As a faculty member with experience at both a research university AND community colleges, here’s my take on this question.
If you have a scholarship to a specific university, then (obviously) go there. If you know what program of study (really KNOW, not just “I’ve always wanted to be in business…”), AND it’s a 4-year program (in other words you enter major-specific classes as a Freshman), then go to a university (Engineering comes to mind as 1 example of this kind of program)
If you have a trust fund – go wherever you want (smile)
If, however; you are paying your own way (or Mom and Dad are pinching pennies to help you pay your own way), and you know want a degree but might not be sure about the major/program of study, then start out at your local community college (CC).
Most community colleges (public) have articulation agreements with local and regional universities and an academic adviser can sit down with you and show you what you can take at the CC and then transfer into the program of study at the university of your choice. For students looking at most degrees, this is the most affordable option as in many cases you can pay out of pocket for your classes at the CC and save yourself tens of thousands of dollars in tuition and fees. In addition, many colleges will post on their admissions web page the community college that they have articulation agreements with so you can see up front what classes will transfer in and how they are counted/credited.
- Here is one example of this at the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania: (look down to the right of the page under the heading ‘PITT CONNECTION GUIDES’
It is also a good idea – if you have some idea of what you want to study – to contact a faculty member in the program you are interested in at the university. Faculty, as opposed to the admissions office, will often be able to give you straightforward advice about what classes will best serve you when you transfer into their program. Many university programs are what is referred to as “upper divisional” which means that you’re admitted at the end of your sophomore year. This gives you a LOT of latitude as to where to obtain the Freshman and Sophomore years of what we call “general education” credits (e.g. writing, math, science, humanities (arts, music, history, etc), sociology, etc.
Most degrees (the Engineering example a notable exception) have what is called a general education distribution requirement. This means that the college/university wants its graduates to be overall educated individuals, and they accomplish this by requiring 2 years (~60 credits) of liberal arts study before matriculating you into your chosen major. In most cases, you can achieve these 60 credits of general education at your local community college, many of whom offer ONLINE courses and at a cost that will not enslave you in student loan debt. You can save the student loans for your final 2 years at the university.
Associate’s Degree (2 years) If you are looking less for the degree and more for the job skills that will get you a job, there NO BETTER PLACE than your local community college. In fact, did you know that less than 24% of the jobs of the future will require a Bachelor’s Degree, and MOST jobs will require an Associate’s Degree or OJT (on-the-job training)?
Having the RIGHT skills is more important today than that piece of paper.