Many college students start out their careers attending a community college with the intent of transferring to a four-year school later. College counselors often refer to this type of transfer as a “vertical” transfer because the student is moving up, from a two-year college to a four-year university.

Have you considered this plan as well? Is it the right choice for you?

How can you make a well thought-out decision about whether to go to community college before transferring to a four-year college?

Consider the pros and cons of this strategy.  

The Pros

Going to community college first can aid you with:

1. Making an academic reset

Some high school seniors feel a sense of regret that they did not take full advantage of their high school years academically. Perhaps you have problems shedding the high school mentality and maturing enough to feel ready for a different type of academic experience. Consider that community college may give you an opportunity for a break.

Allowing a short transition time between high school and community college can give you a fresh start—an academic reset. Reaching a more adult stage will help you embrace the next step.

2. Saving money

Finances are a big reason why many students consider going to community college first. Most community colleges have much lower tuition and other costs than four-year schools.

This can be an amazing way to save a lot, especially if you also choose to live at home. One of the biggest issues facing students is potentially acquiring student loan debt. Attending a community college for the first two years can help you control that liability.

3. Testing the “waters”

Transferring to a four-year college right out of high school can seem like a much more daunting step than going to a community college. Maybe you have determined that you are just not ready to make that huge step.

Community college affords you to get your feet wet and explore what you would like to do going forward. Exploration is good. However, stay focused on your end goal and do not get sidetracked. Getting good grades can determine which higher level classes you can take and where you intend to go next.

The Cons

Going to community college first could cause you to:

1. Neglect making that vertical transfer

According to recent research shared by the Teachers College at Columbia University, 80% of students who start community college indicate that their goal is to transfer to a four-year school. However, only 33% of these students eventually transfer to a four-year school after six years of community college. Sadly, from the outset, the statistics are not on your side. In my experience, a complex picture of various reasons usually emerges for why a student may not make that vertical transfer to a higher-level institution.

College Lecture HallSome of these reasons include:

  • Getting distracted or off-track
  • The college process requires focus and planning
  • Socio-economic issues: being a first-generation college student or not getting much (if any) support at home
  • Incorrectly estimating the financial costs of college
  • Learning issues from high school that are undiagnosed or unaddressed in community college

2. Not achieving your best academically

A lot of students think community college is easy. Do not fall for that myth. Believe it or not, community college is still college!

If you wish to transfer to a four-year college, your number one focus needs to be your grades. Good grades will not fall in your lap because it is “just” community college. If you have a lax attitude about community college, what proof of your academic performance will you present to the admissions officers of the higher level school? Remember, your record will stick with you!

3. Miss out building important relationships

When you go to community college for two years and then move on to a higher level school, you are missing out on half of the four-year college experience. That is time that you could use to build relationships with other students and professors.

You are giving up a once in a lifetime experience. Getting a college education is not all about receiving a degree from a particular institution. In reality, the focus should be the enrichment you receive through the experience itself. Yes, it is the journey and not the destination that proves to be valuable.

The Right Decision for You

If you still feel unsure about the best strategy, consider other options that will allow you to make the right choice for you. For example, consider a gap year or work for a while. Taking time to really ponder this big step is wise.

You may also want to consult with an experienced Independent Educational Consultant. They can help provide knowledge and understanding that you perhaps do not have. With my professional support, you can feel much more confident about making the best decisions for your future.