“So how long have you been in America?”
“Four years. I spent 2 years in a community college in California and transferred to the University of Michigan for 2 years.”
That is my typical conversation in introducing myself to a friend. Often, they would ask why I didn’t go straight to a university and if my path was possible. It is, in the United States.
In the traditional 4-year university path, a student begins with his first year (we call it the ‘freshman year’) followed by second, third, and fourth (sophomore, junior, and senior years). In contrast, 2+2-year path begins from the first and second year in a community college, followed by the junior and senior years in a university. A community college is a public two-year institution where a student can earn an Associate Degree, or transfer to a university, or take non-credited classes out of his personal interest. In my case, I went to De Anza Community College to prepare my transfer as a junior to a university.
But what are the benefits in going to a community college first? Here I can share the pros and cons in taking 2+2 path.
1. Lower tuition!
As an international student, I paid around $19,000 per year in contrast to $46,000 university annual tuition. In essence, going to community college will save you a lot in funding your education.
2. No SAT required
Yes! This is my second favorite thing about community colleges! The application mainly focuses on your high school grades, Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), and other information. In a way, it is easier to enter community colleges.
3. Smaller size of classes
My biggest class in the community college was Physics 4C about Thermodynamics with around 40+ students. De Anza college has been recorded to enroll approximately 22,000 students per year compared to University of Michigan that enrolled 47,000 students in 2013 (including undergraduate and graduate students). Students then can actively engage in class and reach the professor at office hours or by mail.
4. Your friends will be everywhere
My group of friends back in California is now spread out to different places. Some stayed, transferring to Davis or Los Angeles, one friend went to Texas, and I came to Michigan. Now I even have the chance to make new friends in the Midwest. Those who transferred from community colleges will have connections in different places within the US.
Well, everything sounds good. But unfortunately there are some disadvantages.
1. You don’t directly go to a university
Community colleges in the United States have no connections to 4-year universities. Hence, you have to fill-in transfer applications. The process will be very competitive and therefore, you need to prepare, while attending community college.
2. Your grades and credits might not all be transferred
While studying in the community college, you have to make sure that you’re taking transferable courses. Usually, some schools have ‘transfer’ section in their admission websites. I recommend going to an academic counselor, as well as to contact the admission office of your favorite schools before the transfer application deadline.
3. By the time you transfer, you need to adapt again
I experienced a culture shock during my first year of transfer. The bigger community and classes made it harder to make connections. However, adapting is important for international students. We can think positively that the change gave us the opportunity to join a bigger circle. It is when I was in UMich that I joined different groups in academic, culture, religion and business. I joined American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), Persekutuan Mahasiswa Indonesia di Amerika Serikat (PERMIAS), Alternative Spring Break group hosted by St. Mary, and Ross School of Business participants of Study/Intern in Australia. University is the place to explore your interests, expand your network, and gain experiences through different opportunities.
So these are the pros and cons you need… and let me give you some advice. To be successful, you need to be smart and hard-driven. In community college, my best friend became a board member of her student volunteering organization (volunteering is highly valued here). I applied and received a scholarship while leading a student organization. Some students work part-time and intern during the summer break. You need to be different, make a difference in the community, and make the most out of your study abroad experience!
The photo was supplied by the author