Community College Vs University: An FAQ Guide

Written by Beth Hering
Published on October 14, 2023 · Updated on October 14, 2023

Community College Vs University: An FAQ Guide

Written by Beth Hering
Published on October 14, 2023 · Updated on October 14, 2023

What is a Community College?

High school graduates who want to pursue a post-secondary education possess a variety of options. For many students, one of these opportunities is literally right around the corner! A community college is an institution of higher learning that conducts programs below the level of a bachelor’s degree. Rather, it awards certificates, diplomas, and associate (2-year) degrees.

Community colleges attract numerous local students who want to pursue educational goals while living at home or saving money on their education. Most community colleges are public institutions and offer lower tuition to residents of the geographical region served. (Note that people outside of the service area often can still enroll, but they may be charged a higher rate.) Add to this the elimination of costly room and board, and it is easy to see why many people find community college much more affordable than four-year colleges.

Some community college students ultimately plan to go on to a bachelor’s program.Taking courses for two years at a community college and transferring the credits saves them money. Also, for students not quite ready to go away to school or who do not have solid academic plans, a community college provides time to explore, grow, and gain confidence.

For many students, though, community college is their final stop before seeking employment. They complete an associate, certificate, or diploma program that teaches them the skills they need to land an entry-level job in a chosen industry.

Community colleges also attract a large number of older students. These include career changers, workers looking to update their skills, and individuals who decide later in life that they want to go back to school. The flexibility and location of community college often fits their lifestyle better than a four-year college.

Pros and Cons of Community College

Like all institutions, community colleges present advantages and disadvantages that students must weigh when charting their educational journey. 

Pros of community college can include:

  • Avoiding the travel expense and hassle of moving to a college campus
  • Saving money on tuition and living expenses
  • Remaining in an environment in which you feel comfortable and have familial support
  • Filling in educational gaps through classes tailored to your abilities
  • More relaxed admission standards
  • Completing an educational program designed to directly prepare you for employment
  • Interacting with a diverse range of students, including non-traditional ones
  • Scheduling classes around other obligations such as a job or childcare

Cons of community college can include:

  • Needing to go elsewhere after two years to pursue a four-year degree
  • Potential lack of academic offerings, such as a limited number of foreign languages or advanced math classes
  • Fewer opportunities to pursue research with professors
  • Forgoing the collegiate dormitory experience
  • Lack of an “extensive” social scene, such as frats and sororities, large sporting events, and famous entertainment coming to campus

What Is The Difference Between a Community College vs. a University?

Figuring out which place best suits your needs and interests starts with understanding the difference between what each type of institution entails.

As mentioned before, community colleges offer programs that result in a diploma, certificate, or associate degree. Many courses of study teach specific vocational or technical skills designed to enhance the student’s employability following graduation. Dedicated to serving the local area, community colleges generally accept all students who have graduated from high school and offer remediation to those who need to build up skills such as reading, writing, and math before embarking on post-secondary studies. Community colleges often keep scheduling flexibility top of mind to assist non-traditional students with balancing school with other obligations.

Colleges and universities award four-year degrees. Many, especially universities, also conduct graduate programs leading to master’s and doctoral degrees. Disciplines offered span a greater academic range, and while building skills that will later help in the job market, courses do not as often translate directly to a specific career path upon graduation. 

Pros and Cons of Attending a University

Making educated decisions relies on examination of pros and cons, so let’s look at what these might be in terms of attending a university:

Pros of attending a university may include:

Listing a well-known university on your resume grabs attention. Employers know what it takes to get into such a place and the rigors of completing a degree.
Universities frequently offer opportunities to conduct research and directly assist faculty members. These professors often are notables in their field and hold doctorates or other terminal degrees. Community college staff sometimes include instructors with only a master’s degree.
Want to learn a foreign language? You probably can take Spanish and French at a community college, but the options expand to Russian, Chinese, Hebrew, Italian, and more at a university. This type of selection extends into many areas, including niche classes, travel abroad opportunities, independent study possibilities, housing arrangements, sports teams to watch or join, and more.
Some of the best learning experiences (and memories) come from outside of the classroom. If you long to cheer on a football powerhouse, attend frat parties, or simply stay up all night gabbing with the suitemates in your dorm, a university experience fits the bill. 

    Cons of attending a university may include:

    Tuition varies considerably by place, but many four-year institutions are quite expensive. When you add room, board, and travel expenses to the mix, the bill might be much more than you can pay or are willing to take on in debt.
    Admissions can be tough at many universities. Selective schools look at high school performance, including GPA and extracurriculars. Plan also on writing essays and securing letters of recommendation to make your case.
    A bachelor’s degree generally requires four years of full-time study. Some students are not eager to make such a commitment. 
    No doubt exists that Harvard University is a respected, well-known institution. But if your ambition is to become a plumber, going there does not make a whole lot of sense. Students interested in trades and many other vocations may find that community colleges align better with their goals. 

