10 Ways to Make the Most of the Community College Experience

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10 Ways to Make the Most of the Community College Experience
We offer smart advice to students entering community college this fall to ensure they reap the greatest benefits from their time at the college.
Students attend community college for a variety of reasons – to raise their GPAs, save money or explore a variety of liberal arts courses in preparation for choosing a major. Those who have been in the work force for some time may head back to a community college for additional training or re-training in a different career. No matter what your reasons for attending community college might be; these 10 tips will help you make the most of that experience, both during your time at community college and in the goals you might hope to achieve afterward.

Choose Your Classes Wisely
 
Doing well in community college classes is important, but doing well in the right classes is critical for students who are looking to possibly transfer to a four-year institution in two years. While advisors can help students make good class choices, there are also some general rules of thumb to follow when creating your community college course list.
 
“Students should think about what sort of classes they’re taking,” Kate Lazzo, assistant director of admission at Stanford University, told USA Today. “They should focus in on the area they intend to major in, but shouldn’t do so at the expense of a broad liberal arts education.”
 
Make the Grades
 
Grade point averages are an important factor for community college students to focus on, whether they are heading to another institution after completing their community college program or going directly into the workforce. The grades earned in community college indicate more than academic abilities – they show college admission boards and prospective employers the individual is motivated and self-disciplined. When the right courses are combined with a high GPA, the graduating student has many more options available after completion of the community college program.
 
Check Transfer Policies
 
For students interested in continuing their education after community college, transfer policies will become a critical part of making the most of the two-year college experience. Some schools have developed articulation agreements that ensure students making the switch from a community college to a four-year school nearby will be able to transfer all their credits to the second institution. For students who are entering community college with this ultimate goal in mind, the right transfer agreement can help them make the most of their years at the two-year school.
 
Get Involved
 
One complaint students often have in regards to the community college experience is the challenges in meeting other students and forming friendships with them. In an article for L.A. Youth, college student Devin Ruiz writes that she quickly tired of eating lunch by herself on her community college campus. Eventually, Ruiz realized that involvement with clubs and other extracurricular activities on campus was the path to meeting other students that shared her interests.
 
Take Advantage of Campus Amenities
 
Community colleges often have amenities that are free for students. For example, an article at Spark Notes recommends that students use the campus fitness center, if there is one available. This facility is often free for students or available at a drastically reduced price. Facilities often include exercise equipment and swimming pools. Another bonus: frequenting the fitness center may help students meet others on campus in a relaxed, non-academic setting.
 
Use Available Resources
 
In addition to amenities, many community colleges also offer a variety of resources for students. College to Careers lists some of the best resources to look for:

  • Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society – offers scholarships and opportunities to attend leadership seminars and participate in volunteer work.
  • Mathematics Engineering Science Achievement (MESA) – provides academic support to students interested in these fields of study.
  • Trio Program Student Support Services – available to low-income and minority students, provides personal counseling, tutoring and financial assistance.
  • Extended Opportunity Programs and Services – also for low-income and first-generation students, offers counseling and workshops on career planning and financial aid.

Know Your Advisor
 
Community colleges have a staff of advisors who are there to help students plan their course schedules and prepare for their future in either the workforce or another institution of higher education. These professionals are invaluable to community college students, helping them navigate through the transfer process and find employment opportunities after graduation.
 
Meet with Professors
 
Unlike many universities, the class size at community colleges may be relatively small, allowing students to connect with their professors. College faculty can also be invaluable in helping students prepare for life after community college and will provide assistance in courses to ensure students graduate with the necessary GPA to get ahead after their two-year program is completed.  In addition, those looking to transfer to a four-year institution will need to develop relationships with instructors who may write glowing letters of recommendation during the application process.
 
Join Study Groups
 
Study groups allow students the chance to get to know one another while working through the academic rigors of the college experience. Many community college students find these groups to be a valuable part of the college experience. Ask a professor or counselor about study groups available on your campus.
 
Prepare Financially
 
Many students make the mistake of thinking financial aid is not an option for community college.  This is far from reality!  Loans and grants can help make the community college experience more affordable. In addition, students who plan ahead for the next phase of higher education may find that financial help is available throughout both community college and four-year schools. Those who are not eligible for financial aid can use the community college years to save up for a college or university later.
 
Community college can be a rewarding experience for those committed to making the most of those two years.  Make sure you know what to expect in your first semester, as well as the three major pitfalls to avoid as a freshman.  With these tips in mind, community college can be a positive event that prepares students well for the future, whatever that may hold.

Additional Resources [+]
Why is Enrollment Falling at Some Community Colleges?
Why is Enrollment Falling at Some Community Colleges?
Fewer Classes Waiting for California Community College Students
Fewer Classes Waiting for California Community College Students
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