Make A Two-Year Tour Of Duty At A Junior College Work For You

For students who want four-year degrees, junior college can either be a low-cost way to slash the sticker price of your education or an endless time and money suck that derails your master plan.

The anonymous personal finance blogger at Small Steps For Big Change, who is also a university professor, has some recommendations of how to make the junior college experience smooth and productive.

The advice includes deciding which four-year institution you want to attend after juco to make sure you know which classes will transfer and apply to your eventual degree. A talk with the department chair at that institution is also a good idea, and extremely helpful for fine-tuning your class selection at the juco.

I’ve had friends and family members who got stuck on junior college hamster wheels thanks to poor direction from either incompetent or unscrupulous teachers and counselors who recommended useless classes that served only to keep the students at the schools longer.

If you went to junior college and moved on to a university, what did you do to streamline the process?

How to do two years at a junior college (the right way) [Small Steps For Big Change]

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  1. ubermex says:

    The local community college has a very good relationship with the local 4 year here. They do everything but drive you over there when you finish.

    • Julia789 says:

      Yeah our local community college has a transfer program. If you graduate with a two year degree and had a reasonable GPA, you’re guaranteed admission to State and all credits transfer. Assuming those credits count toward the 4-year-degree you want, you save thousands of dollars.

      When I was going to the community college, and my husband was going to State, we noticed we shared a lot of the same professors, and often the same coursework and textbooks. Except my classes were at half the price! Many of the professors teach identical classes at both the State 4-year and the local community college.

    • Groanan says:

      Same with the ones where I live.
      On top of that – the local 4 year State University gives these transferred students a higher priority on classes than the ones who went to the State University from the start.

      Doing the 2 year community college route also gets rid of all those undergraduate requirements that can delay someone from graduating from the university on time.

    • sonneillon says:

      The community college I went to guaranteed a list of classes that would transfer to any state college and if they didn’t you would get a refund.

    • fourclover54 says:

      Same here. The JC was wrong on one thing (an AP class credit counted for something different at my 4-year) so I ended up taking one GE course at my CSU. But overall – good experience. That was for a local JC/CSU combo – if I had been going elsewhere, I hope I would have checked with the destination university.

    • earthprince says:

      My community college (and several others in the state) had a program where if you graduated with a 3.2 GPA (or something along those lines) you got 1/3 off tuition at most of the state colleges. There was also a guaranteed acceptance upon graduation and you skipped over the “freshman seminars” or “writing requirement courses” which were just filler classes.

      I took a business program which had different concentrations available, and one was “accelerated placement” or something, in which you don’t have a set concentration but all your classes were more likely to transfer properly. I chose the marketing option instead, and even if it didn’t transfer exactly, most of my classes transferred at least as electives in their respective departments.

      I even had the same professor at both schools for a class or two. If its an option available, its the best option financially. An ex who went to a private four year university didn’t have this option though. His school (Northeastern) placed a restriction on transfer credits, and barely allowed anything in. I guess that school figured most people going there could manage to afford/take loans for going the whole time, and they are probably right.

  2. pecan 3.14159265 says:

    A lot (I didn’t read all of it) of what the professor said is very good advice. I’d also throw into the mix that if the four year university you want to go to has a good distance program or online program, and you have the discipline, take your general ed courses during the summer online. That will let you load your schedule with the more specialized courses for your major, and you’ll be more able to get help if you run into some problems understanding the content. Also, general ed classes are easier to offer online because the coursework isn’t nearly as complex, so they’re more readily available.

    • earthprince says:

      I definitely recommend the online classes for general electives. I took them throughout my college career as often as I could. It wasn’t a free ride, but it offered so much more flexibility.

      My last semester I managed to take three online classes to fill up my last electives, and only had calculus that I actually had to attend. I ended up taking Geography 101, Intro. to Environmental Studies 101, and History 234 (or something). The history even took up my arts/humanities credit. Since it was my last semester, I was taking calculus, and essentially working full time, the three online classes set the framework for me to get by with a minimum of stress.

  3. BeastMasterJ says:

    I earned a two-year degree at a community college and transfered to a State school for the four year. It saved me close to $16,000 of loans/aid to do it that way, but I wish I had read this article before I did that.

