Given the title of this blog, you may expect paragraphs pitting community colleges against universities or vice versa. Certainly both types of institutions act as competitors in seeking students to enroll each semester. A student, family, staff or faculty member could easily state their preference for a particular institution, or in this instance, institution type. I find it difficult to choose one of the other, as I am a recipient of knowledge, advising, and connections through the community college and university systems. Rather than focus on the superiority of one rather than the other, recognize how each can impact your life.
When you start your college search, consider exploring 2-year and 4-year schools. Before you explore, I encourage you and your family to complete a series of pre-exploration exercises. Think about what you know about community colleges and universities- proximity to home, major offered, or scholarships available. You can easily gather this information with a quick type and a click through your phone or laptop. Consider also what you may not know: additional scholarship opportunities, teaching style encouraged by the institution, or student support services. This information relies on connecting with 2-year or 4-year institutions through introductory communication from the University, talks with Admissions, and visiting campus.
Recognizing your biases should also have a place in your pre-exploration process. Likely you and your parents are looking for a college or university to call home that will prepare you for the challenges of life at the most reasonable financial cost. You may already believe a 2-year school proves the best route. Or you may think that a University is the best route, outweighing cost with a valuable education with professors who will connect you to your major from Day 1 of your college experience. Identifying your biases allows you and your family to keep yourself in check as you explore your institutions of interest, giving yourself a little push to work past your biases and discover new opportunities available to you at a variety of institutions. Recognizing your biases may not minimize their existence, but help you manage your preconceived notions to find the perfect fit to start your college journey.
Starting your college search early is of the utmost importance to successfully choose your perfect college fit. Starting at least a year before your start date allows you the time to make connections with 2-year or 4-year communities, absorb all details most important to your impending journey, and avoid making a quick decision based on buzz words such as low cost, quick decision, easy access, or close by. Choosing an affordable, local institution of learning within walking or driving distance to your home is NOT a wrong decision. In my case, I found the best learning experiences within a 2-year and a 4-year institution within half an hour from my parents’ home. Prolonging your college search and rushing into a decision or not pursuing a search at all limits the scope of your college experience. Think of how much more you could know about your academic or financial resources before you start using these resources. Consider how much richer your knowledge and understanding could be if already connected with faculty or a particular major of interest before Registration Day. Your take away: if your college journey begins or continues within the next year, today’s always the perfect day to start your search.
Comparing 2-year with 4-year schools, and in turn 4-year with 2-year schools, may result in more similarities than you may initially realize. Both offer academic scholarships and encourage you to apply for financial aid. Both provide a wide array of degree focuses taught by faculty with doctoral degrees and master’s degrees. Both possess the academic networks and internship or practicum opportunities to prepare you for your career path. Both house a wide range of athletic, art, music, theatre options to provide additional scholarship opportunities OR fulfill your athletic and artistic ideals. Both support students wanting to excel in their course work through success coaches and tutoring. Both encourage students to get involved on campus, hosting a long list of events each day, evening, and week of the semester to connect students with new friends and few interests to gain what students would call the college experience. Both, finally, offer the space, the details, and the encouragement to connect all facets of your college years to become a successful student, critical thinker, and well-rounded individual ready for the next steps and the next steps of your life.
If 2-year and 4-year schools maintain countless similarities with one another, how will you ever choose the route best for you? You have already read about starting your college search early. What you do with your search will ultimately help you with your decision. Maintain a proactive attitude when you explore your schools of choice. Consider questions that may prove important to your academic, financial, and social future, and follow through with discovering the answers. Faculty and staff within 2-year and 4-year institutions maintain a student focus, and want to help you connect the dots. Be open to all possibilities as you visit your schools of choice. Imagine yourself learning and living on a certain campus or consider how a school’s particular program would help you pursue your major of choice. Remaining open allows you to dig deeper, beyond walking around and looking at buildings, and build substantial connection to the schools on your list. One of the primary factors of a successful college experience stems from turning connections to relationships. Connections start as early as your college search, and plant a seed to grow into relationships that not only promote a successful academic career, but a successful transformation into your adulthood. When you find the 2-year or 4-year school that matches your proactive attitude, fulfills your openness with welcoming, enthusiastic connections for further exploration into who they are and what they do, and convey the desire to create your foundation for future student-school relationships, you have discovered your route, your perfect fit, and you are on your way to an amazing, life-altering experience.
–Justin R. Ray
Associate Director of Transfer Admissions