Choosing a Community College for Your Education is Smart
Casper College students hang out in one of several kitchen/break areas in the Residence Hall. Students come from all over Wyoming, the United States, and international locations. Casper College photo.
Harvard or Yale? Community college or university? College or technical school? These are some of the questions that could be running through your mind when trying to pick a college and they can sometimes seem impossible to answer. When deciding on where to spend the next two to four plus years of your life after high school, you want to make the right decision both for your education needs and your wallet. But, how do you decide where to go? The answer to that question is different for each person, and the reasons behind their decisions vary just as much. When deciding on the college of your dreams, though, there are a few factors that may help you make the right choice for yourself.
What’s your goal?
You’re probably sold on the idea that continuing your education beyond high school has many positive benefits, but there are still endless options and paths to choose from. There are two ways to look at what is right for you. First, you might chart a course based on what you’re interested in studying or second, you may have a particular career that interests you. Does the career you hope to have require a degree? Does it require a two- or four-year degree or perhaps a certificate?
The first two years of any degree often require similar coursework referred to as general education requirements. College credit in general education courses can be earned just about anywhere but make sure if you plan on continuing your education at a different school that these courses transfer to the school of your choice. Most community colleges have agreements with universities that allow your credits to transfer straight across if you decide to continue your education beyond an associate degree. With these agreements, you can pursue your bachelor’s, or higher degree, without having to retake any classes.
Even if your chosen career path doesn’t require more than a high school degree, you may consider certificate programs so you can receive the training and competitive edge you need. In fact, certificate programs can help you remain at your best throughout your career as they tend to be short-term, intensive areas of study that concentrate on applied skills. Certificates, many times, are a minimum requirement for most technical and industrial fields.
Community colleges offer technical and industrial education programs focused on specific skills, general education courses required for degree-seeking individuals, two-year degrees in specific fields, and even the option for students to continue their education towards their bachelor’s or advanced degrees through on-campus partnerships and transfer opportunities. If you know what you’d like to study, take a look at these programs for more information. If you are unsure, keep reading.
Choosing a path can be daunting
Not everyone can easily say what it is they’d enjoy studying in college nor can they pinpoint the career they’d like to pursue. After all, there are so many choices, but narrowing your choice down to a single degree or certificate path is a bit daunting. Even if you know what you’d like to study, you may be surprised that there are even more opportunities for you than you had imagined. Fortunately, community colleges offer a wide range of options that can get you started including career counseling services. You might consider completing a career assessment with a counselor to learn more about the careers that are matched to your particular interests.
There are resources available online to help you with your search. ONET OnLine is the most robust career exploration and job analysis tool available at no charge online. You may find it helpful to complete some of the free assessments available at careeronestop. If you are still unsure, don’t worry. You can declare as a general studies major to allow yourself the time and experience in college to learn more about what you’d like to pursue but remember; there are always career counselors that can help as well.
If you know the course of study you’d like to pursue, check to see what schools offer your choice of program. College websites offer more information both on program webpages and in their college catalog. If you aren’t able to find the information you’re looking for, contact the program directly.
As with everything, cost is a factor in where you decide to attend college. That being said, with a little planning and research, you’ll find some smart ways to keep your out-of-pocket costs down. An excellent way to start college hunting on a budget is to look at community colleges. These schools are an amazing way to begin your higher education because they usually have lower tuition and fees, offer the prerequisite courses that will transfer towards your four-year degree, and smaller class sizes that provide more personalized instruction. Community colleges allow you to save money while also getting a more personalized education.
In-state schools generally offer reduced tuition to their residents. However, schools located just outside the state may offer “in-state” tuition to students from an adjacent state as an incentive for them to go to school there. If your program is only offered out of state, then you may want to focus on schools that neighbor the state you live in.
Your most significant cost with college is living expenses including rent and food. If you are fortunate enough to have a college in your local community, you can save a significant amount by not having to relocate. So, don’t forget to factor in the cost of dormitories or rent if you plan on attending a distant school.
