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2November2016

Community colleges can be a good alternative for higher education abroad

by Originally Published in The Hindustan Times Education Supplement

The top names in foreign education have become familiar to all of us. Lately, however, when it comes to educaation in the US, another term is becoming well known: community college. As someone growing up in middle-class American the community colleges were far more known to me than the Ivy League. In fact 40% of bachelor’s degree students in the USA began at community college.

 

What is community college? Many people shun the idea as complicated and unknown or symbolic of underachievement, but in fact, community college can be a great alternative to reach your goals if used wisely. Explained simply, college in the United States follows a four-year bachelor’s degree or a two-year community colleges, associate degrees (AA= associate of arts, AS= associate of science) track.  From the associates degree you can transfer to a four year college and complete the final two years of a bachelor’s degree in a 2+2 type structure. The key here is the +2 element – if you complete your first two years at ANY community college in the US, you will ultimately be granted a bachelor’s degree from a four-year university, including some of the top names in US education. The public will only know that you have a bachelor’s degree from a great college, nobody will ask whether you attended that college for the full four-year course.

Why would a student choose this route? One of the most compelling reasons is cost. In the US the first two years of any college is geared toward providing you with a general education, no matter whether you are at MIT or Penn State. To maximize funds, many families opt to enroll their child in the community college for the first two years and complete basic requirements at a fraction of the cost. The all-inclusive cost of community college is around $25,000, whereas the same for a four-year college can range from $50,000 to $60,000+. You can, therefore, save up to half of your college fees for the first two years and only pay the full ticket price in the final two years.

Another reason to choose community college is to prepare yourself better for a highly-selective university and/or the subject major of your choice. Community colleges do not have entry requirements, so if you plan your coursework properly, after two years of community college you can easily transfer into highly selective four-year college to complete your bachelor’s degree. Besides not having sufficient subject requirements, you may not have performed well in high school. With weaker grades, you can enter community college, perform up to a high standard and then seek admission to a great four-year college.

Once you have completed two years of study at a community college, colleges where you seek transfer will not ask you to report your high school grades, nor will they ask for a standardized test score (SAT/ACT). Your admission into a four-year college for your final two years of a bachelor’s degree will only depend upon your grades and your recommendation letters from the community college.

Other students opt for community college because they haven’t planned well for other options. The community college application process is very straightforward, has minimal requirements and happens much later after the completion of 12th grade (whereas four year colleges require application submission in December of 12th).

Finally, many excellent colleges have transfer agreements with community colleges whereby students are guaranteed admission into the final two years. In particular the state of California offers such agreements between its community colleges and the University of California. It is a natural process for a student in California to enroll in a community college such as one of the San Mateo Community Colleges of Silicon Valley and then easily transfer into UC Berkeley – the system is set up to accommodate this type of movement between institutions. In fact the University of California regular admissions rate is around 30%, whereas the admissions rate for students transferring from California community colleges can be as high as 95%.

American students have been opting for this route for decades. It’s high time Indian students looking abroad consider this option as an alternate and possible better route to some of America’s best institutes of higher education.

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