Two Year Schools: Community/Junior Colleges

Community College (or Junior College) is a place where students get a two year degree in their chosen area of study, and at a cheaper price than four year Universities.  I knew that much when I first started volunteering in the Career Center for my local High School.  I confess, I did not know a lot more than that.  Now, after working with our kids for seven years, I am quite a fan of community colleges.

My first surprise was how different their admissions process is.  No foreign language classes are required by Oregon Community Colleges.  They have no GPA requirements either…rather, the students take a placement test to determine which classes they are academically ready to be in.  This means a student with a not-so-great GPA can still head out the door after graduating high school and go to college.  Sometimes, a student has a low GPA because they were bored.  Sometimes they had too much teen drama.  Sometimes they just didn’t have a clue that GPA was going to mean so much, and they never bothered to turn in their home work for those first two-three years of high school.  Sometimes the house burned down and the dog died and the cow ran away. Lots of reasons that in no way mean a student shouldn’t go on for more education to get a good job.

The placement test is important, because it is sad for a student to give it a half-hearted attempt and end up in classes way beneath their actual academic level…so we try hard to impress on them that it is an important test.  It does not affect their grades, so sometimes it is a bit of a hard sell.  Do your best!!  A class that is boring is no fun, be it high school or college.

Another big surprise for me was how many classes my local community college offers which I would consider “Trade School”.  The trades are very important…those are the folks who keep our world up and running.  They make good money (sometimes VERY GOOD) and tend to be cheaper at the local community college than going away to a more traditional trade school setting.  You can be trained as a diesel mechanic at a school specific to that trade, or you can get that training at a community college AND take some business classes to be able to help run a business some day.

I will talk more about trade schools (or as the FAFSA folks refer to them, “Career Schools”) in another post, but suffice it to say, these are GREAT programs.  They lead to jobs with LOTS of openings, and yet only require a 2 year education post high-school.  I am a huge fan.  If you have not heard lately from the “Dirty Jobs” guy, Mike Rowe, this has been his battle cry in recent years.  The trades are desperate for you, and if you were a kid who liked Lego’s, they may be a perfect fit.

Community colleges offer apprenticeship programs.  They offer career counseling.  They have tutoring programs and classes to help students who are having trouble with a subject, like math or writing.  They also have LOTS of scholarships, and students should apply for those each year they attend.

Another surprise about two year college:  you don’t even necessarily need to attend two whole years to get yourself job-ready. Some certification programs literally only take a few weeks.  Some are only a few months.  Many are designed so that you can get a certificate and jump into a job, but then go back for additional training and get a pay raise to show for your trouble once you finish it.  Auto mechanic certifications work in this way.  For kids who are just not sure they want to commit to two years of additional time in the books, this is a great option.

Our local community colleges have many surprising features.  Some have dorms.  They have many different sports and extra-curricular options.  Some have study-abroad programs, culinary schools, and aviation schools.  Many of our local community colleges in Oregon are partnered with near-by state schools, Universities, and allow dual enrollment.  This makes it possible to have a serious savings on the cost of core classes the first two years of college.  In Oregon, we also have a Transfer Degree from the community colleges which allow our students to transfer straight into any of our seven state Universities without fear of credits not being accepted.  So awesome!

Some students just KNOW that they are going to head straight for four-year University…and then life happens.  Life throws them a curve and they end up changing their plans to stay home and go to community college for a year or two.  Maybe Dad breaks his leg and needs a designated driver, or grandma catches the flu and you just don’t want to leave her.  Or you just want one more year of Mom’s cooking.  Because of how often we have seen this happen, we always ask kids to go ahead and take the placement test, and list a community college on their FAFSA.  That way, if plans do suddenly change, the door to community college is still wide open and waiting.

For many students, starting at the community college and then transferring to a four year university is a way to make a large impact on what their education will cost.  It also gives them time to explore various majors at far less cost per class if they are not certain what they want to major in.  If a person gets laid off, or desperately wants to explore a new career, this is the place I suggest they start:  go tour your local community college.  They each offer different programs, different scholarships and are excellent at working with students whether straight out of high school or coming out of retirement to start a new adventure at the age of 70.

This is just my opinion, as a Mom who has been hanging out with the High School kids, explaining the basics and helping them meet scholarship deadlines.  While my experience is based in Oregon, I am sure there are amazing community colleges all around the country.  Check them out!  If you want more Career Center Mom, follow me on WordPress, or find me on Facebook.



Photo credit:  Juliette Leufke from Unsplash

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