The Hidden Cost of Community College

Community college is often seen as a smart and affordable way to start your higher education journey. With lower tuition fees, flexible schedules, and open admissions, community colleges can offer many benefits to students who want to save money, work while studying, or explore different fields of interest.

However, community college is not always a smooth path to a bachelor’s degree. There are some hidden costs and challenges that you need to be aware of before you enroll.

In this article, we will discuss some of the common pitfalls that community college students face and how to avoid them.

Community College Credits Don’t Always Transfer

One of the main reasons why students choose community college is to earn credits that they can transfer to a four-year college and complete their bachelor’s degree. However, this process is not always smooth and straightforward. Some four-year colleges are very particular about what classes they will accept from a community college. College curricula are not standardized, so a Writing I class in community college may not place you out of Writing I at a four-year college. Transfer credits can be particularly tricky with more specialized classes.

Advice: Don’t assume credits will transfer. If you know what four-year college you want to transfer to, find out if credits will transfer before you begin the classes in community college. This is particularly important if you are transferring to a private college that does not have any transfer agreements with your community college. You can also use online tools like Transferology to check how your credits will transfer.

Community College Can Delay Your Graduation

Another hidden cost of community college is the time it can take to finish your bachelor’s degree.

Many students think that they can complete their degree in four years by spending two years in community college and two years at a four-year college. However, this is not always the case. If you’ve taken nothing but introductory courses at community college, it may take more than two years to complete your major requirements after transferring.

Also, if all of your community college credits don’t transfer, you may find you have more than two years of class work to complete. It’s not unusual for students to find that they need to pay for three years at the four-year college, not two. This can erase the cost savings of community college and delay your entry into the workforce.

Advice: As with the previous example, communicate with the four-year college early and plan your community college courses carefully. Also, you can take summer courses to catch up or take more than the minimum number of credits per semester. However, don’t overload yourself and compromise your grades.

Community College Can Cost You Job Income

This issue is connected to both of the above examples. If it takes you more than four years to complete your bachelor’s degree, that’s a year or two when you don’t have a full-time job. It’s a year or two of spending money, not making money. It’s another year of tuition, another year of student loans, and another year of going into debt rather than paying off debts. Even if your first job earns only $40,000, if you graduate in four years that’s $40,000 you’re making, not spending.

Advice: Whether or not you go to community college, the best way to save money in college is to graduate in four years. In both community college and at the four-year college, work hard, plan your courses carefully, and take as many classes as you can manage. You can also look for part-time jobs, internships, or scholarships to supplement your income and gain valuable experience.

Community College Books Are Not Cheap

Tuition is just one part of the cost of college. College books can also cost a lot of money. Students taking eight classes a year may end up spending over $1,000 on books. The cost of that Introduction to Psychology book is going to be the same whether you’re at a community college or elite private college.

Advice: To save money, get the list of required books ahead of time and shop around for used books. You can also look for books from the college or local library, or rent them from online platforms like Chegg or Amazon. At the end of the semester, you can often sell unneeded books back to the bookstore and recoup some of your money.

Community College Can Affect Your GPA and Academic Preparation

Community colleges tend to have open admissions, and the classes are often larger than at four-year schools (this helps keep the price low). In many cases, the instructors at community colleges have more and bigger classes than the faculty at four-year colleges. The result: after transferring, students sometimes find that their work receives more scrutiny and is held to a different standard. It can be shocking to suddenly earn “C”s when you had straight “A”s in community college. And if your grades do plummet, that can cost you when applying for jobs and trying to fulfill major requirements.

Advice: After transferring, meet with professors early in the term to discuss your work; take advantage of academic support services if needed. You can also join study groups, attend office hours, and seek tutoring or mentoring. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you are struggling.

Community College Can Have a Social Cost

Many transfer students feel isolated when they arrive at a four-year college. Unlike the other juniors at the college, the transfer student does not have a strong group of friends and has not connected with the college’s faculty, clubs, student organizations and social scene. While these social costs are not financial, they can become financial if this isolation leads to depression, poor academic performance, or difficulty lining up internships and reference letters.

Advice: Most four-year colleges have academic and social support services for transfer students. Take advantage of these services. They will help you get acclimated to your new school, and they will help you meet peers. You can also join clubs, teams, or organizations that interest you and make new friends. Don’t be shy to reach out and network.


Community colleges and four-year colleges vary greatly. Some community colleges prepare students well for the work at a selective four-year institution, and some don’t do quite as well. Some four-year colleges will accept most credits from a community college; some will not. In the end, you’ll need to talk to the faculty and administrators at both schools to make your transfer and transition as smooth as possible.

Community college can be a great option for many students, but it is not a one-size-fits-all solution. You need to weigh the pros and cons of community college and consider your goals, budget, and preferences. If you decide to go to community college, make sure you do your research, plan ahead, and stay focused. Community college can be a stepping stone to your success, not a stumbling block.

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