The road to higher education can look different for each student. There are many factors to consider when deciding between a two-year and a four-year college. You’ll need to consider what type of degree will serve you best, which school suits your lifestyle and how you plan to pay for your education. There is no one right path — there are advantages and disadvantages to both types of schools.
Consider Your Career
Through attending a two-year school, you will likely earn your associate degree, while most four-year programs will result in a bachelor’s degree. To decide which degree is right for you, carefully consider your long-term career goals. Bear in mind that it is not uncommon for students to get an associate degree first, and build on that foundation to earn their bachelor’s degree. In certain cases, an associate degree may be what you need to go into your preferred line of work. Many community colleges provide professional and short-term certification in a variety of fields; these certifications are in high demand by employers in North Carolina, particularly in the healthcare and technology industries. If you are considering work as a first responder, including as a law enforcement officer, emergency medical technician or firefighter, take a look at your local community college for initial and on-going professional training.
Evaluate Your Lifestyle
While pursuing higher education, you’ll want to set yourself up for success. Sometimes committing to a full-time, four-year degree may be overwhelming or simply impractical for your lifestyle. Many students have responsibilities outside of school that are better accommodated through a two-year, part-time schedule. Community colleges are designed to benefit students from all walks of life and may offer the flexibility you need to succeed. Additionally, community colleges tend to offer smaller class sizes and more personal, one-on-one time with instructors; which may be beneficial for students who struggled in high school.
If you are interested in playing sports in college, you have options at both two-year and four-year schools. Many students are aware of the high-profile teams at certain schools around the state, but there are sports programs available at all levels and in all of the sectors of schools. In North Carolina, 16 of our community colleges participate as members of the National Junior College Athletic Association and offer national sports programs for student-athletes.
If you are keen to have the traditional college experience and live in a dorm with your peers, a four-year school may be right for you; however, some community colleges do offer on-campus housing. By living on campus, you’ll be able to immerse yourself in the college life, both academically and socially. Often, dorm life can be a stepping stone on the path to independence. Dorm life offers you the freedom to make your own choices regarding social situations, sleeping patterns, study habits and nutrition choices while still maintaining a support system of counselors and peers.
Examine Your Financial Options
Typically, two-year colleges will be less expensive than four-year schools. If you are unsure of what field of work most interests you, you may opt to save thousands of dollars by taking general education courses at a community college. You’ll be able to ease into higher education, learn at your own pace and build a solid educational foundation, all while saving money.
Transferring credits from a community college to a four-year school is a viable option for many students. An increasing number of two-year schools are offering admissions agreements with public colleges. These agreements allow qualified students to transfer their credits towards earning a bachelor’s degree. This is also applicable to students looking to earn college credits while still in high school. In fact, the N.C. Community Colleges’ Career & College Promise Program enables high school students to take classes for free that can go towards both high school and college degrees. Students participating in the program are able to receive a high school diploma and an associate degree within the same year. Using community college courses as a stepping stone towards a bachelor’s degree is increasing in popularity. According to Raleigh news station WRAL, approximately half of students receiving a bachelor’s degree from a North Carolina school received at least some credits from a community college. For more information on transferring college credits, students should visit CFNC.org.
However, don’t count out four-year colleges just because of the price. There are plenty of ways to make college more affordable. Many students rely on their 529 college savings account to help pay their way through school. Students can also qualify for federal grants through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Scholarships are also often used to make college more affordable.
For more information on how to plan, apply and pay for college, visit College Foundation of North Carolina’s website at CFNC.org.