    Transferring my credits was tricky, and I had to have the Department Head of the four year school authorize a lot of transfers. We made a lot of square pegs fit into round holes on that one.

  4. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    It’s not too hard to coordinate taking classes that apply to the 4-year institution you want to attend. Talk to that college’s appropriate department as well as the juco’s, and both should be able to help.

    Warning: if the juco is not helpful in this area, I would recommend not attending there.

  5. Jdavis says:

    Judging from some some my peer’s experience, you need to declare your degree ASAP so that when course requirements are changed you don’t have to take (and pay for) courses that you wouldn’t have had to take before. At least in Virginia when you declare your major the college cannot change the requirements for a given amount of years.

    Further in VA many degrees from CCs transfer straight to 4 years meaning that if you graduate you start as a junior. However I have found that I had to take some 200 level courses again that were not required for my degree, but were offered at CC. Now I’m required to pay 3 times more money for the exact same material.

  6. Beave says:

    Junior/Community College is a great way to save money, and this article is spot on. I have many family members who ended up in the same boat… taking all sorts of classes that wouldn’t transfer or wouldn’t transfer as anything but general credits while working towards an associates degree that they didn’t care about.

    Never trust the people at the JuCo when wondering what transfers and which classes to take. Take the advice above, pick a school and work directly with their admissions and academic counselors. Two of my brothers wasted a year and spent a couple thousand dollars on Community College tuition for classes that probably wouldn’t have transferred anywhere, let alone to their chosen University and the degree programs they wanted.

  7. Skellbasher says:

    In NY state, almost all the 2 years schools have transfer agreements with the 4 year state schools. For most majors, an associates at the 2 year school allows you to start right into your junior year at the 4 year school. Much money to be saved that way, and very little hassle when dealing with credit transfer.

  8. lain1k says:

    For California residents there is Assist.org, tells you what classes are transferable from what college (on top of the IGETC and other transfer paths).

  9. jessjj347 says:

    Yep, you have to talk to the department at the university to see what will transfer. There are sometimes forms you can fill out and get signed by the department heads, which explicitly say what your course sare substituting for (e.g. transfer of credit form). If you get it filled out before transferring, you have proof that the course was “preapproved”.

  10. badtypo says:

    My local community college features a pretty awesome program: if you’re a full-time student, each semester you can take 1 university course for the price of the community college course. It’s called cross-enrollment here, don’t know if it exists elsewhere but it’s worth investigating.

    Do keep in mind the cost differentials for in state/out of state tuition, especially if you’re looking to go to an out of state public university. It will cost you less to be a non-resident at your CC/JC than at the university you transfer to. It might be worth it to relocate for the first two years so that you’re then a resident for the part of your education that will be more expensive. Make sure you check out residency requirements because they vary (sometimes quite dramatically!).

  11. parliboy says:

    In Texas, community college credits transfer to the equivalent course for any four-year public school in the state. Spiffy, that is. That even applies to “dual credit” courses. So you can stock up on CC courses for free while you’re in high school and knock off your first year or so of college on someone else’s dime.

  12. Evil_Otto would rather pay taxes than make someone else rich says:

    One piece of advice:

    Make sure you don’t list the JuCo on your resume. List your undergraduate degree from a Real School(tm). If the hiring manager sees the JuCo, they’ll assume you couldn’t get into a Real School(tm) because of your grades, poor boards, or some other job-killing reason.

    The job market is bad enough without hamstringing yourself.

    • ARP says:

      In this economy, where people are dumbing down their resumes to get more menial jobs, the opposite may well be true.

    • MrEvil says:

      Junior College didn’t hurt me. Then again my degree program was very specific to my field which alot of 4 year universities don’t even offer.

    • kethryvis says:

      My AA is on my resume, with my BA and graduate work. Currently have my dream job. Hasn’t hurt me.

    • jebarringer says:

      I’d tweak that a bit: if you didn’t get a degree and just transferred, you might not want to list it. If you did get a degree/certification, definitely want to list that.

    • djhoch says:

      I originally followed this advice and left my AA off my resume. Problem was that I worked in New York while getting my AA (relevant job experience) and then transferred to DC to finish my BA. Every job I interviewed for mentioned the apparent discrepancy so I eventually put the AA back on the resume and got a great job. If you don’t have a similar discrepancy that automatically causes the interviewer to ask what’s up, I would leave it off though.

