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How to Choose a Good Community College

Community college choices are expanding rapidly as families look for alternatives to expensive four-year programs. In the past, students might have automatically enrolled themselves in whatever community college was closest to their house without really thinking about it. Now, evaluating the features of a community college includes a look not only at location, but also class transferability, programs offered, extra-curricular activities, and job placement rates.

Location

Location these days can mean in state, out of state, or online. Virtual community colleges have sprung up all over the nation and can solve location challenges for students in rural areas who aren’t interested in relocating. On the other hand, the advantages of being near key employers or a comfortable housing arrangement can make even a distant college a great choice.

To broaden your perspective beyond just local community colleges, try the College Matchmaker tool offered by The College Board online. Sort for two-year schools, and follow up with your own secondary criteria in terms of programs and amenities.

Think about what matters to you and your goals in going to school. Do you want to “go away” to school, or is it important to stay close to family or an existing job? Does your major require a rural environment, mountains, or a dense urban community? Answer the questions for yourself, and then match online listings against your personal needs to find a school that will be good for you.

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Class Transferability

Class transferability is particularly important if you are using your community college as a stepping-stone to another program. You’ll want to look closely at what are known as “articulation agreements” – the formal rules for how credits transfer between schools. Know before you enroll if your credits roll up to other in-state schools, out-of-state schools, or a regional network of colleges. This will prevent you from wasting money and time at a school that can’t help you reach your goals.

Programs Offered

Not all community colleges offer the same program specialties, and programming can even vary dramatically year-to-year depending on instructor availability. Never assume that last year’s programs are this year’s programs, and never assume that every college will have the same set of basic courses available.

In fact, some community colleges are specifically geared toward a narrow set of career options. While this would be a bad choice for someone seeking a general educational foundation, it can be a serious advantage for those who know what they want. For example, the Milford campus of Nebraska’s Southeast Community College offers advanced technical training and research options for students looking to work on hybrid vehicles, while Chicago’s Tribeca Flashpoint Academy is a specialized digital media arts school with links to Disney and Hollywood.

Looking at program offerings in-depth will tell you if your community college has the programs you need to meet your life goals. It might be that a more distant school would be better for you, or you may be surprised at the specialized offerings from the school on your doorstep.

Extra-Curricular Activities

A big complaint over the years has been that community colleges don’t offer the same options for campus involvement as traditional universities. This is not true of all schools, and the depth of athletic and fine arts extra-curriculars within a single community college campus can be surprising.

Many community colleges have award-winning sports teams and drama groups. There are debate teams, political groups, community development teams, and much, much more. Some schools cater to working parents, while others offer clubs for fresh high school graduates. As you think about your future, see if your community college choices have clubs, societies, or sports that get you excited about attending.

Job Placement Rates

In this economy, you want to be sure you are getting an education that will help you get a better job. Ask admissions staff point-blank about job placement rates for graduates. Find out from them or by researching online exactly how many attendees have jobs waiting for them after graduation.

One of the worst injustices is to go to college to get a better job and end up in the same dead-end retail or fast-food job as high school graduates. Don’t let it happen to you – check out job placement rates carefully when you evaluate a college’s promises to you. Look too for partnership and internship programs that help local businesses get top talent straight from the classroom – these experiences can give you an inside edge on a full-time job later, ensuring that the community college you choose really is good for you.

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