Should International Students Enroll in Community College?

Should International Students Enroll in Community College?

When dreaming of your international education in the U.S., you probably imagine going to a top-rated university with a name that everyone knows.

However, this is not always feasible. Due to expensive tuition, or extremely competitive entry requirements, you might feel like your dream to study in the U.S. will never come true.

This is where community colleges come in. There are several advantages to studying at a community college in the U.S. Read on to find out what these benefits are.

1. Community colleges are much cheaper

The U.S. education system is infamous for its astonishingly expensive higher education programs. The number is even higher for an international student.

You will have to pay around $25,000-$35,000 per annum at a public university. Private colleges range between $30,000 and $45,000 a year. A top-tier institution can cost up to $50,000-$55,000 per year. These numbers only reflect the tuition cost. You also have to account for accommodation and living expenses.

Unless you have the financial capability to shoulder such a massive amount, you’ll most likely be paying off debt for many years. At an undergraduate level, it is very hard to find scholarships that cover the entire cost of tuition.

Compared to this, you only have to pay $2,500-$3,000 per year at a community college. You can avoid debt and even apply for scholarships to cover this cost. Your college should also have programs like work-study to help you cover your tuition. This means you can technically study tuition-free.

Community college is definitely the more financially wise path to getting your degree.

2. Community colleges have smaller classrooms that encourage more intimate discussions

One of the best parts about college is forming contacts. You befriend your peers and your professors, and these contacts will be useful throughout your life.

Community colleges have smaller class sizes than most U.S. universities. You’ll get more one-on-one time with your professor, and have a hands-on learning experience.

The smaller classroom also facilitates a more personal environment. Your class will be driven by discussions in which you can freely participate. The smaller classes also make for an informal setting, where you’ll likely be more comfortable.

3. Community colleges often have an open-access admission policy

Most community colleges have an open-access admission policy. This means that you do not have to fulfill any specific academic requirements or compete with others to get in. Even though they might have an application process, you do not need a certain GPA to apply.

In contrast, the top-tier universities in the U.S. have requirements for grade point averages. Often, your GPA must be equivalent to 3.5 on a 4.0 system. Such academic excellence is an unrealistic demand for many high schoolers.

Most universities expect a high school diploma. However, community colleges do not typically demand that. If you haven’t finished high school, you can look at community colleges with a High School Completion program. In this sort of program, you can get a high school diploma and an associate degree in only two years.

4. You can apply for an optional practical training (OPT)

Once you graduate, or finish one academic year at your community college, you can apply for OPT. OPT gives you the opportunity to receive temporary, professional employment in the U.S. for one year, plus an extension of 24 months for those in eligible STEM programs.

Traditional universities also provide this option, but community colleges can train you with more practical and employable skills than traditional schools. This means that finding a job should be much easier.

However, make sure that the work you choose is directly related to your academic field.

5. You can go for the 2+2 arrangement

You can apply for the 2+2 arrangement with your community college. In your college, you will receive an Associate’s degree, which takes two years to complete.

Your college will likely have a partnership with many four-year traditional universities, so after you receive your associate’s degree, you can attend a traditional university. The duration of your course in the traditional university will be two years long. After which you’ll receive your bachelor’s degree.

6. You can apply without taking the expensive English Proficiency Tests

Almost all universities in the U.S. require international students to either take an IELTS or TOEFL exam. These exams are meant to gauge whether an international student will be able to keep up with being educated in English.

The top-tier universities expect you to score high, which means you might end up taking this exam more than once.

Community colleges usually don’t ask you to submit the scores of this test. So, even if you’re not proficient in the language, you can still attend the university. In community colleges, you’ll be enrolled in an Intensive English Language Program (IELP), which will assist you in becoming proficient in the language. This can be extremely helpful if you want to study in the U.S., but haven’t yet developed the English proficiency to pass IELTS or TOEFL.

7. Flexible academic schedules

In a typical university, you’ll be expected to adjust to a rigorous and rigid academic schedule. You might be able to pick some timings and a few classes, but overall, the experience can be overwhelming.

If you’re someone who has other commitments or doesn’t function well in a rigid schedule, community college is a great option for you. You can take night classes, or take time off and catch up with your courses at a more convenient time.

You can also stretch out the duration of your academic program and space out your courses. You’ll have more free time in your semester. You can use the time to develop more employable skills, or just enjoy the American lifestyle.

However, keep in mind that your student or exchange visitor visa status is dependent on your academic program, so you cannot simply stay in the United States is you decide to take a break from school.

8. You can use this time to figure out what you actually want

Attending university abroad is stress-inducing. Most international students do not actually know what they want and make academic commitments too soon. This results in students dropping out.

No one really knows what they want to do at such a young age. College is your time to figure out what you want to make of your life. You can use the space to explore different disciplines and find the academic path you want to go down.

Even if you take a major you don’t like, in a community college you can bear the expenses of switching majors. The same is not the case for expensive private and public universities.

9. You can escape the stress of the admission process

Your last year of high school is supposed to be an enjoyable time where you make memories before you leave your country, family, and friends behind. However, you’ll have to spend August to November stressing out about the admission process.

There are so many applications to figure out, exams to take, and choices to make. This atmosphere affects most students adversely. You’ll have many more things to figure out like your Visa, insurance, and immigration.

You can escape this stress by applying to a community college. You don’t need personal statements or SATs. You submit your application and you’re in.

10. Community college can help you transition

Do not underestimate the time it takes to transition into a new country. While the whole process is very exciting, it is also mentally taxing.

Adjusting to the new customs, people, and lifestyle is challenging enough without having five deadlines a week to meet. Private and public universities are also usually much bigger, which makes transitioning that much more difficult.

You get a more intimate space in a community college with smaller classrooms. Your academic program will also be much more suited to your abilities. Hence, you can take your time to adjust to the country, especially if you’re planning to stay long term.

Are There any Disadvantages to Attending Community College as an International Student?

While there are many compelling reasons to consider community college for your international education in the U.S., it’s not the right choice for everyone. There are a handful of disadvantages to choosing the community college path that you should keep in mind.

1. If you want a bachelor’s degree, you’ll have to switch schools

Most community colleges are two-year institutions, and only offer associate degree programs. This means that if you want to continue your education, you’ll have to apply and be accepted by a four-year institution to complete the final two years of your degree. Whether or not you are accepted into your school of choice, or even a school that’s nearby, is completely dependent upon the school’s admissions criteria and your academic performance.

2. Living off-campus is required

Community colleges typically do not offer amenities such as student housing. If you want to attend one of these schools, you will have to figure out your own off-campus housing arrangements for the duration of the program.

In addition, most community colleges are not in college towns. Unlike larger four-year universities, they are not surrounded with off-campus student housing options, or served by a wealth of restaurants, bars, and entertainment options aimed at students. A community college can be located in a residential neighborhood, or in a business park, depending on the school.

3. You may miss out on part of the college experience

For many, arriving at an American college or university as a freshman, living in a dorm, and making lifelong friends is part of the attraction of the experience. If you attend community college, you can miss out on part of this experience.

Though you can certainly get your fill of university life if you transfer to a four-year school to finish your degree, it’s a different experience than arriving there straight out of high school. You may find it more difficult to make friends, as your classmates who have already been at that school for several years and have formed their social groups already. It’s certainly possible to make wealth of friends still, but you may have to work a little harder to do it.

In Conclusion

Your choices for education in the USA are vast. The right choice for you depends on your educational goals, financial situation, and the importance of the experience vs. the price tag attached to it. Think long and hard before making your decision, so you can be sure it’s the right one.

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