  13. jackbishop says:

    I’m on the mathematics faculty at an urban university with a significant commuter and nontraditional-student population. We make no particular secret of the fact that, for most classes preparatory to calculus, our students would be served as well or possibly even better at the community college up the road.

  14. Arcaeris says:

    I have many friends who went to community college before transferring on, and they are all highly successful people now. They also have a lot less (or no) debt than I do.

    They did what the article said and figured out way in advance what classes they needed and would transfer. The thing they ALL said was that the counselors at the community colleges didn’t know a freaking thing and could not be relied on for information under any circumstances. If you have questions about what classes to take, contact the university you want to transfer to and ignore the idiots at the JC.

    • Verdant Pine Trees says:

      … I’d have to disagree, it’s a YMMV sort of thing. I’ve attended five schools, including one juco, for undergrad/grad, worked for several others in my career. Big, big difference in counseling between different institutions. I can’t say your friends are wrong, but I’ve met fantastic counseling professionals, and people who I wouldn’t trust to read a label on a can of dog food.

      At the juco where my day job is, some of the people who work in counseling *themselves* went through the juco–>local state and city universities process. They’re a very sharp group of people. We have a whole setup just to mentor veterans, another team just for international students, campus orientations that help people start off on the right foot. This school has a very, very tightknit relationship with two universities in particular, really knows their stuff related to that.

  15. AustinTXProgrammer says:

    A lot of four year colleges can be difficult to get accepted into from a CC. I would research this before making decisions (get accepted as a high school senior and defer perhaps? I went straight to the 4 year so I don’t know.)

    • kethryvis says:

      oh? When i transferred from CC, i got into every single school i applied to, save one. i have yet to meet anyone who attempted to transfer and failed.

    • Johnny Longtorso says:

      In Virginia, if you have an associate’s degree from a Virginia community college, you’re guaranteed admission to most schools in the state, including William & Mary, UVA, Tech, and a lot of private schools. The only other requirement is a high enough GPA, which depends on the individual school’s requirements.

  16. MrEvil says:

    I know Texas has recently been dropping the hammer on State universities that don’t accept transfer credits from Community Colleges. Accept the credits or lose state funding has been the ultimatum.

  17. kethryvis says:

    Find out if your CC/JC has any transfer agreements with schools in your area. Many times they say basically as long as you graduate with a x.x GPA, you’re accepted. That could be helpful down the road.

    Get to know your professors!!!!! Especially the ones who are department heads. You’ll need them down the road for letters of recommendation (think scholarships as well as future graduate work), and they can help you out of jams. My CC counselor was HIGHLY recommended by a lot of my friends, turned out he wasn’t so helpful and screwed up my graduation petition so royally i almost didn’t graduate. While i waited for the bureaucratic wheels to turn, i hunted up my History prof, who was head of the Social Sciences department. If i couldn’t get my AA in English, i was going to get my AA in Gen. Ed., but i’d have to transfer a PolySci class from another college i’d taken something like six years prior which would be difficult. However, because he knew me and knew i wasn’t a slacker, he said that if needed, he’d just sign off on my petition, no questions asked and no documentation other than my transcript (usually they wanted the syllabus too, difficult to provide after so long).

    BE THE SQUEAKY WHEEL. This goes for all levels of school really. If something isn’t right, don’t just shut up and take it. Take it to the department head, the division head, the VP, whoever it takes. i get so frustrated at some friends of mine who graduated a semester or two later than they should have because they didn’t stand up for themselves. If you got bad advice and got screwed, DON’T TAKE IT. Go higher. i did, and it’s why i have the AA in English and not the AA in Gen Ed. Be your own advocate, because no one else will be.

    And read everything they give you. Everything. Every stupid scrap of paper, even if you don’t think it applies to you, read it. Read all the boring documentation in the front of the catalog, read every requirement, every piece of bureaucratic nonsense. Hold onto them until your diploma is in hand (at least the Big Stuff. Parking info, medical info, etc. you can ditch after the semester is over, but stuff about actual grad requirements hold onto as long as you can). You never know when you’ll need it.

