Choose Community College

Choosing to attend your local community college is probably the smartest move that most high school students can make.  Whether you decide to choose a two-year degree for now or to continue at another school for a four-year degree, the dollar savings in the first two years are likely to be massive.

Let’s look at a simple comparison from my area.

(Based on 72 credits over 2 years at $99/credit)
(Based on up to 68 credits over 2 years--flat rate)
(Based on up to 72 credits over 2 years--flat rate)

Even us non-math majors can see at a glance that tuition at Rowan is close to 3 times that at Rowan College of Gloucester County, and tuition at Rider is over 10 times as high!  Now please understand, I’ve heard good things about Rider, and I got a master’s degree at Rowan, so this is not intended as a dig at either school.

In fact, applying at Rowan or Rider might be a great idea depending on your particular circumstances.  My only point is that applying to your local community college is also probably a good idea for at least 80% of high school seniors planning on college.

Then sit back and wait for those acceptance letters and financial aid offers to arrive.  You may be like a student of mine a few years back who lived at home and got a full tuition scholarship at Rutgers.  That’s hard to beat!  Or, you may get a partial tuition package at a college you love that is irresistible.  Still, why not compare any tuition/aid packages you get to what is almost certainly the cheapest game in town?

Please realize that the numbers shown are flawed for many reasons.  The first is that while they are likely correct at time of publication, they will likely be out of date soon.  Please feel free to use the college links shown to see the source information I relied on.

Another problem with those numbers is that they are incomplete, as they don’t include various fees and charges that colleges will impose in addition to tuition.  Of course “room and board” charges for living on campus can be very significant--$12,000 or more per year at Rowan or Rider.  Students attending their local community college typically live with parents.  I count that as another major plus for the community college choice.

Finally, there is the very real impact of various types of financial aid.  As a general rule, students are more likely to get more aid at more expensive schools.  This is particularly true at expensive private colleges like Rider.

Just remember that a significant part of that aid is likely to be loans, which you may be paying off for 10-25 years or more!  I never worry about a choice a student makes with a full understanding of all the consequences.  Unfortunately, with over a trillion dollars of student debt outstanding, 10% of those loan in default, and a much higher percentage not currently being paid, it seems that we as a nation may not be getting our students the information they need to make smart choices.


The more I see and read, the more I think that many high school seniors would be best served with two steps:

  1. Apply to your local community college, and
  2. Complete the FAFSA

On the other hand, I know that many students plan on going directly from high school to a four-year college.  If that sounds like you, and you’re not completely sure about the steps to take, pick up my free 7 Smart Steps to Get You to College.

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