Weigh Pros, Cons of Attending a U.S. Community College First

Indira Pranabudi

Going all the way to the U.S. in order to study at a community college might seem odd at first. However, international students looking to gain a different experience should consider attending a community college during freshman and sophomore years, in what is known in many places as a "2+2" program.

I decided to attend Green River Community College for my first two years to have an easier transition into college life. I was only 16 years old at the time, and Green River offered me lots of support from my international student adviser and my instructors.

Not only does starting out at a community college offer a smoother transition for many international students, but it also provides a similar level of education with a much lower cost than a traditional four-year college. International students should consider the pros and cons of attending a community college before heading to a university to pursue a bachelor's degree.

Pro- An easier transition: International students may find the smaller class sizes at a community college help them adjust to college in the U.S. My introductory computer science course at GRCC only had 20 students, while the introductory computer sciences courses at Brown have up to 300.

This is especially important for international students, especially those whose native language is not English. A lot of international students feel at first that their professors talk too fast, or they might not understand some of the words being used in class.

More accessible professors can make it easier for international students to speak with their professors regularly, increasing their understanding of course material.

Con- A different experience: Life as a freshman at a community college compared with life as a freshman at a university will undoubtedly be different. At a university, many students are likely to be full-time students; their primary daily activity is attending classes and doing homework.

This is very different from community colleges, where American students often come from all walks of life. Although this offers a different perspective on life, this might not be the best choice for those seeking a more typical American college experience.

Sure, there will be 18-year-olds just out of high school who also intend to transfer to a four-year institution, but there will also be other types of students. My psychology classmates included a 19-year-old full-time student, a 36-year-old part-time nurse and a 24-year-old full-time student.

Pro- Cheaper tuition fees: One of the obvious reasons to attend a community college instead of a university is the difference in tuition. Often, international students are charged a significantly higher tuition fee at four-year schools than their American counterparts.

At public schools this can be double or triple the fee; at private schools, international students are typically offered less financial aid, which means they end up paying more even if tuition is the same. My tuition for an academic year at Brown is approximately three times what I paid for three quarters at Green River.

[Learn other ways international students can save on college.]

Con- Credits may not transfer: Even though I had already taken a linear algebra class at my community college, I had to retake it at Brown because the school considers two quarter-based classes equal to a semester-based course. I would have to take a sequence of linear algebra classes in order for it to transfer. Therefore, before taking a course at a community college, it is important to first make sure that your credits will transfer.

[Find out how international students can compete for scholarships.]

Pro- More support: Community colleges, especially those with a large number of international students, often have better support. It is not uncommon for international students to have their own dedicated advisers at the international programs office.

Green River had five full-time and two part-time advisers to help international students ease into college life who advised students on which classes to take. These advisers are often very experienced in terms of helping international students transfer to their dream university, which is a great advantage.

[Explore community college housing options for international students.]

Con- Double the stress: Transferring means that you will have to apply to institutions twice, and adjust to a new environment twice.

At many universities, the transfer acceptance rate is lower than the regular acceptance rate. Schools' ability to accept transfer students typically depends on how many open spots they have in a class.

In one year, they might have 100 students taking a gap year or transferring to another university, and thus, 100 open spots for transfers. In other years, they might only have 50 spots open, even though all the applicants may have been impressive.

I had a great time starting at a community college, and I feel that I learned more while at GRCC than I had up to that point. Although sometimes I wish I had started at Brown as a freshman, had I not met my advisers and instructors at GRCC, I would not be where I am today.

Indira Pranabudi, from Indonesia, is a student at Brown University studying computer science. She previously studied at Green River Community College in Auburn, Wash.