    • MomInTraining says:

      I agree with everything you said, except for keeping things until you graduate. You really should keep some of them forever. Somethings to keep are copies of syllabusses for your classes, any financial aid documentation, and the catalog for the year in which you declared your major. That will have all of your graduation requirements and related details. You never know when you are going to want to continue your education or transfer schools, so keeping that stuff will make transferring credits and getting your degree easier. My husband and I transferred and he was able to take a MUCH easier path to his degree because he had proof that he declared the major at another school before the new school dumped a bunch of requirements into the major.

  18. sgtyukon says:

    For additional savings, if your parents have health insurance that covers you if you’re a full-time student, where I live community college tuition is cheaper than individual health insurance for you.

    • fatediesel says:

      With the new health care laws you can stay on your parents insurance until you’re 26 even if you’re not in school.

  19. possum_queen says:

    thank goodness for Community Colleges. I was able to complete my associates in 3 years attending part time, and I also had a direct connect to a four year state university to complete my Bachelors.. It was a great investment.

  20. Alexander says:

    Look for Transfer Agreement Guarantee (TAG) or something similar at your local junior college. Join them, go to class, get good grades and you are guaranteed to be accepted to the college of your choice. Of course, the college has to be working with the junior college’s TAG program. This works for junior colleges in the general area of your college of choice. Here in Southern Cal most junior colleges have these programs with USC, UCLA and Cal State Universities.

  21. HillBillary says:

    Ugh, I moved across the state and switched JCs about 2/3 of the way through. Somehow in the same state the AA requirements were different and they told me I couldn’t take all my sciences, social sciences, etc from the same list. There was an A and a B list and for each and I had take 2 or 3 from the A side, one from the B. They tossed out my Intro to Political Terrorism poli-sci class, my Science and Pseudo-science philosophy class as well as the religion class I took because they didn’t offer them and as a result, they couldn’t be my “B List” classes.

    Then, when all is said and done and I’ve got general credits in droves, they decided that my “prove you can use a damn computer” class (PhotoShop I believe I had taken) was no good. I could test out of it with a test proving I could use Excel and such. I suck at Excel, but I took a CCNA course in high school and worked in the silicone valley after high school. Really, Excel and Word proves my computer knowledge? By that point I was over it, I was working full time and I figured if I got ready to go back to school again I’d jump through that hoop when the time came.

  22. human_shield says:

    Learn course and graduation requirements, how to read the catalogs and schedules, and only use advisers to confirm your choices, then reverify it yourself. Also mix up your advisers. Don’t get stuck with just one, because half of them don’t know what they are doing and you’ll get different answers from each one.

  23. Taed says:

    I did something different. We moved the summer before my senior year of high school, so I skipped high school and instead of my senior year, I attended the local junior college (Ohlone College in California). I did great on my SATs and then went on to an ivy league university (Cornell) at the normal time as a freshman. I was able to transfer 9 credits, which got me out of a few classes. I have no complaints at all; I liked the junior college that I attended. However, my intent was not to save money and it wasn’t part of any master plan.

    In retrospect, AP classes in high school would have been better for me academically, but the freedom and maturity of attending a year of junior college was better for me emotionally.

  24. Slatts says:

    I can’t speak for the rest of the country, but in San Diego, CA they have an awesome transfer program from Mesa Community College to UCSD. Just maintain a 3.0 GPA in a core group of classes, and you’re guaranteed admission (it was a mere 2.8 when I took advantage of it, but they’ve bumped it up since then and may again soon due to high demand). You don’t even have to take the SAT.

    I had goofed off pretty badly in High School, so this was a *huge* opportunity for a second chance at getting into UCSD, where the average GPA of an incoming freshman is something just shy of 4.0, with plenty of AP classes and stellar SAT scores to boot. I saved a ton of money as opposed doing all 4 years at UCSD, even if I could have been admitted as a freshman.

    Looking back, I might have done a better job of researching the requirements of my major (CS) in order to have taken even more classes at the CC before making the leap. Had I done so, I might have gotten out after only 2 years at UCSD rather than having to take another couple of quarters to satisfy my major. Needless to say, there is no “asterisk” on my diploma that says I didn’t do all 4 years at UCSD — the only thing employers know is that I’m a UCSD grad.

    And finally, this should go without saying for those who frequent this site, but stay the hell away from for-profit schools! Not only would UCSD never have accepted credit from one of those mills, but the cost probably would have been double or more than what I paid for CC+UCSD. I’ve never understood for-profit schools… pay more, get less… it just doesn’t add up.

