Community colleges generally offer two-year applied associate degrees, two-year transfer degrees, and one- and two-year certificate programs. Community colleges are subsidized by state and local taxes to keep student costs low while maintaining high quality academic and occupational programs. Financial aid is also available, usually in the form of grants, scholarships and work-study. An applied associate degree from a community college is well respected by employers and can prepare you for a successful career in a variety of high-skill, high-wage industries. Even if you are planning to attend a four-year university, starting out at a community college will often provide you with lower tuition costs and smaller classes. Another plus to earning an associate degree first is that you can gain marketable skills you can use to help support yourself while you pursue your four-year degree.
Like community colleges, private trade schools offer certificates and associate degrees. Some also offer bachelor’s degrees. These schools are not tax-subsidized, so student costs are often substantially higher. Check to see what financial aid options are available. If you are planning to transfer to a university from a private trade school, make sure that the university you plan to attend will accept credit from the trade school you are considering. If the school is not regionally accredited, your courses most likely will not transfer to another regionally accredited school.
Universities offer four-year degrees (bachelor-level) and graduate degrees (masters- and doctorate- level). State universities are subsidized by taxes, but these schools are still more expensive than community colleges. The three state schools in Arizona (ASU, NAU, and U of A) have transfer agreements with Arizona community colleges. These agreements enable students to take up to the first two years of their bachelor’s degree at a community college for a substantial savings over attending a university all four years.
No one can tell you exactly which school is right for you. There are several factors you should consider in making this decision.
Many students also enjoy visiting the campus they plan to attend to learn more about the college.
If you are unsure about your future career, there are several ways to help you narrow your focus. These include:
A credit hour is a unit of instruction. Classes range from 1 credit up to 6 or more. A one-credit course meets about 14 hours during the semester and a three-credit course meets about 42 hours. Courses that have a lab component meet an additional 2 to 3 hours per credit hour. More credit hours mean a greater workload.
Study guidelines indicate that for every credit hour taken, a student should plan to spend two hours outside of class studying every week. Some challenging classes may require even more time than that. Keep this in mind when you sign up for classes and plan your schedule. Successful students schedule study time into their school day.
Many career-training programs are available at a community college. In general, an AA (associate of arts) or AS (associate of science) degree is a transfer degree that prepares you to go on to a four-year school and complete a bachelor’s degree in your chosen field of study. An AAS is an associate of applied science. This degree is designed to prepare you to begin working in your field without additional study. Certificate programs are shorter and more focused. These programs prepare you to work in a specific type of job. See a college advisor to decide what program is best suited to your needs.
The AGEC (Arizona General Education Curriculum) is a core of general education courses and courses related to your major. If you complete the AGEC, these courses will transfer directly to any of the three major universities in Arizona. By completing this core of classes, you will generally have to take fewer courses after you transfer to a university.
Most community colleges publish a general catalog each year. The catalog lists courses, programs, requirements, and information about what the community college offers. The catalog may change from year to year; program requirements may change, but if you are continuously enrolled you may follow the catalog from the year you began (unless you choose to follow a later one.)
The catalog is published yearly and lists all the programs offered by the community college, the requirements for the programs, and other important information about attending the school. The schedule book comes out every semester and lists all the courses offered during that semester with times, teachers, room numbers, and other information you need to set up your schedule.
Universities have very strict guidelines about what credit they will accept towards graduation. If you are planning to transfer to one of the three state universities in Arizona, you will need to complete a core of general education courses as well as specific courses related to your major, but these may vary by school. Be sure to tell your advisor that you are planning to transfer and ask your advisor what two-year program will best fulfill the requirements of the four-year program your plan to pursue. In most cases, your advisor will suggest completing an AGEC (transfer) degree.
Some community colleges may not offer all prerequisites for all programs. To avoid taking additional courses when you transfer, plan ahead and work closely with your college academic advisor. The Cochise College catalog is available in print and online.
Most students find that they have saved quite a bit of money by taking the first two years at a community college.
Most community college courses with a number of 100 or higher will transfer to a four-year university. Check ahead of time with your community college advisor and the university you plan to attend for specific requirements so you will not have to take extra courses after you transfer. Students also find transferring easier if they have completed a transfer degree instead of trying to transfer just a few individual courses.
An associate degree is usually 64 credit hours. Generally, full-time students graduate in four semesters; however, the amount of time required to graduate depends upon many factors. If you start out in courses with numbers below 100, or if you take fewer than 16 hours a semester, this will lengthen the time needed to graduate. Also, if you do not pass your classes or if you withdraw from classes, this will also keep you from graduating on time.
The most important thing to do is make sure that you have a current evaluation before you graduate from high school. The college will not pay for you to be evaluated. Then, call or visit the Student Services office well in advance to arrange for the accommodations you will need to be successful at college. Services are available to help you, but you need to take the initiative.
At most colleges, you can add or drop classes during the first week of school. A course that you drop during this week will not show up on your transcript. After Add/Drop week, you must withdraw from a class. Withdrawals show up on your transcript and may affect your GPA. Check with the college for withdrawal policy details. If you simply stop attending, you most likely will fail the course.
A schedule of courses comes out for each fall, spring and summer semesters. Most schools allow new students to sign up for fall courses beginning in late spring. Check the schedule for specific dates. Do not wait until the week before school begins to register, or the classes you want may already be full.
Most community colleges require students to take placement tests. These tests measure your math and English levels so you are placed in classes suited to your needs. After completing the tests, you can see an advisor who can help you select classes and guide you through the process of registering for classes.
You get to choose your major, or your course of study. After deciding what you plan to study, you must follow program requirements. All students must take general education courses, including math and English, so even if you did not like these courses in high school, you may need to take them again in college. Try to be positive. You are learning skills that will help you the rest of your life.
College catalogs describe each program and requirements. You will also have an advisor to answer questions and guide you. But your college experience is your responsibility. Read the catalog, ask questions, and find out what you need to know.
Getting your education at a community college is relatively inexpensive when you compare it to the cost of going to a university or an out-of-state school. However, expenses will still add up. You will pay tuition (a per credit hour fee for your classes) and you should expect to spend several hundred dollars for books. You should also consider living expenses or travel costs. The good news is that there is financial aid available. Many students qualify for grants. Grants are money provided by the Federal Government that does not have to be paid back. The only requirement is that you maintain good academic standing and are enrolled as a full-time student. There are also low-interest loan programs and scholarships. Some students work while attending college or participate in work-study programs. If you choose to do this, make sure not to overextend yourself. For information on federal aid programs, visit www.fafsa.ed.gov. And be sure to contact your Financial Aid Office early!