Step 1: Consider Your Professional Pathway
If you’re considering earning a degree or certificate at a community college, you should first have in mind what it is that you want to achieve through your education.
If you intend to earn a bachelor’s degree but are unsure of what to study, you can take general education courses at a community college for a fraction of the cost of attending a four-year college or university. You will save money and determine your major before enrolling at a university – which is much more expensive. However, some community colleges don’t provide degrees (“transfer degrees”) that are transferable to a four-year university.
If your end game is to earn a bachelor’s degree, then you’ll want to make sure the community college you attend is regionally accredited and credits are fully transferable. You may also want to find out if the community college has any “articulation agreements” in place with four-year universities in the region. Articulation agreements ensure that a community college’s students will be admitted to a college or university upon successfully completing their associate’s degree.
Many community colleges specialize in technical training and vocational education.
If your goal is to enter the workforce as soon as possible, you’ll want to find a community college or technical college that specializes in helping students prepare for their career.
If you’re just not sure what career you want to pursue, you may consider a community college that offers a decent selection of programs that provides both career training and preparation for a bachelor’s degree program.
Step 2: Investigate the Industry
If you already know which career you want to pursue, schedule a time to meet with someone working in your desired profession. If your dream is to be a civil engineer, contact a civil engineering who’s been in the industry a while to talk to him/her about possible education paths.
There’s no one better than an industry professional to let you know what your best education and career training options are. He/she may even direct you to a specific community college or school that offers the type of training or degree required.
Step 3: Audit Several Classes
Many community colleges will permit potential students to spend time sitting in classes before they make a decision about whether to attend the school or not. By using this strategy, you will have a chance to review facilities and get to know potential professors/instructors before you commit.
High school students may enroll in evening or summer classes to determine whether the community college will be a good fit for them. Most community colleges will allow high school student to attend classes at no charge in order to get a better feel for the institution.
Step 4: Meet with an Academic Adviser
If you have any questions, do not hesitate to schedule an appointment with an academic adviser. An adviser can answer your questions and alleviate any concerns you have about attending a specific school.
If you’re still in high school you’ll want first meet with your high school counselor. They’ll have a good idea of which community colleges are going to be a good fit for you and can point you in the right direction.
Step 5: Master the Tricks of Transferring
Keep your options open when enrolling in a community college by choosing one where your credits earned can be transferred to a college or university. Many community colleges have agreements with colleges and universities where students can complete their general education courses at a community college before enrolling at a 4-year institution to pursue a major.
Community colleges are an excellent option for many students since they are affordable and more are now offering a larger selection of classes that will count towards a bachelor’s degree at a four-year university.
Step 6: Review Graduation Rates
A good community college will have a good graduation rate. If a community college’s graduation rate is low, it could mean one of two things. First, the college will admit anyone – even if they aren’t really committed to a higher education. Second, there is something wrong with the college’s programs that are causing students to leave or give up. Either way, it is not good. A good community college will have a high student graduation rate.
Step 7: Review the College’s Placement Rate
At the end of the day, a good education should translate into a good job. When investigating potential community colleges make sure to find out what each colleges’ job placement rate is for recent graduates. Most will be able to tell you what percentage of their graduates have found full-time employment within 12 months of graduating. If a college can’t or won’t provide you that information, scratch them off your list of potential community colleges to attend.
Step 8: Look at Their Teacher Turnover Rate
A good school not only attracts good students, it attracts good faculty, instructors, and professors. A good school also has the ability to retain both it students and its instructors. There are various websites where you search information on teacher turnover rates and you can request this information from each individual college as well.
If a college has a relatively high rate of turnover among its faculty, it is a good sign that they’re doing some very wrong. Additionally, community colleges that are constantly replacing faculty or having to find new instructors to replace instructors who have quite are not going to have cohesive and well-run academic programs.