Community colleges

An ambitious student, aiming at the best liberal arts colleges in the USA suggested that it might be a good idea to apply to community colleges as a safety route to American higher education. I am not sure if this is the best option for everyone.

Community colleges are inclusive (the opposite of exclusive), so it is easy to get in, even for students who did not stand out as academic achievers during high school – yes, even ones who had low grades. They were created to provide even socially disadvantaged people with access to education. This should give you a rough idea of the student body you might expect there: most naturally, the majority will not be the brightest in the world. You might expect a great number of mature and non-traditional students. A good number of community college students drop out as they do not come up to academic standards.

I don’t mean to say that these schools are full of stupid guys, but as there are many students who have enrolled for very pragmatic reasons – to learn some specific skills they need to earn their living, you could not hope for intellectualism, I suppose. Well, surely, there are many anti-intellectuals in the prestigious schools too, but they come from much more priviliged backgrounds – from better schools and better off families, which makes them better prepared for SATs, able to pay more, etc.

A great number of community college students do not live on campus as they live nearby and commute. I am not even sure how many of these schools actually have dorms. You cannot hope for the special out-of-class atmosphere of clubbing and attending artistic events you might expect at an average popular liberal arts school. At some of these schools, perhaps, there is nothing like community or community spirit – people just come and go and do not have time to make friends.

They are cheaper, but as most of them are public, they might turn out to be expensive for international students who may not be eligible for financial aid or educational loans.Still I have heard of a really generous women’s college.

As for the quality of teaching – I don’t know. I imagine public community college professors to be underpaid just like public school teachers. Yet, some websites say that professor positions at these colleges are competitive. I have not made further research.

You cannot hope to be taught by Nobel Laureates at these schools, but as an undergradute you are rarely taught by Nobel Laureates even at the most famous private colleges – just because these famous people do not care much about teaching undergraduates. Teachers who are not into big research tend to be better teachers because they are dedicated to teaching.

As for facilities, well, most of these schools are small and public, so they generally don’t have money to lavish on facilities. However, I know of a college who receives generous donations from dedicated citizens – their alumni, perhaps. Well, even the richest school cannot have that many facilities if they do not have so much space.

As for opportunities to transfer to a four-year college, you should be very careful as course offers are not ample and you might have trouble with other institutions recognizing credits, etc. Yet, I have had several students who successfully transfered from one of the best women’s two-year private colleges to other really nice four-year schools. However, you should know that financial aid for transfer students may not be as generous as it is for first-year applicants even at the most generous institutions.

I hope this helps. Here is the website of the American Association of Community Colleges.


4 responses to this post.

  1. My advice for all women applicants (I am sorry for the gentlemen) – if you look for “safe” option to come to USA and receive good education, I would definitely say Cottey. It is two-year college, but it is NOT a community college. Pretty much you have all advantages you would have in a four-year college. But keep in mind that transfer is tough mainly because of financial aid, but still not impossible. Two of my friends last year transferred to Smith College with almost full scholarships 🙂


  2. Lyd, I just noticed the link to Jack Kent Cooke Foundation 🙂 I will know for my nomination in less than a month 🙂 Cross fingers…


  3. That’s Great!
    Is there any 2-year liberal arts college, which accept boys? 😉


  4. A two-year liberal arts college for men is Deep Springs College in California – and it’s free, but it’s very selective 🙂 Not a safe school at all.

    Teachers in community colleges are generally very good. They are paid relatively well, especially compared to part-timers in other more prestigious institutions. I’ve taken continuing education classes in Arabic at a community college and I was happy with the teacher.

    Facilities at those colleges are good, too. Their financing comes from local taxes, federal job-training programs, different foundations and from rent to the community. Their sports fields are often used by local schools and for competitions, their art exhibition areas host local exhibits, their concert halls double as performance centers for local artists and organizations. Many residents take continuing education classes there in a variety of areas – languages, but also music, art, etc. A friend of mine has been taking singing classes there.

    However, the problem is that when you have many students who need remedial work in the basic subjects, which is the case of many community colleges, the class level is dragged down.

    I know there are many Bulgarian students in the US who take the community college option, as it is cheaper than other colleges, when you are paying out of your own pocket. However, the problem with transferring to a 4-year school is not just the scholarship you are less likely to get. One of the most important aspects of a liberal arts education is the mentoring and the connections you develop with your teachers and you are missing on this point if you are just not there in the first two years of your studies. A transfer is always a disruption in the continuity of a college education. And you never get mentoring at a community college.


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