Community College in the US
USA is the world’s most popular country for international students. Many of them choose to study at a Community College. In this article we will have a closer look at these colleges.
What is a Community College?
Community colleges or junior colleges are two year colleges that primarily cater for local students. It is schools for students who want to stay in their home area while pursuing higher education. Students attending a local community college can live at home and thus save a lot on housing and living costs. Community colleges also cost less than universities so it is a good option for students with limited economical means. They also attract students who don’t have the grades to get accepted at university and adults who want to take evening classes while working.
The most common programs at community colleges are certificates, diplomas and two year Associate Degree’s. Taking an Associate Degree is much quicker and cheaper than taking a Bachelor’s Degree at a university but on the other hand it does not have the same status. But if you have an Associate Degree you can transfer to a university to complete a Bachelor’s Degree in two more years.
Community Colleges don't only only have american students. According to statistics from AACC about one fifth of all international undergraduate students in the US study at Community College. That is almost 100 000 international students. Half of these students choose a college in one of these five states: California, Texas, Florida, Washington state or New York state.
So why would an international student want to study at a community college? There are a number of good reasons as you will see below.
Six reasons to study at Community College
- It is cheaper than going to a university: higher education is expensive in the US. The tuition fees at Community Colleges are more affordable than going to university. On average the cost for Community College is less than half of taking an equivalent program at a public university. And private universities are usually even pricier.
- It is easier to get accepted: Community Colleges use an open admission policy which means that anyone with a high school diploma or GED can attend. However, you will usually have to prove that your English level is good enough to attend and there might also be entrance exams in other subjects like Mathematics to determine which of the college’s courses that you can take. In California and Minnesota students don’t even need to have finished high school to be accepted at Community College. However, if you did not finish high school I would recommend taking a look at Seattle Central College's fantastic High School Completion Plus program that gives you a High School Diploma from Washington State AND an Associate Degree in only two years!
- Classes are small: while universities often give lectures to hundreds of students at a time Community Colleges normally work with much smaller classes. This will enable you to ask more questions and get more support from your teacher. While university professors combine research with teaching the professors at Community College usually focus 100% on teaching.
- Take a Bachelor’s Degree at a lower cost: do you want to take a Bachelor in the US? Consider taking the first two years at a community college. It will be less expensive and it will be easier to get accepted. If you maintain good grades you can then transfer to a university and start directly on the third year. So you do the first two years at the Community College and the last two years at the University. In the end you get the same degree as if you would have done all four years at the university.
- Try the American college experience: if you want a Gap Year after high school or if you don’t know what you want to study you can take one or two semesters at a Community College and experience College life in the US. Many colleges allow for study abroad semesters where you can pick the courses that you are interested in and try different subjects. Another option is to sign up for a short program like a Certificate or Diploma course.
- Work in the US for one year on OPT: if you have completed a two year Associate Degree in an american Community College federal law allows you to stay and work in the US for one year on OPT - Optional Practical Training. The job has to be directly related to the major you have taken. You have to apply for OPT during the last semester of your Associate Degree. For more information see the colleges' homepages.
Seattle Central College has created a pedagogic video to explain community college like this:
Who should not study at Community College?
While studying at Community College can be a good option for many international students it is not right for everyone. If you match one or more of the criteria below you might be better of looking for other options.
- If you have already studied at university level: if you have already studied for a couple of years at university most community colleges will not be able to offer you classes at a higher level and community college might feel like a step backwards for you.
- If you want to top up your CV: if you only want to take a semester or two abroad to top up your CV you will be better of studying at a university and preferably taking a degree. Studying at a Community College will give you valuable study abroad experience but the status is lower than a university, not least in the eyes of American employers.
- Top students: if you are an ambitious student with very high grades a Community College might not be the right option for you and you might be better off applying for a high ranking university and trying to get a scholarship.
How to choose a college?
Studying at a Community College can be a great experience but all colleges are not suitable for international students. So do some research and look for the following criteria:
- How many students does the college have? To enjoy college life and be able to choose the subjects you like you should make sure that the college you are applying for isn’t too small.
- Do they have international students? Colleges with many international students will most likely have a better support system in place for international students and you can get to know more students in the same situation.
- Do they have agreements with good universities? If you consider taking a Bachelor’s Degree in the US you should apply for a Community College that has transfer agreements with good universities. Then you can transfer to the university and count all your credits from the Community College. Good transfer agreements are usually a sign of a good college.
- Does the school have a good location? Life outside of the classroom is a big part of studying abroad so make sure that you choose a school with an attractive location. However always form your own opinion. What is attractive to others might not be attractive to you. Some people like warm weather and beaches, others like big cities or smaller places close to nature.
You should also look at reviews, student housing, tuition fees, the subjects that the college offers etc. For more information see our article on how to choose a school abroad.
Let us for example look at Seattle Central College using the criteria above:
- They have 10000 students so they will have plenty of courses and events to offer you as an international student.
- They have 1500 international students, i.e. 15% which is a good number. This ensures that they are used to international students.
- They have agreements with over 20 universities, so you can begin your studies at Seattle Central, and transfer all the credits from your Associate Degree to a number of universities throughout the USA and start directly on year three there.
- The school definitely has a good location right in the middle of Seattle. Surrounded by water and nestled between two mountain ranges, Seattle is a breathtaking city that is home to companies such as Microsoft, Boeing, Amazon, Starbucks, and many more.
Another good example is Valencia College in Orlando, Florida:
- They have 70000 students and over 100 programs so they match a big university.
- They also have 1500 internationella students and are ranked top 13 among all American Community Colleges for number of internationella students.
- Valencia graduates with an Associate in Arts (A.A.) degree are guaranteed admission to one of Florida’s 12 public universities. Valencia also has a pathway program with the University of Central Florida and they even have students that transfer to Ivy League schools.
- Valencia College have five campuses around Orlando in the middle of Florida. Here you can enjoy a warm climate and lot of activities such as theme parks, sport events, concerts etc.
So based on this Seattle Central and Valencia College are definitely be a good options for international students. However everyone has different preferences. Below you will find a list of 50 popular community colleges.
Unlike US universities very few Community Colleges have their own student housing on campus. So you have to be prepared to find your own accommodation while you study there. But the schools can often advice you of private residences and landlords nearby.
One exception is Northampton Community College in Pennsylvania. Here you can live on campus in a lively student town close to New York and Philadelphia.
Visa for college in the US
When you get accepted to a Community College they will send you an I-20 document that you use to apply for a student visa. Read more in our guide Student visa to the US.
Insurance for studying in the US
It is vital to have a good insurance when you study in the US. Some colleges offer their own insurance, however their insurance is not mandatory there are usually better options. Read more about Study Abroad insurances.
How to apply?
To apply for a Community College you usually have to submit the following:
- The college's application form
- Their application fee
- Your high school diploma translated to English
- A copy of your passport
- Proof that you can finance your studies
- Proof that you have the required English level, for example a TOEFL or IELTS test.
Sometimes you also need to submit other documents like a personal letter. Each school has their own admission guidelines so make sure to check the application procedures of the college you are interested in.