    How Do You Choose Between Community College vs. University?

    Higher education involves a great deal of time and money, so make the effort to find a place that truly matches your needs. Ask yourself the following questions when trying to decide what might prove your ideal school:

    1. What length of education am I willing to commit to? Community college programs run two years or less, while universities offer programs of four years or more.

    2. What type of degree is necessary for my career choice? Some fields and professions require a bachelor’s degree or higher. For others, a resume showing an associate degree, diploma, or certificate suffices.

    3. Am I willing to transfer? If you ultimately desire a bachelor’s degree, you will need to go elsewhere for the last two years of study. Some people do not mind starting at a community college and later making the move. Others like being at one place from the start.

    4. Where can I get in? Admissions is quite competitive at some universities. Community colleges generally accept all high school graduates and help those with knowledge gaps get up to speed through remediation.

    5. What do I want to study? Always make certain the schools you are looking at offer programs in your desired discipline. Community colleges present a variety of vocational/technical options not found at universities. Universities often conduct a greater range of niche programs within disciplines, such as sports journalism or broadcast journalism rather than only a general communications concentration.

    6. What can I afford? Community colleges offer reduced tuition to those in the communities they serve. Scholarships, grants, and the like can make four-year institutions comparable.

    7. Where do I want to live? Community college students often reside at home. This situation may be attractive to some people, not so much for others. 

    8. What social atmosphere do I desire? Community colleges offer some clubs, sports, and other extracurricular activities. However, universities tend to present a far greater range.

    9. Am I ready to go away to school? Staying local after high school provides extra time to transition to adulthood. While some students are eager for new experiences, greater independence, and the larger environment of university life, others can find it overwhelming at this stage of development.

    Community College vs. University FAQ

    • Is it better to go to a community college or a university?
      • The answer to this question depends highly on a student’s individual situation. Both types of institutions provide a plethora of educational opportunities. Someone looking to cut expenses, pursue a path leading directly to employment in a certain industry, or who wants to fulfill general education requirements before settling on a major may find a community college very attractive. Students who want to earn a bachelor’s degree and partake in a traditional collegiate social scene may find a four-year college or a university more to their liking.
    • What are the disadvantages of community college?
      • A community college can be a starting place if you are looking to earn a bachelor’s degree or higher, but you will need to transfer elsewhere to complete your studies. Some students at community college feel like they miss out on a more traditional collegiate experience because of the lack of dorm life, extensive extracurriculars, and big sports teams.
    • What are the benefits of going to a community college instead of a university?
      • Designed to assist local students, community colleges often charge area residents much less tuition than universities. By living at home, community college enrollees also save on room, board, and travel expenses. Programs that lead to immediate job options following completion appeal to students looking to get started on a career. Likewise, some students do not want to commit to four years of higher education. 
    • Is university harder than community college?
      • How difficult anyone finds a certain educational program depends on factors such as academic background, natural aptitude, dedication to achievement, and material covered. Thus, it is inappropriate to immediately label one as “harder” than the other. As community colleges focus mostly on intro-level and general classes, these schools may not offer many of the specialized or advanced academic courses people frequently associate with being difficult. Also, community colleges sometimes present more remedial options designed to fill in a student’s knowledge gaps.
    • What is the difference between a 4-year college and a university?
      • In the United States, this question is rather difficult to answer. While the terms are not exactly interchangeable, there are not consistent factors that always distinguish one from the other. In general, universities tend to be larger in physical size and student body. They usually offer a substantial range of academic programs, including ones at the graduate level leading to master’s and doctoral degrees. Many universities place a good deal of emphasis on research. Both four-year colleges and universities award bachelor’s degrees and commonly offer students a range of housing and social options.
    • What are the benefits of attending a local community college?
      • Students often attend their local community college for financial reasons. These institutions charge area residents substantially less tuition than most four-year colleges. It becomes an affordable way to get basic courses out of the way before transferring to a bachelor’s program at another school, or it can provide the training needed for employment directly after graduation with an associate degree, diploma, or certificate. The community college’s connections with local businesses may even assist in locating potential jobs.

    By remaining at home, community college students also save on room, board, and travel expenses. Family and friends may provide a welcome support system. Scheduling flexibility may allow community college students to better balance educational pursuits with other obligations such as childcare or a job compared to peers at a four-year institution.