It is also beneficial to find out how many scholarships are offered because this information allows you to determine how much financial aid you might be able to receive to fund your college venture. Most colleges offer federal financial aid in the form of grants and loans but there is significant variability among colleges and their scholarship offerings, so pay close attention to what’s available. To begin this process, complete the Federal Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) application. Many scholarships rely on FAFSA information, and that information will help with your scholarship applications as well as federal financial aid options available to you.
The Hathaway Scholarship program is a unique opportunity for Wyoming high school graduates. There are four merit scholarship levels and one based on financial need that supplements merit awards. Be sure to contact the Hathaway Coordinator at your college of choice in Wyoming.
Veterans and active military members have additional opportunities available to them and their college expenses. Colleges participating in the Yellow Ribbon Program or designated as Military Friendly are better-prepared to help. Contact the college’s veterans coordinator for assistance with military funding assistance.
College admissions and financial aid counselors are important resources to help you navigate the many different opportunities you have to pay for college. Be sure to schedule an appointment with them early in the process. You can begin evaluating the cost of college by accessing each college’s Net Price Calculator on their website but don’t stop there. Start early. Complete the FAFSA, meet with a financial aid counselor, and apply for scholarships.
Location, location, location!
While mom and dad may be wanting you to go to the college five minutes from home, that may not be your ideal situation. When searching for your future home, it might do you good to figure out the type of environment that you feel you learn best in and that you want to be in for the foreseeable future.
If you find that big cities are a distraction to you, or maybe you are not a fan of being two or more hours from the nearest large city, then you can use that to determine where you might want to attend school. Even narrowing it down to the particular state that you would prefer would allow you to decide which school within that area fits your needs perfectly. Each state has multiple colleges and universities within their borders, and they all will offer you a different experience. So, if, for example, Wyoming is the state that draws you in and is the one that you would like to experience, searching for schools within that state will allow you to find one that offers exactly what you are looking for.
Look for visitor information online to give you an idea of the activities and lifestyle you might enjoy while a student.
School size is a consideration for some people. Small schools offer smaller class sizes and generally a chance for students to gain more attention from their instructors. Larger schools may offer more specialization in an area of study and more campus activities to choose from.
For some, a high student to teacher ratio doesn’t scare them off. The average class size for a community college is around 30 students, with some getting even smaller than that, while introductory classes at universities can have 100 or more students in the classroom at a time. With such large classes, it sometimes makes it so that getting one-on-one time with your teacher is difficult. If you are someone that is concerned by large class sizes or who would prefer more interaction with a professor then choosing a community college might be a better option for you. Community colleges allow you to achieve a quality education while paying less and being a part of a smaller community. Their smaller class sizes offer more one-on-one time with the instructor and more flexibility for hands-on learning.
Take it online
Online courses and degrees have grown increasingly popular over the years because they allow for a more flexible schedule that can be customized to fit anyone’s busy life. When looking at prospective colleges think about how you learn and decide if online education might be a good option for you. If you are a busy person with a lot on your plate then taking a few courses online may allow you more free time, or at least more of a say in how and where your time is spent. Online classes and degrees are not for the faint of heart, though, because they take up the same if not more time and concentration than taking a class on campus. It does, however, allow you to work around your schedule which can sometimes be impossible with classes taken on campus. If having a good amount of flexibility is something that is high on your priority list, finding a college with full or partially online degree programs may be beneficial.
All in all, there are so many colleges out there, and each one varies from the last. Finding the one for you just requires a little bit of time, effort, and deciding for yourself what is most important. It is easy to get hung up on the little details when trying to pick your perfect school, but remember that it is all up to you. It is important to find the environment and setting that will help you to achieve your future goals. Whether that is going to the college just down the road or farther away, find the school that will help you better yourself and accomplish your goals.
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