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An Affordable Way to Earn a Degree: Start at Community College

Perhaps the most cost-effective way to cut the costs of a four-year college degree is to spend two years at community college, then transfer to a four-year institution.

Sometimes called junior colleges, community colleges are nonresidential, local two-year schools. They provide affordable post-secondary education as a pathway to a four-year degree.

Once you go to community college with the intention of transferring, it is important to stay focused on what needs to be done for a smooth transition to a college. Doing so does require some research and planning.

5 Ways to Make the Most out of Community College:

1. Choose a major.

Pick a major early, and determine the best courses to take to meet those requirements. Do the prerequisites while you’re going to community college, so you’re ready to jump into your required (for your major) courses when you get to the bachelor’s-degree-granting institution. You’ll complete those general requirement credit hours for much less tuition. That is one of the major benefits of going to community college. Mapping out your courses carefully will help you save time, money, and credits.

2. Know what actually transfers.

Make sure you are picking courses that will transfer when you’re transferring from community college to university. Many states have “articulation agreements”—negotiated documents that make clear what’s required to transfer from one higher education institution to another. “Our articulation agreement shows exactly what classes the student is taking, what classes they need, and how those credits will transfer,” says Katie Nielsen, director of admissions at Utah State University.

3. Check whether your state has integrated community colleges into the state public university system.

In Utah, for example, students admitted to the community college Utah State University Eastern are simultaneously admitted to Utah State University. At any point in their studies for an associate’s degree “students [who meet GPA requirements] can transfer their credits to a four-year degree without having to go through any additional admissions process,” says Nielsen. Many states have websites with detailed information about the process of transferring.

4. Meet with counselors to stay on track.

Don’t go it alone. Meet regularly with advisers at the community college. Keep your adviser informed of your transfer plans. As transfer approaches, set a time to meet with an adviser at your target institution.

5. Complete your associate’s degree before you transfer.

National research shows that community college students who finish an associate’s degree program complete their bachelor’s degrees at a much higher rate than those students transferring from community college to university with just a random assortment of credits.

Jane Parent, former editor at Your Teen, is the parent of three.

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