  25. BrooklynKnight says:

    Some 2 year Schools are better then the 4 year schools that succeed them. For example, Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn is a 2 year CUNY (City University of New York) school, about 2 miles north on the border of Flatbush and Midwood lies Brooklyn College, one of CUNY’s most prestigious 4 Year schools. In fact many professors and even some students claim the quality of the education is near Ivy League.

    What a croc of shit. I went to BC, for Broadcasting and stayed there 3.5 years. It was one of the worst experiences of my life. There was a system of core classes everyone had to take that took nearly 2 years to complete before you could even start your major. 4 sciences. Who requires 4 sciences?

    In any case, there was tons of red tape to do anything, they were disorganized as shit. You’d sign up for a class with professor A only to find out that the class is now taught by professor z, with no notice. The majority of the professors there were tenured and phoning it in. They didn’t have a passion for teaching.

    KBCC on the other hand, I switched backwards, to the 2 year school so I could at least grab an AAS after my wasted time at BC. The classes weren’t any easier, but my GPA shot up to 3.5 because the teachers were engaging and interesting. They inspired thought. If I was having an off day I’d actually want to go to class because some of them were relaxing and mood boosters.

    I wish KBCC was a 4 year. I’d go back and get my BS there.

  26. brownhb says:

    I work in the advising department for a state university, and we have an actual checklist of classes from the local CC that can transfer. General ed can be a bit trickier, but someone out there has that list. We work with community college kids a lot. I would recommend always, always talking to the specific department you want to transfer into first just to double-check everything.

  27. kmw2 says:

    Don’t forget that for a lot of community college systems you don’t have to take all your classes at your home campus. Some classes can be impossible to get on one campus while they run every semester at the campus half an hour away.

  28. ReaperRob says:

    In Alabama they’ve actually set up a system that vets JC classes to the full colleges, it even tells you which classes you need to take to transfer into certain programs.

  29. Artillero says:

    This is actually something that all people should do. In general, junior colleges have the same or even better quality of education than a full time college. However, this does not mean that a person should go to a junior college that has a four year program. I am going to a junior college right now and once I graduate high school I will have a two year degree that is identical to one from a full time college

  30. coren says:

    Honestly I had the reverse problem – breezed through CC in five quarters and took far too long at my four year. Of course, I think just about anyone could apply to and get into the school I got my bachelors from, their admission requirements are…well lax is putting it mildly

  31. Drivebyluna says:

    I only stayed at a community college for one semester while I was transferring to UB (a semester school) to RIT (a quarter school). I also thought if I didn’t go to school for one semester I’d lose my health insurance (which was wrong).

    I took 4 credits, a biology course, a philosophy course, a sociology course and an ASL course (interpreting being my intended major at RIT). I took the other three because I thought they might fill other requirements at RIT.

    Turns out only the ASL class and the bio class transfered. The philosophy class and sociology class did not transfer, not because they were untransferable but because apparently all my gen ed credits were already fulfilled by my 2 1/2 years at UB.

  32. katarzyna says:

    “deciding which four-year institution you want to attend after juco to make sure you know which classes will transfer and apply to your eventual degree.”

    This cannot be emphasized enough. I went straight to a four year college, and met several people who were dismayed at how few of their credits transfered. One poor woman went to CC for two years, and could only transfer one class.

    Not to say that CC is a bad idea; you can save a lot of money. Just do your homework so you’re not wasting time and money.

    • fatediesel says:

      Very true. I went to a community college and got an AS in Construction Management. The CC had an agreement for the credits to transfer to a state university but not all the credits would satisfy requirements and it would have taken me 3 years to get my BA at the university. I ended up going to a private college where all my credits transferred and got a business degree and accounting minor in 2 years and now have an accounting job. In hindsight I’m incredibly glad I didn’t end up at the university because I like my current job so much more than I would a construction management job.

  33. RachieRacer says:

    I went to a local Community College that was closely affiliated with our local University. I got straight A’s earning my Associate’s, which got me a free ride to the University until I finished my Bachelor’s Degree. Community College basically paid for my higher education.

