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​How to Succeed in Community College

Last updated August 23, 2021

Community college can be a great alternative option to the traditional 4-year college plan. There are many options at a community college, including: deferring your 4-year college plan by starting at a community college, obtaining a 2-year degree and joining the workforce, or planning to transfer after 2 years in a community college into a 4-year college.

Whichever choice you make will require research, meeting with advisors, and defining a goal to help you stay motivated.

What choice are you considering?

Defining your purpose for going to community college will help ensure you know how to navigate your time there. Are you...?

For a general list of things you should do to be successful in school, click here.

Deferring for a year before going to a 4-year college

You have been accepted into a 4-year college, but you don’t want to start right away. Starting at a community college can be a great way to ease into college classes or to think about a more solid college plan before committing to a 4-year college and a higher tuition rate.

  1. Most importantly, officially defer your acceptance to the 4-year college. Contact the admissions office to find out how and determine what the steps are to reinstate or accept your acceptance for the next year.
  2. Apply to the community college and take any placement exams (if required, by the college).
  3. Define your goal for this year. Ask yourself these questions: How many credits do you want to take? Do you want to maintain or grow your skills and knowledge in a particular subject? Do you know what major you’re interested in? If not, do you want to explore different subjects (at a lower tuition rate than a 4-year) before committing to a major?
  4. Meet with a community college advisor to go over your goal(s) and for guidance on registering for classes. Tell them you’ve deferred going to {insert name} college. Find out which community college classes will transfer to fulfill your 4-year college’s general education credits, and/or prerequisites to a specific major.
  5. Stay connected to the 4-year college you deferred from. A pitfall of deferring a year is potentially losing motivation to go. If there is an advisor or office assigned to students who have deferred, reach out to them. Find an advisor that can guide you and offer advice about your plans to defer. They can point you to resources on transferring credit and/or a student group to keep you motivated.

(To learn more about how deferring admission works, click here!)

how to be successful in community college

Obtaining a 2-year degree and entering the workforce

There are general Associate degrees and specific specialized ones. Which type of degree are you considering? Also, a 2-year timeline is an estimate and entails taking a full course load, passing sequential classes (i.e. Algebra, Pre-Cal, Calculus 1), and ample study and homework time. It is not uncommon to take longer!

  1. Before you apply, do your research. Does the community college you’re considering have a program you are interested in? Visit the page of the community college and look for the section covering the programs available. Research jobs in your area with high growth potential. Make sure you are pursuing a degree that BOTH interests you and that there is a job market for.
  2. Define your goal(s). Why are you interested in the program? How much time, realistically, will you commit to school? Will you give up any activities? Work hours? What do you hope to gain at the end of the program?
  3. Apply to the community college and take any placement exams (if required, by the college)
  4. Meet with a community college advisor to go over your goal(s) and for guidance on registering. How many credits do you want to take? Is 2-years too short, long or just the right amount of time to obtain my degree? Schedule to meet with your advisor before registration opens each quarter/semester to assess your workload and program requirements.
  5. While in school, apply for internships. Some, if not most, internship programs require you to be in school. Reach out to employers in the given field you are interested in. If your school has an alumni association, network.

Planning to transfer to a 4-year college

This means, you want to spend two or so years at community college and then transfer into a 4-year college. You will need to be proactive in doing your research, meeting with advisors at both the community college and college, and tracking deadlines.

  1. Follow steps 1-4 in the section, “Obtaining a 2-year degree and then entering the workforce”
  2. Meet with the 4-year college’s transfer advisor to go over your goal(s) and for guidance on registering for classes that will fit requirements at the 4-year college and the major you are interested in applying to. Schedule to meet with your advisor before registration opens each quarter/semester to assess program requirements and the transfer application process.
  3. Create a timeline with important dates, transfer application requirements, and contact information for your community college advisor and 4-year college transfer advisor. Include the classes you will need to take and when those classes are available. This is really important because some classes may only be offered in the Fall (or Spring). Missing a class can mean not having a required class to register for more advanced classes.
  4. Stay connected to the 4-year college you are interested in transferring to. Reach out to the transfer advisor and ask about student groups or clubs that cater to transfer students. Join student Facebook groups of the college, the major you’re interested in, and general fun to stay motivated in transferring.

For more information about transferring, read:

Success in College Tips

No matter what kind of college you attend or what degree you are aiming for, here are some basic tips that will help ensure your success.

Go to office hours. Going to office hours will help you get to know your teacher and they will get to know you. Use this time to build a relationship that can lead to letters of recommendation or assisting with special projects, in addition to getting help with homework. Read, Dos and Don’ts of Going to Office Hours and How to Talk to Your College Professors

Meet with your advisor. Your advisor is there to help you navigate the catalog of courses available and to help you stay on track to graduate. Go to meetings with a rough schedule of what you want to do. The advisor can help you on the details, like time conflicts, getting on a waitlist, or alternative classes that can fill graduation requirements. Read, Academic Advising

Study smart. Use the syllabus to help focus your studying. Read the assigned readings before lecture and take notes. By reading ahead of time, you won’t be hearing concepts for the first time in class. Read, How to Study More Effectively

Manager your time. Use a planner to help organize your time and to keep track of assignments and other important dates. Block out time to eat and to have fun! Read, It’s About Time and Are you Taking The Right Number of Credits For You?

Participate in extracurriculars. This is a great opportunity to meet people with the same interests as you. You will also be building your network, which you can tap into when you’re looking for jobs or need help. Read, Why You Should Join a Club or Organization

Take care of yourself. Don’t forget to take breaks, eat, and do something for yourself. Ask for help when you need it. Read, Free Mental Health Resources for College Students

Learn more:

Community College Can Be A Great Option

5 Reasons to Consider Community College

Pros/Cons On Attending A Community College

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