The Community College Application
The Community College Application
Dmytro Zinkevych /

Of the types of colleges, community college typically has the most straightforward application process. Most schools subscribe to an open enrollment policy, which means that they welcome all applicants. That being said, questions do arise for some students in uncommon circumstances. The following frequently asked questions may help you get your application started. If you have questions regarding the application to a specific school, contact its admissions office directly.

Can I apply to community college if I don’t have a high school diploma?

If you are in the 10% of Americans who did not finish high school or pass an equivalency exam, you still have options to further your education at a community college. Ability to Benefit (ATB) programs are open to competent students who do not have high school credentials. Typically, to enroll, students must demonstrate that they would benefit from a postsecondary education by passing a government-approved exam or earning six college credits.

ATB tests are offered at community colleges across the country. Contact the community college near you to find out which test it uses and how to register. These exams may be required for enrollment depending on your school, but they are always required if you hope to apply for state or institutional financial aid. ATB students who participate in an eligible career pathway (including enrollment in both adult education and postsecondary education) are able to access federal financial aid.

In 2012, about 82,000 students (1% of all community college students) enrolled in ATB programs at community colleges. If you are motivated to complete your degree, you can defy the odds.

Can I apply to community college if I am an undocumented immigrant?

An unauthorized immigration status might prevent you from attending community college in some states. If you are a U.S. citizen, legal resident, or international student with a valid F, J, M, or Q visa, you have nothing to worry about; you can apply to a community college without issue.

If you are a student who does not have authorized immigration documents (an undocumented student), your eligibility to attend public colleges and universities, including community colleges, will depend on your state. If you live in Alabama or South Carolina, you are barred from applying to public, in-state colleges. That being said, you can always consider applying to an out-of-state community college that accepts applications from undocumented students. Many states, including California, Texas, and Utah, welcome applications from undocumented students and may also allow them to access state financial aid if they finished high school in that state. Research your state’s laws if you need more information.

How do I apply to community college?

A community college application is simple. There’s no need to worry about essays, résumés, interviews, or standardized tests.

  • Complete an application. Fill in your basic information online or in person or mail in a paper form. Your chosen community college will have its own specifications. Check out the website or call the admissions office for details or to obtain a copy of the application.
  • Pay an application fee. There are very few community colleges that require you to pay application fees, so you will probably skip this step, but you may be asked to submit payment to have your application processed.
  • Send your high school transcript or copy of your equivalency exam results. Sometimes, a school will use your transcripts to determine your placement in certain core subjects.

Is the ACT or SAT required?

Not usually. Most community colleges don’t need to see your standardized test scores. If you already took one of the tests, though, your results might help you skip some introductory courses, so feel free to send your score report along. Sending a score report after you’ve taken the test will cost you $12.00 for the SAT or $13.00 for the ACT.

There are very few instances of community colleges requiring SAT or ACT scores from their applicants. Typically, this is a requirement for a student who is applying to a specialized program within the community college (e.g., health care or engineering). Your prospective community college may not require scores, but your chosen program might. Check with the program itself to see if there are any additional requirements.

You may also need SAT or ACT scores if you plan to transfer to a four-year college later on. Your community college may not need them, but in one or two years, your transfer school may. If you intend to transfer after completing your prerequisites or associate’s degree, it is best to check with a few of the four-year schools you are considering to see if they require scores from the SAT or ACT for transfer admittance.

How strict are application deadlines?

Community colleges often have more flexible deadlines than four-year institutions do. Many use rolling admissions, meaning that admission to the college is often on a first-come, first-served basis. The earlier you apply, the better your chances of acceptance. If you originally chose not to apply to college but changed your mind last minute, a community college may still be able to accommodate you if it is not already at capacity.

When you fill out your application, you may be asked to provide an expected start date. While four-year public and private institutions may only offer admittance to freshmen in the fall semester, community colleges often allow you to start in the fall, spring, or summer term.

What academic decisions do I need to make after I’ve been accepted?

After you’ve chosen, applied, been accepted to, and reserved your spot at a community college, there’s plenty left for you to do. You’ll need to decide if you want to enroll in a program full-time or part-time, if you want to take your classes online or in-person, and if you are going to enroll in an AA or AS degree program or an AAS degree program. Talk with an academic advisor as soon as you have confirmed your place at your college.

How and when should I follow up about financial aid?

You should immediately apply for federal financial aid. The FAFSA becomes available each year on October 1, and it’s free to fill out. Also contact your school to find out if there are any institutional scholarships that you can apply for to supplement federal aid.

What about placement tests and class registration?

Most community colleges require incoming students to take placement tests before registering for classes; you’ll want to check with an admissions officer to see if you’re required to take any. Community colleges require these tests because students not only come from all walks of life, but they also have a wide range of skill sets. An adult student who wants to try out a new career has very different abilities than a student who is coming straight from high school.

Placement tests are typically in math, reading, and writing, but you may also be required to test in a foreign language or the sciences. Based on how you score, you may be recommended to enroll in introductory courses, take remedial classes, or skip ahead to advanced courses in certain subjects. Remedial classes are intended to bring you up to speed in the subject matter so that you will be successful in advanced courses later on.

Once you’ve received the results of your placement tests and been given recommendations on which classes to take, you can register for your first semester. If you’ve been assigned an advisor, talk to him or her about what is recommended for your chosen program and what you hope to get out of your education. If you haven’t been assigned an advisor, ask for one! He or she will be your best source for information on registration, transferring, and your curriculum.

Page last updated: 05/2019