Here’s a tip that can reduce the cost of your first two years in a U.S. college by up to 90%.: consider a community college. Many U. S. students save thousands of dollars in tuition by attending community colleges for their first two years and then transferring to a four-year school to finish their bachelor’s degree. Every year, more African students follow their lead. It’s easier to get into a community college than a four-year school, and they often have stronger English as a Second Language (ESL) programs.

For most African students, community colleges are the best-kept secret of a U.S. education. Many community colleges offer excellent instruction for the first two years of college, at a fraction of the usual price. Virtually every city or county in the U.S. has a community college. They’re firmly rooted in the communities they serve.

Community colleges work because of a slightly different feature in the U.S. education system. In many countries in Europe and elsewhere, a college student studying engineering or law takes classes only in that subject for four years. In U.S. schools, the first two years of college are often spent on general studies in a variety of topics including math, science, history and art. Future engineers, lawyers, business people and artists are all in the same classes together. Students really begin to specialize only in their third year. Often, students don’t even decide what subject to major in until the end of their second year.

By attending a community college, you’ll be exposed to a more diverse student body than at a traditional four-year college or university. At many private universities, the majority of students are between the ages of 17 and 24. At community colleges, you’ll encounter students of all ages from teenagers to grandfathers. Students at a community college come from all walks of life. They range from successful business people learning a second language to low-paid workers taking computer classes.

Community colleges do offer certificates, vocational training, and two-year (or Associate’s degrees) but the majority of full-time students plan to transfer to a four-year college to finish their bachelor’s degree.

Here are just some of the advantages to community colleges:

  • Lower cost
  • Easier admission
  • Lower test scores
  • Less competition for scholarships
  • An emphasis on teaching
  • More individual attention
  • Better ESL programs

Lower Cost

You can save 40% to 90% on tuition! Community colleges are an excellent value for the dollar. They cost about 10% as much as a private university. Nationwide, tuition at community colleges averaged $2,191 per year in 2006 for a full-time student. Private four-year colleges averaged $21,235 while public four-year colleges averaged $5,491.  By attending a community college instead of a four-year public college, you save an average of 40%.

Easier Admission

It’s much easier to gain admission to a community college than to a four-year school. Students under 25 are usually admitted if they have a diploma from a secondary school. If not, they are often asked to take a GED test (General Equivalency Degree) to be admitted. Many top universities accept only a small number of the thousands of students who apply. Community colleges accept nearly everyone. In fact, many U.S. students whose grades in high school weren’t great go to a community college. If they do well, they can still transfer to a top school after two years.

Lower Test Scores

Some students just aren’t good at taking tests. Community colleges accept students with lower test scores or none at all. The majority of U.S. community colleges don’t require SAT or ACT tests at all. Students from the U.S. or abroad are given placement tests in reading and math. If their skills aren’t up to par, they can take remedial classes to “catch up.”  Community colleges also accept students with much lower TOEFL scores than four-year schools.

Better ESL Programs

Many community colleges offer larger and better English as a Second Language (ESL) programs that four-year schools. Attending community college is a great way to improve your TOEFL score while earning credit towards your degree. Often, special tutoring is provided for international students, in addition to ESL classes.

If English is your weak point, many community colleges offer intensive programs to improve your language skills. No TOEFL is required for these courses. Instead, you’re given a placement test when you start classes and assigned to a beginning, intermediate or advanced class. In a typical ESL program, you’ll study speech, grammar, writing and reading with students from around the world. Most programs provide tutoring and a language lab. They are designed specifically to improve your English skills before you start a degree program. Once you reach the advanced ESL level, you can take regular courses while continuing to study English.

Less Competition for Scholarships

Athletic scholarships often go unused at community colleges because everyone wants to play for the larger, more famous schools. Academic scholarships are also unused. When you apply for a community college scholarship, you may be competing with 10 other people. At the largest private universities, you may be competing with 2,000.

An Emphasis on Teaching

Community colleges make teaching their top priority.  At many elite private universities, research is more important than teaching. This is because most of the school’s income comes from research grants, not tuition. At these top schools, many classes are taught by graduate students who are studying for their PhD.  They may be brilliant students, but they don’t have any experience teaching. The top professors at a research university may devote all their time to research and never teach a class.

More Individual Attention

At public universities, classes may be enormous. It is not unusual to have a freshman class with 200 or even 500 students in a huge auditorium. The amount of time that the professor can spend with each student is severely limited. Many international students report that they receive more individual attention, and more help, at community colleges. Often community colleges have resources such as writing coaches or discussion groups specially designed to help ESL students.

Transferring to a Four-year School

If you want to transfer to a four-year school after community college, plan ahead. Many community college credits are transferable, but not every four-year school will accept every credit. Your best bet is to contact advisors at the four-year schools of your choice before you enroll in community college. Ask if they accept transfer credits from the community college and if any classes are excluded.

When you consider all the facts, a community college is a great way to start your education in the U.S.!

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