  34. mcmunchkin says:

    This is great advice, but it assumes you can actually get classes at community college. That’s not the case in many California schools. I was taking my lower division science prereqs at community college in the Bay Area. Then it got to the point where I was 30th on the wait list for my chem lab. I couldn’t even get on wait lists for other things. I couldn’t get my classes at other local community colleges. I was forced to transfer to a CSU to get any classes at all.

  35. djhoch says:

    As someone who moved from Juco to a four year school, I have two pieces of advice:

    1) If you’re going to be a liberal arts major, try to get your math and science requirements (gen-ed) out of the way at the two year school. These classes tend to be easier at community college than they are at a four year school. Additionally most four year schools have a minimum number of credits you must take in residence for your major and you don’t want to be stuck with credits you can’t use (even if the school would take them otherwise).

    2) This will sound familiar to most Consumerist regulars: NEGOTIATE! Believe it or not you CAN negotiate what credits will be accepted by your new school. Yes, it pays to find out beforehand, but keep in mind that just because Joe in the academic adviser’s office told you the credits will transfer, that doesn’t mean Dean Johnson will sign off on them when the time comes. But you can negotiate things. Often times just providing a syllabus or registrar’s description of the class will help your case. Universities change their class schedules all the time and it would be impossible for schools to always keep up with each others programs.

    You’ll be amazed what you can negotiate with an academic adviser or a dean.

  36. Verdant Pine Trees says:

    My (coming in late!) advice would be for people who really want that brass ring of going to a great four year or R1 university, and don’t want to stick around in the hometown. Or someone who is very judgmental about the idea of “Harvard on the Highway”.

    You can always stay an additional year at a four year university after transferring to get that “college” experience or have fun. But you can save money on the basic classes you need. So it’s worth sticking with. You can also arrange in many cases to take a summer course with a community college and transfer it even after you’ve transferred to a four year.

    I am a poster child for what not to do! I won a scholarship for a year’s free tuition at a junior college, and did not stay there. Nothing wrong with my teachers. I just was annoyed by the “JC is an extension of high school” immature people in some of my classes, and wanted to go to what I then called a “real school” to be around more motivated students. The problem is, there were motivated students at JC – I didn’t know how to find them at the ripe old age of 17 – and in fact, my alma mater (the college I ended up attending) had plenty of mouth-breathers, too.

    So if you’re one of those folks who is demoralized by staying in the hometown and want to “trek” out a bit… look into enrolling in a junior college away from home… bearing in mind that certain places, like California, have more intense competition for slots in all state institutions. Look at Washington Monthly’s list here: http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/college_guide/feature/americas_best_community_colleg_1.php – all great community colleges. Some are in better locations as far as getting a part-time job, though. A few even have dorms.

    If you don’t feel “ready” for full fledged college, doing JC part-time, and working part-time, is perfect. You’ll have a little head start on required courses, you’ll keep your skill level up, but you’ll also be able to make some money. If you’re really well organized and conscientious, online courses are also available.

    Whether you stay home or go out of town – do the FAFSA and find out whether you qualify for work-study, then call the on-campus work office to find out what the prevailing wage on campus is, and for info on job placement. Work-study is going to pay the average student around $3000 for two semesters at about 10 hours a week. It’s not enough alone to help you make ends meet in most locations, but if you are staying with your family, you can salt that money into savings. You can often negotiate to work in the field you’re interested in, by arranging a job. The employer doesn’t pay you work-study – the federal government does. So it’s often very easy to arrange work-study pay and credit for work you do at a non-profit.

    If you’re a really motivated student (e.g. not just there to party; someone who can do a 3.5 or higher) check to see if there’s an Honors Program. There’s one where I work that has lots of activities and tie-ins, and it’s open to anyone, as long as they maintain a good GPA. And many community colleges have special tutoring centers for subjects like writing and math, as well as developmental courses.

    Understand that community college faculty and staff are here because of their interest in teaching and learning. If they only cared about research they’d go hunting for grant money at an R1. So 99% of them are not going to judge you prematurely based on your background or any mistakes (e.g. dropping out of school) you might have done before. On the contrary. They are used to non-traditional students of every kind.

    Today, I overheard a late-twenties age student ask an older student, “So those developmental courses are for stupid people, right?” The older student explained, “No, no. A lot of our public schools may not have prepared you to the point where you’re ready to do college level work in every subject. I took some of those courses, and I know I’m not stupid!”