By SkillPointe staff
For prospective students evaluating their higher education options after high school, it’s common to wonder, is community college easier than university?
This all depends on what “easier” means to you. Let’s take a closer look at several factors that go into the community college or university experience — from the cost to scheduling to the course content. From there, you can find your own answer.
Ultimately, evaluating the differences between community college and university can help you decide what path could be the best for you.
Community Colleges Can Be Easier To Get Into Than Universities
Community colleges and universities both have their own application processes. Each individual institution will have a different application process and acceptance criteria. In general, though, universities typically have more rigorous application requirements and can have lower acceptance rates.
When you apply to a community college, you may not need to:
- Provide standardized test results, like ACT or SAT scores.
- Write and submit an application essay.
- Go for an in-person interview.
- Have a track record of competitively high grades.
- Pay a costly application fee.
- Submit letters of recommendation.
Many of these steps are part of the university application process. And, even after meeting such rigorous requirements, many university applicants find that acceptance rates aren’t in their favor.
Some of the most competitive and exclusive schools boast acceptance rates as low as 5%, according to U.S. News & World Report. However, the average acceptance rate among all universities is closer to 70% — meaning seven in 10 applicants receive an offer. Still, community colleges tend to be more welcoming to a wider range of applicants.
It Can Be Easier To Get a 2-Year Degree at a Community College
If an “easier” postsecondary education means getting a degree in hand faster, then a community college is often a better option.
Four-year universities prepare students to graduate with bachelor’s degrees. Some even offer programs that enable students to graduate with a bachelor's degree and a master's in five years instead of six. However, these types of schools don’t always offer two-year programs.
Someone who wants to complete a two-year program and graduate with an associate degree may find more options at a community college. Most community colleges offer certificate programs that can be completed in even less time.
Universities Can Be Tougher in Terms of Tuition
Are community colleges easier than universities on your pocketbook? In most cases, they are.
The costs of attending a four-year university are notoriously high, and they can range dramatically depending on a student’s situation, the amount of financial aid available, whether they attend a public university or private university, and other factors.
According to 2021 figures from the Education Data Initiative, “The average cost of community college attendance is $7,460 total or $1,865 per semester.” Tuition-free education is an even more economical option that’s available across 17 states.
The price tag hasn’t risen quite as much over the past few decades among community colleges as it has for universities. As researchers from the Education Data Initiative report, “In 20 years, the cost of tuition at the average community college has risen 46%, compared with a 76% rise among public universities.”
For university students, “The average cost of in-state tuition alone is $9,377; out-of-state tuition averages $27,279” — and that’s just for one year. When you add up the costs of a four-year degree, the average in-state tuition is $37,508 and the average out-of-state tuition can reach $109,116. (It's worth noting that students can declare residency if they live in the new state for 12 months, lowering the final tuition bill considerably.)
Don’t forget that’s only factoring in tuition. Prospective students also need to consider costs for required books and materials, enrollment fees, room and board and other expenses. On top of that, students may need to account for student loan interest and potential lost income if they’re unable to work while attending classes. Either way, starting with the lower tuition rate of a community college can make the financial obstacle easier to overcome.
Community College Courses Can Be Easier on Your Work-Life Balance
Traditional students attending four-year universities often live in campus housing. They may have busy daytime course schedules, meaning they’re left with limited time to fit in income-generating work or personal obligations.
This traditional university format isn’t great for students with families who depend on them, or for folks who want to keep earning and building a career while studying.
So, is community college easy if you’re juggling work and other obligations? It may not be easy to strike the perfect work-life-school balance. However, the more flexible options available to community college students can certainly make this easier. Part-time studies and night classes are preferred options for students who don’t want to sacrifice their entire schedule for their schooling.
However, university communities can be easier to assimilate into. Options like on-campus housing, student engagement opportunities, and sports teams can be beneficial for students who want to explore these other dimensions of student life.
In terms of which student experience is easier, it all depends on what you’re looking for.
Course Content Can Be Equally Rigorous Across Community Colleges and Universities
Are community college classes easier? Not necessarily, and prospective students expecting to coast through a two-year degree or certificate may be in for a surprise.
The quality of education you can receive at your local community college can be on par with what you’d expect from a four-year university. In terms of the academic challenge and amount of coursework, community colleges and universities aren’t all that different.
However, students attending community colleges may benefit from smaller class sizes. The personalized support and instructor attention that can come with a more intimate class setting can make challenging classes feel a little more manageable.
Starting with general education courses at a community college can also allow students to transfer to a university later on for more highly specialized coursework.
Start Exploring Your Community College Options Today
Is community college hard or easy? It really depends on the type of experience you’re looking for and how prepared you are to meet the challenges of a degree program. That’s why it’s essential to choose the right path and the best educational institution for you.
Ready to start evaluating your options? Find the right community college or training program through SkillPointe!