Community colleges are two-year institutions where students can study for certificates and associate’s degrees. Certificate programs may be shorter than two years and prepare students for a career in a trade. Associate’s degrees take two years to earn and can either prepare a student to transfer to a four-year institution or prepare a student for a particular career.

Community colleges are often cheaper and have less stringent admissions policies than four-year institutions. Combined with the fact that scheduling is flexible and having a certificate or associate’s degree improves your career and salary options, community college seems like a great place to further your education! You’ll need to be motivated and engaged though; not all students are driven to succeed.

Many students attend community college to complete their general education requirements before transferring to a four-year school to complete their bachelor’s degrees. Students who are planning on transferring should look into schools that have transfer agreements with local four-year colleges and enroll in a program that will best help them complete the necessary credits.

Certificate programs and Associate of Applied Science degrees are programs offered by community colleges to prepare students to work in a specific profession. Only students who are committed to a particular trade should enroll in this type of program. Knowing the credentials necessary to become a professional in your field of choice will help you make the most informed choice.

Community colleges often have an open admissions policy that guarantees admission to all applicants, requiring nothing more than an application form, a fee, and possibly a copy of your high school transcripts. However, your admission is also time-based, meaning that you’ll be granted a place in the school if there are still open spots in the term. Things get tricky, however, if you’re a student without documents or haven’t completed high school.

Community colleges are generally cheaper than their four-year counterparts, but you will still have to shell out for tuition, fees, books and materials, transportation, food, and housing. Students can apply for federal financial aid by filling out the FAFSA and should ask their institutions about any school-sponsored financial aid opportunities as well. The hope is that eventually community college will be free for all students.