by Dale Schlundt
The question of "Where do I go from here?" can present a daunting challenge for many high school seniors getting ready to advance to the next stage of their life. The thought of "being on your own", even if that means living at home while attending college, can be a scary and uncertain time in a young adult's life. When an individual asks my advice about the next step towards post-secondary education, I almost always advise community college first.
Whether one is speaking about a four year institution or a two year college, it opens up a whole new world to the potential student — to sum it up in one word: questions. Questions as simple as how do I get started? How do I register? and what classes do I take? and more.
Perhaps even the biggest question, which may have not been considered prior, is what do I want to do with my life? The community college provides the relatively smooth transition from a life that has been completely structured for the student to one where they are advised, yet also can begin to grasp those challenges of independence.
One of the most significant challenges students face when entering any post-secondary institution is time management. For some, they are working full time as well as taking a full load of courses. Finding the opportunity to focus on academics can be a hurdle to say the least. For others, they are solely working on college but prior to this have never been exposed to so much free time while concurrently going to school. Absolutely contrary to the secondary school's structured day with bells, college makes time management a new and perhaps costly learning curve.
This is where the community college lends an advantage. In comparison to the university's student/ instructor ratio, the two year college offers much more one on one assistance. The use of student collaboration, where students are able to work together, form friendships, and essentially give each other support, is much more prominent in the two year institution, facilitated by the small size of the class.
Not to be overlooked is the financial aspect of the decision on whether to begin their college life at a two year or four year institution. For those with limited funds or who do not want such high student loans to pay off throughout their professional life, community colleges offer relatively the same classes that transfer to numerous major universities at a substantial discount. I always advise students that unless there is a specific program that only the four year institution offers, why pay the higher tuition for less assistance? I still remember working on my bachelor's degree where there would be classes in which the professor never knew I existed. (It should be said that this is at no fault of the professor, this simply being an aspect of the significantly larger class size.)
Of course, this is not to take away from the four year university, of which there are many wonderful benefits in terms of pedagogical practices, student life, and the overall experience. It is simply a personal choice on the part of the future student and what will best suite them in their new stage of life. The most reassuring aspect is there are typically many choices for your post-secondary institution, with that being beneficial as well as a challenge in many young adults' lives. Regardless, community colleges offer a smooth route to that transition from high school to the "new world" of college.