Community College: FAQ

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Answers to Frequently Asked Questions About Community Colleges


What is community college?

Community college is the most common type of two-year college. These colleges offer many types of educational programs, including those that lead to associate degrees and certificates. Certificates and some types of associate degrees focus on career readiness. Other types of associate degrees are good preparation for study at a four-year college where graduates can earn a bachelor’s degree.

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Can I get financial aid for community college?

Even though tuition at community college is usually low, financial aid is available. The federal Pell Grant, for example, is open to students attending any accredited postsecondary institution. You can even qualify if you go part time. The Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA®) is available for community college students as well as undergraduate and graduate students. Filling out the FAFSA will make you eligible for federal- and state-based financial aid, including student loans, grants, and work-study programs.

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What students go to community college?

More than 40% of U.S. undergraduate students attend community colleges. Students who are 18 to 24 years old make up the largest age group. Community colleges also attract working adults, retirees, and others who want to learn.

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How can a community college help my career path?

At a community college, you can:

Save money: Costs are typically much lower than those at four-year colleges. According to the 2021 Community College Review, public community colleges on average charge $5,155 yearly for in-state students and $8,835 for out-of-state students. As a point of comparison, our report shows that the average 2021-22 annual tuition for public four-year colleges was $10,740 for in-state students and $27,560 for out-of-state students.

Prepare to transfer to a four-year college: Many community college graduates decide to transfer to four-year schools to complete their bachelor’s degrees. Smart planning can help ensure that the credits you earn will count toward your degree at the four-year college you hope to attend. Find out more about transferring.

Get ready for a career: If you want to enter the workforce sooner, you can earn a certificate or degree in a career-oriented field, such as firefighting or engineering technology.

Try out college: Most programs are open admission. This means that you can go to college even if your high school grades aren’t strong. A community college is also a good option if you’re not sure you’re ready for college. You’ll have a chance to challenge yourself and see if college is right for you.

Take advantage of a flexible schedule: Most community colleges offer an element of convenience to students. You can attend full time or part time, as well as schedule your courses around home and work commitments. There’s a campus within a short driving distance of most towns in the United States.

You can use College Search to find a community college that’s a good fit for you.

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How can a community college help me decide what to do with my life?

You can explore different subjects before committing to a program without having to be too concerned about tuition costs. If you take a wide range of courses─including those in the liberal arts and those that are career oriented─you can explore several different options in one place. Many community colleges offer intensive counseling that can help you assess your abilities, interests, and educational options.

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Is open admission really that common?

To succeed in college, you need a solid foundation of reading, writing, and math skills. If you didn’t establish this foundation in high school, you may have to take remedial, or catch-up, courses at a community college. They are also called developmental or basic skills courses. These courses don’t count toward your degree, so graduating will take you longer and cost you more if you’re not prepared. You’ll probably take placement tests when you start college. The results will reveal whether you need to take any catch-up courses before beginning college-level study.

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Is there an on-campus community?

Unlike residential colleges, many community colleges lack on-campus housing. Most students live nearby. Therefore, many of these colleges make a special effort to build a sense of community on campus. You’ll find a wide variety of activities, similar to those at four-year colleges.

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Has anyone famous gone to community college?

  • Gwendolyn Brooks, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet
  • Eileen Collins, former National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) astronaut
  • Joyce Luther Kennard, California Supreme Court justice
  • Jeanne Kirkpatrick, former United Nations ambassador
  • Nolan Ryan, retired Major League Baseball professional athlete
  • Jim Lehrer, news anchor
  • Robert Moses, choreographer and dance company founder
  • Sam Shepard, Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright
  • Tom Hanks, Academy Award-winning actor
  • James Sinegal, cofounder and chief executive officer of Costco
  • Maxwell Taylor, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
  • Guy Fieri, restaurateur and TV chef personality
  • Morgan Freeman, Academy Award−winning actor

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How do I prepare myself for community college?

Preparing for community college starts with creating a path to reach your goals. Map out the courses you have to take to complete your degree program. If you want to earn a bachelor’s degree, your plan should include taking courses with credits that you can transfer to a university. Another way to prepare is to make a preliminary study schedule for your courses that you can adjust as needed. Dedicate yourself to absorbing as much knowledge as you can from each of your instructors.

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How do I succeed in community college?

Developing effective time management skills can help you to find success in community college. This means setting aside an adequate amount of study time for each of your courses. It’s also important to allow yourself enough time to research and write papers as well as study for tests. Asking questions in class and joining study groups can also contribute to your success in community college.

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Do you have to apply to community college?

Yes. You need to apply. Community colleges have admission requirements and application deadlines just as four-year colleges do. Sending in your application as soon as possible gives you time to ensure you’ve included all of the necessary documents.

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What are the advantages of going to community college?

One of the biggest advantages is it takes less time to complete community college than to earn a university degree. In short, you can finish school more quickly and start your career. Many community colleges are two-year schools where you can earn an associate degree to prepare you for a career. Another major advantage of going to community college is the cost. Community college is more affordable than most four-year schools.

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Are community colleges free?

As of 2022, 20 states offer tuition-free community college for eligible students. Different states have their own eligibility criteria for community college applicants. High school GPA, full-time student status, and in-state residency are examples of eligibility criteria. To learn more about free community college opportunities, reach out to your state's education agency.

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