I took the path of attending community college first and then transferring after obtaining an Associates in Science and Engineering degree. The following is my perspective about the pros and cons about becoming a transfer student.
- The cost is cheaper. In college, you must take prerequisite classes in order to obtain your Associates. If you go straight to university, you must take the EXACT same prerequisites before you can officially declare/enter your major. The difference between the two is that you pay thousands more for the university version. Even if you are covered by financial aid, you still end up saving more if you start at college. Additionally, book and housing are often cheaper if you start at community college.
- Classes are easier. Some community college have good programs and some don't. I was lucky enough to attend a college that was ranked #19 out of all community colleges in the nation by the time I graduated (Skagit Valley College). Even after transferring and beginning my year at university, I discovered that classes at college are easier, no matter what rank they are in the nation. I also heard stories from my classmates who went straight to university - they took the same classes I took at college but they had a more difficult time. For example, for a linear algebra class they considered it to be one of the hardest classes they took as a pre-major student. However, when I took linear algebra at college, I easily got 100% in two tests and I still learned the same things that the university students learned. Please don't take this wrong way - that community college are inferior to university classes. This isn't often the case. It all depends on how much a student is willing to learn and the quality of education of the individual schools. I think the reason that classes are easier in college is because the class sizes are smaller and teachers have a more personal one-to-one relationship with their students. In university, this rarely happens with large classes.
- It's easier to win scholarships. This is a win-win. By attending community college, you save on LOTS of money. Also, if you are one of the top students of your class, you can easily win scholarships. So not only do you spend less for your education, you actually gain more money by winning more scholarships! Of course, you have to use these scholarships for education and they will especially become useful for paying off the high costs of tuition once you transfer to university. The reason why scholarships are easier to win is because the applications are so much simpler and less strict, the community often sponsors the scholarships, and it's easy to stand out in college if you were an excellent high school student.
- Convenience of transportation. Transportation usually isn't a problem, especially if your community college is in your home community. If it isn't, you may still have to travel a large distance to get to class (in this case it's better to dorm there or get an apartment). However, whether transportation is an issue or not depends on how far your school is and if your are willing to travel everyday or live near campus.
- Type of education. This goes back to the bullet point I mentioned above. College level classes are often easier than their university counterparts. This doesn't mean that the college is inferior. It may mean that the teachers aren't good or the students aren't trying hard enough. There are definitely some colleges that are better than university. However, as a general case, universities have better quality classes because they often have better quality professors. There's a reason why universities are higher up on the academic hierarchy compared to community colleges. This doesn't mean that you wont be a success if you become a transfer student.
- Adjusting from college to university. This is the most difficult thing I had to face when transferring from college to university. At my college, I was at the top 10% of my class of over 200. Everything was so easy. I felt confident about starting university. Perhaps I was a bit overconfident. When I transferred and started university, I felt as if it had sucker punched me. I was extremely humbled after my first quarter. Teachers were very strict and classes and labs were more difficult. A university-level class is in a whole different ball game compared to college. I'm not saying that hard courses are bad - they aren't. I'm just saying that you shouldn't be caught of guard with easy college class one moment and the difficult university class the next. It took me a while to adjust to this completely different world and adapt to the university's strict but orderly process. Take this as a warning if you decide to transfer to university: Don't be overconfident. Learn the ways of your school and adapt quickly.
Other Things to Consider
- The environment. This is all based on one's perspective. Some may find their college environment more friendly and less stressful then their university environment. Others may find it the other way around. That is why it is good to visit and tour campuses before attending them. Regarding my school, Skagit Valley College, I personally liked the main campus over the one that was near my home city because it was more "isolated" in nature - it was right next to one of Washington's mountain ranges. The view was nice and the air was always fresh. This isn't to say I don't like my present campus at the University of Washington. I actually like both since they are located in the less-polluted state of Washington. My SVC campus had a more "nature" setting and my UW campus is in the city.
- Living. This is the similar to the environment. It all depends on what your area is like and what the school and its inhabitants are like. Whether you like one campus over another depends on the type of setting you prefer. I personally like both the nature and the city setting. I also like how both SVC and UW are very multicultural. I think both places are nice to live in. Click here to see a post I made about my opinion about living in a dorm or an apartment.
All in all, starting at community college to complete your prerequisites before transferring to university is a great idea, especially if you need to save on money. Just be warned that courses are harder at university - so don't take this as a surprise. Remember, harder classes are good things because you get to learn a lot more. I wonder if people who go straight to university have an academic advantage over people who transfer to university. While I think it all depends on the individual and their learning experiences, I am also sure that your starting school plays a role in affecting how much you learn. When considering if you want to transfer or go direct, research the type of school you want and their academic programs and factor that into how much you are willing to spend.