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Planning Ahead for Your College Education

A college education is a great investment but it is important to plan ahead. There are many good reasons to start your college education at a community college. Maybe you have been out of school for a while and want to start slow to get back in the habit of studying. Maybe you didn’t apply yourself as much as you should have in high school and need the remedial coursework to get started. Maybe you graduated at the top of your class but just want to save money. Maybe all you need to get the job you want is an associate’s degree. All these are great reasons to start your education at your local community college.

Whatever the reason, it is important to start asking questions and planning ahead early in the process. Many students who begin at a community college do not start with anticipation of transferring to a 4-year university to complete a bachelor’s degree. Even students who do start with the intention of earning a bachelor’s degree may not fully understand the requirements that must be fulfilled to complete their degree. Having this knowledge can save you time and money.

Whether or not you plan to continue on to earn a bachelor’s degree, you should understand the difference between the types of associate’s degrees offered at community colleges.

AA/AS Degree vs. Applied Degrees
Associate of Art (AA) and Associate of Science (AS) degrees are designed for students whose goal is to transfer to a university to complete a 4-year degree. Students will take a variety of courses that will transfer primarily to satisfy general education requirements and a few beginning-level major requirements. Students who earn an AA or AS degree from a community college will be admitted to most universities with full junior status and have many of their general education requirements met with transfer credit. AA and AS degree programs also offer concentrations in a subject area. These concentrations can provide a foundation for the major at the 4-year university.

Applied Degree Programs are designed for students who want to go into the workforce without completing a 4-year degree. Students will complete coursework in a specific subject area along with some general requirements. Students completing applied degrees will have some credits to fulfill general education requirements, some major requirements at the freshman- and sophomore-levels and a number of elective credits upon transfer. In most cases, the majority of the courses taken to complete an applied degree will transfer; however, students typically end up with more elective credits than credits that meet specific requirements. Courses taken in these programs that are considered junior- and senior-level courses at a university generally will transfer in as elective credit.

Is it better to transfer to a 4-year university before or after completing an associate’s degree?
The answer to this question depends on your ultimate goal. Some bachelor’s degree programs can be completed by spending two years at a community college and then two years at a 4-year university. To do so will usually require that you have at least a start on your major. For example, a student wanting to major in psychology should take at least an Introduction to Psychology course at the community college. This is a major that can then likely be completed in the remaining two years at a 4-year university.

It may not be possible to complete some majors with just an additional two years at a university. Education majors for example require many prerequisite courses that may not be available at a 2-year school. Transferring into a 4-year university with a completed associate’s degree that did not include any education courses will not allow a student to complete their bachelor’s degree in just another two years. In this case, transferring earlier rather than later is a much better option.

Regardless of the major you choose or the type of degree you pursue, always work with the advisor at your community college and an advisor at the 4-year university at which you plan to transfer. Taking courses you do not need and not taking courses that you do need will be the determining factor in how long it takes to complete your degree and how much it will cost.

Private vs. Public Universities
Transfer credit policies vary from institution to institution. For example, many private universities in Ohio follow the state guidelines for transferring credit which makes transferring easier. Students aren’t as likely to lose their credits through the transfer process. When you are comparing universities, it is important to understand how your credits will transfer.

Compare actual costs, not just the sticker price. It is true – private universities have higher tuition rates compared to public universities. However, when you are researching colleges, you cannot just compare the sticker price. Rarely do students pay the full tuition rate. Private universities usually offer higher scholarship awards than public universities, so the real difference in cost may end up being much closer than you would have imagined. If you are looking at more than one university, you should complete the application and financial aid process at both so you can see the real bottom line. You may be surprised that you can afford that private university you like.

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