a job through community college is most likely not going to happen unless you are talking about lower end retail jobs which you can get anywhere. The biggest point of community college is to either get a two year technical degree and start working (i.e. electrician, construction, IT, etc)  or transfer to a four year university to save money by not paying the higher tuition fees. So if your thing is getting a technical skill then it’s the way to go.

For a list of 10 top paying associate degrees that can even pay you over 100k, check out this list.

University: This is where the university can shine. Universities constantly have job fairs which are a huge source for most students to get acquainted with all the big companies in the area or in general and find the one that works best for them. This is amplified if you go to a school with great name recognition like UVA (University of Virginia) for example whom Google, Facebook and the rest of the tech giants frequently visit. The job fairs usually happen once per semester so don’t miss out when they do and check with your school to figure out the exact date and time.

Having that said, you can still get really good jobs at most state universities like I did. There are still plenty of great companies to visit them and you can always apply online for any other companies you may have in mind but the pool of options is always big so do some digging.

Student life

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Community College: From my personal experience and the experience of many others, the student life at community college is minimal for several reasons. There are not that many clubs and greek life (aka sororities and fraternities) is nonexistent. Also most people commute, live with their parents and have other part-time or full-time jobs on the side. So as a result, the amount of time students spend on campus is hindered by all of those things and thus the student life takes a hit and becomes minimal. Again this is not true everywhere, but it is for the majority of places.

University: Student life will rock. That’s all there is too it. On average there are tons of clubs that you can join and there is usually a club day at the beginning of each semester so check it out with your information desk to not miss out. Aside from clubs, you have sororities and fraternities which add a plethora of fun if you can afford their fees which can sometimes get a little outrageous. In addition, a considerably larger number of people will live on campus and the amount of people actually hanging out at the university is increased ten fold. This all adds up to the fact that student life is inflated at most universities compared to community college.

Conclusion

In a nutshell, community college is better if you want to save money and want some descent education (but sometimes the quality can be surprisingly similar to state universities). On the other hand, a university will give you better options in regards to jobs, careers and a great student life experience that the community college will not be able to top.

At the end of the day you have to look at what’s more important to you. Make is list of what you want to get out of college: quality education, be set for life with an amazing career, or party like a beast and then drop out?  After making that list, check out your finances and then go from there. If you’re interested in money management, check out this useful article for 6 ways to pay for college.

Other than that, I hope you found this article useful. Do you agree or disagree with the comparison above? Do you have a different experience or something that contradicts what I wrote? Post that in the comments below so we can share and help each other 🙂

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