Starting Your Education at a Community College

By: Alison Hansen

For many students, the journey to a college education starts at a community college.  Community colleges are often (a lot) cheaper than four year colleges, so it is a perfect place to start your journey.  According to The College Board, in 2010/2011 the average community college student paid $2,713 in tuition compared to $7,605 for in-state tuition at a four year college. It is also a great way to “test the waters” if you are not sure of your plans (without breaking the bank!). 

“I started at Three Rivers Community College because I wanted a smaller atmosphere and it was a lot cheaper! I was able to complete my AS, and I am now attending University of New Haven and I will graduate in May with my BA. …. It also allowed me time to decide what I really wanted to do for my life. I am happy with my choice.”- Megan Howe, Navy Spouse

“I started at a community college because it was a ton cheaper ($27/unit) and I could fully pay for it myself working part-time making $13/hr. …. I transferred to a 4 year and finished my degree with little difficulty. I’d say it was a win!!” – Meg Antes, Navy Spouse

“Saved a bunch of money and got a 4.0 at community college. Found that the class size in CC was smaller and it was easier to get the classes I wanted. Transferring was easy.” Laura Henderson, Marine Spouse

Step One: Always Meet with an Academic Advisor

Whether you plan to stick with an associate’s degree (typically about 60 credits) or continue on to a bachelor’s degree (typically about 120 credits), it is always recommended to speak to an academic advisor to discuss your plan.  This is crucial if you do plan on continuing on with a bachelor’s degree at some point.  You will want to make sure you enroll in courses that will transfer into the bachelor’s degree of your choosing.  Many community colleges have articulation agreements with 4 year colleges, which means that they formally agree to accept all (or most) of the credits from specific associate’s degrees into specific bachelor’s degrees.  Essentially, they allow students to transfer in as juniors.  Additionally, some states have statewide transfer policies which would allow, for example, ACC 101 (Accounting 1) to be completed at any state school, and it will be accepted into any OTHER state school.  Moreover, in the state of South Carolina, there is the South Carolina Transfer and Articulation Center (https://www.sctrac.org/SCTRAC/tabid/411/Default.aspx) which allows students to research their options within the state of South Carolina.

Step Two: Understand How Your Courses Will or Will Not Transfer

Something important to also keep in mind is that community colleges, as well as 4 year schools, offer different levels of courses (i.e., 100, 200).  It is critical to know that a 100-level course will be accepted at that level, the equivalent of “freshman” year.  Why is this important?  If you were interested in a business degree, which requires generally the same types of course work regardless of the institution (Accounting, Management, Marketing, and so on) it is important to know that if you would like to transfer the courses into a 4 year college or university, they must fit into the degree at the same level of instruction.  A Management 101 course will most likely not transfer in to fulfill a Management 201 or 301 requirement at the next college.  Making things even more complicated, colleges and universities determine the courses they will accept.  Always plan ahead (if possible) and speak to advisors or counselors at every step of your journey.

Step Three: Consider a SOC School

As military families, we may not have the benefit of staying within the same state funded system, so we need to look further into the transfer policies.  The Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges (SOC) Consortium consists of a large network of schools that are committed to providing military members and their family with the opportunity to complete degrees, even with the frequent moves from state to state.  There are over 1,900 colleges and universities that have committed to the following (as well as acceptance of military credit):

  • Reasonable transfer credit avoid excessive loss of previously earned credit and avoid course work duplication
  • Reduced academic residency limited to no more than 25 percent of degree requirements with no final year or semester in residence (may require 30 percent for undergraduate degrees offered 100 percent online)
  • Credit for Nationally-Recognized Testing Programs: award credit for at least one nationally-recognized testing program such as College-Level Examination Program (CLEP), DSST Examinations, Excelsior College Examinations (ECE)

For more information visit: http://www.soc.aascu.org/socconsortium/Default.html

Within this group of over 1,900 colleges and universities, there is a smaller network of schools that offer specific degrees, which include courses that are reviewed and accepted by other schools within this network (DNS: http://www.soc.aascu.org/Default.html). The degrees are separated by branch; please note that all degrees are available to all service members and their families.  What does this all mean?  The take away is choose a SOC school!! (To view the list visit: http://www.soc.aascu.org/socconsortium/CollsByName.html)

Choosing a path is always complicated and our crazy military lives often make even simple processes complicated.  However, there is much value in starting your education at a community college and transferring once you complete your first two years. It is cost effective and gives you breathing room to decide which major is right for you. Overall, as long as you continuously communicate with the academic advisor at your school, you should have an ease of transfer once you have decided on which four year institution is right for you.  

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