Every fall, millions of ex-high school students pick up their backpacks and head off to college classes. Some go into the experience with a fixed plan, like becoming an engineer, while others focus on liberal arts at first.
These kinds of options make the college experience flexible and provide more opportunities over the long haul. Students can focus out of the gate or take some time to discover their interests.
However, not all students go to the same types of colleges. Each year, around 5 million students attend junior colleges. Are you asking, “What is a junior college?” Keep reading to learn what a junior college is and how it can help meet your education goals.
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What is a Junior College?
When many people think of college, they think of a university that you attend for four or five years and walk out with a degree. Many students go that route. It provides a predictable experience where you learn the systems and apply them.
A junior college, on the other hand, is typically a two-year institution. These colleges often offer the same or at least the same kinds of introductory courses as four-year colleges.
Where junior colleges, or community colleges, differ is that they often offer a focus on technical skills that you can use to get a job. So, for example, a junior college might offer education tracks in information technology, nursing, or office administration.
Benefits of Junior Colleges
Junior colleges offer a wide range of benefits for incoming freshmen. Let’s look at some of the biggest benefits.
Attending four-year universities is an expensive proposition. In-state students average around $11,000 per year, and the costs more than double for out-of-state students.
While it’s not an absolute rule, the cost of attending junior colleges typically runs about half the cost of four-year universities. That can make your total college bill a lot cheaper in the long run.
Try Out College
Not every high school student is confident that college is the right path for them. Maybe you didn’t enjoy school and worry that you’ll hate the college experience.
Junior colleges let you try out the college experience for less debt. You get a taste of college life without making a huge personal or financial commitment. For example, you avoid moving across the state or even across the country.
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Many four-year universities have huge classes for freshmen. In some cases, you may attend classes in auditoriums with hundreds of other students. That can mean you get minimal interaction with the instructor.
In some cases, you never even see the listed instructor. Instead, one of the graduate assistants teaches the class. While these graduate assistants are typically capable of teaching the material, they often lack the skills of the listed professor.
Junior colleges have much smaller classes on average. Just as importantly, the instructor for the class is the listed instructor and not a graduate student.
Smaller classes let you get more face time with the instructor. That additional interaction can have a positive influence on your performance in class.
While it’s not true of every single class offered at a junior college, many junior college credits will transfer to a four-year university. This is particularly true of introductory courses in areas like English, mathematics, the sciences, and the social sciences.
Picking up those introductory courses at a junior college lets you get your feet under you without setting yourself back academically if or when you transfer to a four-year college.
You should contact any four-year colleges to which you think you will apply. Ask them about their credit transfer policies from the junior college you attend.
These colleges will usually provide you with the information right away. Some may even ask for your transcript and tell you the exact credits that will transfer.
As a general rule, more credits will transfer to another in-state school than to out-of-state schools.
Many four-year colleges impose a lot of restrictions on student applications. For example, they may ask for a minimum SAT score or require a certain amount of extracurricular activities.
These kinds of restrictions help them select students who have a good chance of success. Unfortunately, they also restrict access to college for students who don’t test well or had other things going on than finding clubs to join.
Junior colleges generally have an open enrollment policy. That means that if you graduated from high school with acceptable grades, they’ll typically take you.
That more open acceptance policy can make accessing a college education far easier. That can prove especially important for first-generation college students. After all, applying to colleges makes more sense if you think you have a real chance of getting into the school.
Another benefit of junior colleges is that students generally see more support from advisors, instructors, and the college in general. Some of that stems from the smaller class sizes and fewer students. People have a little more time.
In general, though, junior colleges recognize that not every student will walk through the door with the same skills. For example, a student may possess very good math skills, but only so-so English skills.
Many junior colleges maintain learning centers that specialize in specific areas, such as writing, math, or science. These centers offer peer or professional tutors that assist students in understanding either the content or mastering skills.
With all of these benefits on the table, it’s not really a surprise that some students attend a junior college first.
Junior College Degrees
There are a lot of different types of college degrees out there. Some of the most common degrees include:
- Associate degree
- Bachelor’s degree
- Master’s degree
- Doctorate degree
When you attend a junior college, the type of degree that you see most often is the associate degree. These degrees require around 2 years of study to accumulate approximately 60 credit hours.
As noted above, many junior colleges focus on degrees that provide technical skills, such as medical technicians, cybersecurity, and agriculture. Ideally, these degrees give you a legitimate foot in the door to an occupation.
In rare cases, junior colleges also offer bachelor’s degrees, but this is the exception. When a junior college offers bachelor’s degrees, it’s usually only a few and in specific areas.
For example, a community college with a very strong information technology department might offer one bachelor’s degree track in an area like network technology or cybersecurity.
A more common practice for junior colleges is that they offer certificates in specialized technical areas. For example, they might offer a certificate in web design.
While you might take similar classes as students on a degree track, you take fewer of them. So, a certificate program might only take you through 15 or 30 credit hours worth of instruction.
Succeeding at Junior College
There is a perception in the public that junior colleges are “easier” than four-year colleges. That idea makes a lot of students walk in thinking that they’ll just skate through for two years and get a degree.
While junior colleges are different than four-year colleges, they aren’t easier. In fact, you’ll largely cover the exact same information in your introductory classes. That means you must prepare to succeed at the junior college of your choice.
Let’s look at some success strategies you can employ during your tenure at junior college.
In high school, instructors will tell you about assignments, remind you about papers, and basically stay on top of you to get them done. That changes in college. Your instructors won’t behave that way.
They’ll hand out assignments and expect you to finish them. That means you must learn how to manage your time. For example, set aside time every day for studying.
Take Good Notes
The lectures in a college classroom don’t simply repeat the information in the textbook. Those lectures often expand on the material. Just as importantly, information from the lectures will often turn up on your exams or quizzes.
Take good notes in class to make sure you don’t miss important information.
Ask for Help
If you find yourself struggling with the material, don’t suffer in silence. The instructor can’t help you if don’t ask for it. Go to their office hours and ask for clarification.
If there are tutors or study groups for the class, go to them.
Succeeding at a junior college doesn’t happen by accident. You will have to work for it.
Junior College and You
The question of what is a junior college is that it’s similar to a four-year college. You attend classes, take tests, and write papers. You’ll probably also spend some time in a science lab.
There are some differences, though. Junior colleges typically offer associate degrees, which means you can wrap things up in around two years.
You also get benefits like lower costs, smaller classes, and easier acceptance when you apply.
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