Wednesday, July 28, 2010

So You're Going To Community College

Recently, on the Twitter weekly #collegebound chat, we discussed how students could save money while attending college. One answer that came up frequently was to forgo going away to a four-year college for two years and attending a local community college. More and more students are choosing community college as their first post-secondary destination.  I want to offer some advice so that you can make the most out of your community college experience. Much of this advice can be transferred to any four-year institution as well.

1) Research transfer arrangements.  If you have a good idea of where you eventually want to end up, then you need to make sure that you take as many courses as you can that transfer to the four-year college you want. If you are interested in a specific degree program, check the program's policy on transferring credits; some of the demanding degrees are more strict when it comes to accepting credit from other institutions.

2) Research your instructors.  You want to find instructors who will help you get where you want to go. Professors in higher ed might not be the best at helping you to get a job, but they know how to work the university system. Research where they graduated from or are currently studying; they probably still have connections they can put you in touch with. They might also know about paid research or grant opportunities open to you. Start by looking on the college's website, where their will often be instructor bios, and then move on to using Google Scholar, a place where you can get a better idea of their research and writing.

3) Let your instructors get to know you. It's not who you know, it's how you use them. Once you know about your instructors, let them get to know you. Talk to them after class or during office hours. Ask them questions. Share your goals with them. They can't help you if they don't know what you are looking for from them and your experience at community college. Show them you mean business and most of the time, they'll be willing and ready to help you/

4) Be ready to work and to learn. Hopefully researching your instructors will show you that there are plenty of talented, intelligent and dedicated people working at your community college. They want to help you succeed, but you need to be ready to put the work in. Put aside the idea that going to community college is "easier" than what your friends might be doing at their four-year school. You need to dedicate yourself to your studies as much as you would at any other school.

5) Learn about the resources your school offers. College completion is a big deal right now, at all levels. Most colleges have tutoring and counseling services, as well as writing centers, available to help you succeed. You paid for them through your tuition, so why don't you take advantage of them? Student services, student unions, and other student organization can help you have a well-rounded and exciting experience, as exciting, interesting, and rewarding as a four-year institution.

6) Keep an open mind. You have goals, but take advantage of the variety of courses available to you. Try new things, meet new people, and be prepared to perhaps change your mind and your direction. One of the biggest advantages of community colleges are that they are affordable - so changing your mind isn't the end of your finances. And the people you meet could open doors for you that you never imagined. Be open to the possibilities, because they are there, waiting for you to discover them.

Yes, even at a community college.

Good luck, and make the best of it.

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