College Decisions Making You Feel Like Goldilocks?

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If you are a high school senior, you’ve probably been listing the “lasts” you’ll experience this year: last football game, last study hall, last piece of cardboard pizza in the cafeteria. You’ve probably also been thinking about the “firsts” you’ll experience at this time next year: first night in the dorm, first day on a real job, first taste of adulthood. You’ve become well aware that high school has served you an eviction notice, and you’ve been working hard to pack up the things you’ve accumulated over the past twelve years and to choose a future path.   

Some of your classmates are doing this with ease. Some applied to colleges or technical schools early in the fall, and by now, they have their acceptance letters in hand. Others decided to start up the career ladder and are looking for that job that will put them on the first rung.  

But, you might find yourself in the same situation as Goldilocks in those bears’ cottage. College seems too hot. It’s an expensive mistake if you don’t feel ready. And, the job market seems too cold. Your long-term goals might require more than an entry-level job experience can give. Or maybe, your job resume isn’t impressive enough to get you into an interesting career field.

Consider an option that might be just right. Combine the two by developing a solid, part-time academic schedule at one of your state’s community or technical colleges while working your way into your career field in an entry-level job or internship.  

Community colleges are public institutions in all 50 states that offer 2-year associates degrees and specific technical training programs. More students than ever are choosing the community college option for three basic reasons: community colleges cost less, they enable flexibility in class scheduling, and they allow an easy path to 4-year institutions later on.

1. Community colleges are more affordable than traditional 4-year institutions.

According to the American Association of Community Colleges, the average tuition for a 2-year community college in 2014-2015 was $3,347. Compare that with an average tuition for a 4-year university of $9,139. That’s quite a savings, especially when you consider that many community colleges are within commuting distance, meaning you might be able to live at home. Factoring in the cost of dorm rooms and meal plans at a 4-year university, you might be saving $20,000 or more each year.  

2.  Community colleges offer the flexibility to develop an academic schedule that fits your work schedule.

Community colleges are designed for the part-time student. As many as two-thirds of students attending 2-year colleges are taking part time schedules. Most offer classes throughout the day — early morning to late evening — to accommodate students who work while in school. This enables you the time for that resume-building internship or for that paying job to help you with the costs. You’ll have the best of both worlds as you continue your academics and build your career resume.

3. Community colleges offer transfer agreements with traditional 4-year universities.

This means that if you don’t feel ready to commit to a 4-year school right now, you can create a schedule of classes that will transfer to a traditional university later on. In Wisconsin, for example, students can usually transfer up to 72 credits toward a degree on one of their 4-year campuses.   

Also, earning a 2-year associate’s degree on a public community college campus will enable you to drop into most public universities in your state as a junior. States and transfer agreements vary, so careful research is necessary before making a decision about a specific school.

Another benefit of that 2-year associate’s degree is that it can help you bring in enough money to help pay for a continuation of your education. Business Insider lists 26 top-paying jobs that only require a 2-year degree and that can earn $50,000 or more. Health-related careers like nursing, MRI technologists, and medical sonographers are three options listed. STEM careers — such as electronics engineering technicians, computer network support specialists, and engineering technicians — can bring in high salaries after 2 years of technical education. It is also possible for you to land a job with a company that helps you pay for your bachelor’s degree.  

 

So, if you don’t feel ready to fully commit to a university or a career experience, you can still move toward your future by combining the two. Find that correct mix of academics and career experience in your first year after high school by researching the programs that your state’s community college system has to offer. Goldilocks worked out a solution that was just right, and you can too.  

 

Dede Paquette is a life-long student and teacher. With a M.A. in professional writing and a M.A. in teaching, she teaches both at the high school and college levels, working with her students on creative and critical writing. She loves getting students to think about how the Internet is changing the way we communicate and about how they, as writers, can drive that change in a positive direction. She also loves to rattle around in used bookstores, especially the kind with miles of dusty, disorganized shelves. When the weather turns warm, she disappears into the wild woods of Northern Wisconsin to sit at the feet of Mother Nature, studying Her mindfulness and peace.

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