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Why community colleges?

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5. Your child would like to undertake a career-oriented degree, such as a fashion design or computer certification program.

Programs like these are often not available at four-year institutions. If your child is thinking of seeking employment after finishing up at community college, there are several possible routes to take.

Your child can earn an associate's degree-an Associate of Arts or Science (A.A. or A.S.) or an Associate in Applied Science (A.A.S.). An A.A.S. usually requires specialized courses in fields such as construction technology, computer repair, or electronics, as well as several general education courses in subjects like English and math. These degrees take about two years to complete.

However, if your child wants to take courses in a specialized area of study but doesn't want to spend the time necessary to earn an associate's degree, many community colleges have certificate options that provide intensive training in a specialized field like computer-assisted drafting, food service technology, or paralegal studies. These certificates usually take six months to a year to complete.

6. Your child works and needs a flexible schedule.

At four-year colleges, course schedules are geared primarily toward full-time, traditional students who take classes during the day. At community colleges, the student population tends to be highly diverse with regard to age, experience, family background, socioeconomic level, and employment status. Course schedules are developed with attention to the variable needs of both part-time and full-time students, so classes are usually offered throughout the day and evening, and sometimes on weekends. Many of these colleges offer online courses.

Thinking through the decision

Your child will have a more satisfying experience at a community college if he researches the program in advance. Find out which programs are strongest, what the student transfer rates are, and what student support services are available. There are many ways your child can pursue his education, but the programs vary among colleges, and it's up to him to find the right match. He should make an appointment with his counselor if he's not sure. His counselor can be a helpful resource in deciding if a community college is the right place for your child to begin his college career.

Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

03/20/2008:
"I attended two 4-year universities for two different degrees. The first degree was done right out of high school and directly in great 4-year university. I was fortunate to have received grants, scholarships and aid that helped me do it this way as my parents did not have the funds to help with tuition. Later, I decided to take classes in the community colleges in our city. I found that the Community Collges of Chicago were extremely helpful for younger students that otherwise may have not afforded to go directly into a 4-year program. I saw that money was saved on tuition and the counselors were upto date on transfer requirements with all of the 4-year universities in the region. They actually assisted students in choosing the courses needed to go directly into their junior year(if they went full-time). Personally, I took advantage of the ease in transfering credits to the Univerity of Illinois Engineering program and earned my 2nd degree later on. It may not be the 1st ch! oice for students or parents but our City Colleges of Chicago are certainly the best alternative if for some reason the student is not able to attend a 4-year university."
03/20/2008:
"I find this article is extremely limited in scope as it does not mention regionally accredited college options that offer personalized attention, career focus and accelerated graduation. I find community college a weak option for students and a last resort that is easy for high school guidance counselors to promote to uneducated families. Students going to community college need more help to achieve and not another opportunity to get lost in the shuffle. Students going to community college deserve the same accredited bachelor’s degrees that their peers will earn. However, students at the majority of community colleges in major cities will not receive these opportunities. "
03/20/2008:
"I'm thinking ahead for my child who receives special education because of a learning disability. She is on an IEP since Elementary School, now in middle school, but asking about 'Will I go to College'. Do you know of any specialized colleges in the Massachusetts area who deal with children that receive these services and are willing to try in the college field. What is out there for them? Concerned parent."
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