Should I Attend A Junior College?
A “junior college” is generally thought of as the college level that falls below traditional four-year institutions that confer bachelor’s degrees. While this is true, there can be a broad interpretations of what these “junior college” can mean. Some consider community colleges to be junior colleges, which isn’t necessarily true, since there is an entire community college system in the U.S. Junior colleges tend to be private institutions that can be very expensive, and some charge $18,000 a year in tuition or much more for specialized programs. In one instance, I had a parent ask me to check in to a college that had a “specialized” program for students with disabilities. One of the programs was for an associates degree and the annual costs were nearly $50,000 a year for tuition alone. Considering the low to moderate levels of disability they could address, the student could have easily attended a regular college with a support plan at a fraction of the cost. Parents and students must therefore consider the issue of a junior college very carefully.
Here are a few key questions to ask before you decide on a junior college:
1. Why a “junior college” instead of a traditional four-year college?
Why would you choose a community or junior college over a traditional college? Sometimes a lack of confidence, low grades in high school, needing skills help, or other reason may lead to avoiding going to directly to a four-year school. You should clarify your reasons for wanting to start at a junior college.
2. What are the pros and cons of a junior or community college?
As I mentioned above, some two-year colleges can actually be more expensive than a four-year college, and not warrant the expense. If you’re a student who wants to take their education step-by-step and are fairly motivated, a community college might be a good place to complete general education requirements. In other cases, such as poor grades in high school, parents need to work with an experienced professional who specializes in college factors to avoid problems (e.g., not merely in admissions planning). For example, bright students who choose a community college actually become 36% less likely to ever see a bachelor’s degree. While a junior or community college may seem like a safe play if a student doesn’t have clear academic interests, I’ve seen this type of reasoning lead to bright students dropping out or doing poorly due to bad decision making. A better know issue is the transferability of credits. Community colleges do a reasonably good job of establishing reciprocal agreements with four-year universities, especially in their local area. Private junior colleges, however, may not have made the same effort. This is especially important if a junior college offers career programs. Taking an English, speech, or math course as part of a career program may give you the false sense that those classes will transfer to a four-year college as general requirements. In many cases, they won’t. I’ve even seen them transfer in an aggregated “lump” of credits that were all counted as electives, and the student then had to re-take the classes again to graduate.
3. How does the community or junior college fit in to the overall educational game plan for the student?
Is the choice of a junior or community college part of a “2+2” plan? Like I mentioned above, you need to be careful, or this can backfire. If the goal is to complete general education requirements, you might be better served at a community college, and then establish an open dialogue with some four-year schools of interest to see how they will treat those credits earned. Working with someone who deals with the operational aspects of both two and four-year colleges will not only help to address the obvious, like transferring credits, but help a student to avoid being one of the estimated 44% of student who start but never finish college.
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Jeffrey Ludovici, M.A., is a national level Higher Education Consultant based in Pittsburgh, PA. He’s worked with students and parents across the U.S. about college issues since 2001, and is a member of CSRDE that focuses on best practices in helping students. He is also a member of NACADA, the national college advising association in the U.S. Please see the program page for services Jeff offers.