Community College vs University: Which is right for you?

Community colleges used to be regarded as less academically challenging than traditional four-year universities. In recent years, community colleges have raised their academic standards as well as qualifications for teachers, making community colleges a more affordable way to get an excellent education.

While the level of education at a community college is now comparable to that of most four-year universities, some students are still drawn to the traditional four-year school. Attending a university may come with a higher price tag. Still, it also offers programs and opportunities unavailable at community college like – sports teams, Greek life, and more immersive campus culture.

So how do you know which is right for you? Let’s break it down to help you decide.

How much money do you want to spend?

Going to school costs money, it’s that simple. The truth is community college is almost always going to be more affordable than attending a university. With student debt at an all-time high, you must be strategic in how you’re going to use your money.

Enrolling in community college for pre-requisite classes before transferring to a university can save you thousands of dollars.

Most community colleges don’t offer on-campus housing, so living at home rather than paying to live in a dorm or apartment can also help save a lot of money.

On the other hand, if you’re looking forward to living on campus or attending school in another state, a community college might not be the best fit for you. For some students, going into debt is worth the college experience had at a four-year university.

Do you know what you want to study?

If you find yourself undecided about what you want to major in, you are not alone. Roughly 50% of students enter college, unsure of what they want to study. Taking general and introductory classes that are offered at community colleges can be a huge help in deciding and save you money in the long run.

These courses allow students to “get their feet wet” in different areas of study to see what they might want to focus in. If you are weighing your options, it might be wise to start off at a community college as these entry-level classes are pretty consistent in curriculum across the two school types.

What type of degree would you like to earn?

While transferring credits from community college to university is always an option, some students would prefer continuity with their schooling. For instance, if you’re interested in a career that requires an associate’s degree, it may be wiser to earn that degree from a community college — you can earn your degree quickly without accruing much debt.  

However, if your sights are set on a four-year degree, a university might be a better option. When taking classes geared towards your major, you’ll obviously be grouped together with other students in the same area of study. These students will most likely be in many of your classes, which can be a huge asset while studying.

You’ll have classes with other students earning a degree in the same major which can be helpful in many ways.

This is just a brief example of how you might want to apply the bigger picture perspective when deciding where to attend school.

What’s your learning style?

Many, if not all, general education courses are taken during freshman and sophomore year and taught in large lecture halls at university. This means class sizes are upwards of 100 compared to community college classes, which are limited to under 30 students.

Larger classes mean less one-on-one time with your professors and limited classroom discussion.

Depending on the type of student and learner you are, you may benefit from a smaller class size where you can more easily speak with your professor and participate in classroom discussions and debates.


There’s no rush when deciding which type of college you’d like to attend. Remember to weigh out your options, look at transfer eligibility, and understand the cost of attendance – not only for tuition but also for any of your necessary living expenses. 

This will help you decide how to begin the decision-making process so you can get started earning your college degree.