Starting a four-year bachelor’s program straight out of high school can seem like a big commitment. One year most teens are living with their parents and leading a fairly structured life, and the next, they’re away from home and suddenly working their way towards complete independence and adulthood. For some, it’s a time to shine. For others, the transition is too much.

 

This change doesn’t have to be so dramatic, though. There are ways to ease into the college experience for students who need a slightly slower start. If your teen needs some more time to mature, needs to focus on getting his or her grades up, or simply isn’t ready to start a 4-year program away from home, a community college might be a great option.

 

In this post, we’ll outline the different circumstances in which community college before or as a part of a bachelor’s degree might be a good idea, and we’ll lend some insight into how to make the plan work for you and your student. To learn more about how your teen might benefit from community college and how to encourage him or her to pursue it if it seems like the right fit, keep reading.

 

When To Consider Community College Before a Bachelor’s Degree

 

Although your teen might feel that everyone around him or her is heading away to college, in reality, this is not the case. In fact, a 2015 article from Inside Higher Ed revealed that 46% of students graduating from four-year programs in 2014 had spent at least some prior time at a community college. It’s easy to see that there are many situations in which community college is a practical and even smart choice to make before transferring to a four-year program.

 

Academics are one reason that many students go to a community college. If your teen isn’t academically ready to tackle college-level work, community college can provide a slower pace or remedial classes to build skills. Similarly, if your teen struggled to maintain a strong GPA in high school and won’t be an academically qualified applicant, community college might provide a second chance to prove his or her abilities.  

 

Maturity and independence can be other factors in the decision to attend community college before going away to school. If your teen isn’t personally ready for the challenges of college, may struggle to make safe and mature choices independently, or could have trouble living away from home, community college can be a good stepping stone. This is a somewhat subjective matter, though, and it may be a source of disagreement between you and your teen. Be sure to discuss these factors openly, honestly, and frequently so that your insights won’t come as a last minute surprise.  

 

Other personal factors can also dictate that a student needs to stay local for a while. These can include medical conditions, personal commitments at home, or family needs. Again, keep this conversation fluid so that none of these issues is a surprise to your student when decision time rolls around.

 

Finally, finances sometimes play a big role in a student’s choice to attend community college. Community colleges are generally much more affordable than four-year programs, so if your teen can attend a community college and later transfer those credits towards a four-year degree, he or she might be able to substantially cut his or her (and your) costs.

 

For more information about community college, check out these posts:

 

Should I Go to a Community College?

Rethinking College Entirely? Think Again: More Options to Make It Work for You

What If I Wasn’t Accepted to Any College?

How Does Community College Before a Bachelor’s Degree Work?

 

In most cases, students who want to attend four-year programs but begin at a community college will spend one or two years studying at the community college before applying as a transfer student to a four-year program.

 

In general, each four-year college has a different transfer policy dictating how applicants are selected and how much time they can or should spend at a community college before applying. You and your teen will need to research options before enacting this plan. Using your teen’s college list, review the schools that he or she ultimately wants to attend and then check the requirements at each to ensure that your plans can accommodate them.

 

For more about transferring, check out these CollegeVine posts:

 

A Guide to Transferring: What You Need to Know About the Transfer Admissions Process

How Do Colleges Evaluate Transfer Students?

 

What About Taking A Gap Year?

 

At times, some students might be tempted to pursue a gap year in lieu of attending community college. While this option can provide some of the same benefits, like time to mature and the opportunity to develop independence, it does not provide the same academic or financial benefits that attending a community college might.

 

A gap year may be an attractive option to students if they are doubtful about community college, don’t like the atmosphere, or don’t want to stay local. However, this is only a potentially good option if your teen has something worthwhile and productive to do during that year, like an internship or intense volunteer commitment. Doing too little will reflect poorly on him or her and won’t ultimately increase his or her chances of getting accepted to a four-year program.  

 

If your student is considering a gap year, make sure he or she has a solid plan that supports his or her overall college and career goals. Also ensure that he or she has thought over the potential downsides of a gap year, such as distraction from academics or college goals and the logistical difficulty of applying to college while taking a year off.

 

These posts about gap years can provide some more insight:

 

Should You Take a Gap Year After High School?

What You Need To Know When Applying to Colleges After a Gap Year

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How to Encourage Your Student to Make a Wise Decision About Community College

 

At the end of the day, most students need their parents’ support to make their college plans a reality. For this reason, it’s likely that you as the parent will have a good amount of say over whether your teen goes to a four-year college right away. That said, just because your teen doesn’t go to a four-year program straight out of high school, that doesn’t automatically mean that he or she will agree to attend a community college instead. This is something that he or she might need to be convinced to do.

 

If you believe your teen would benefit from community college, start the conversation early. Help him or her to build up realistic expectations about what he or she can expect from the college admissions process, including how competitive top colleges really are, whether he or she’s a good fit for certain schools, and how he or she’s likely to compare to other applicants. The more realistic his or her perspective of college admissions is, the more likely he or she will be to make smart choices about his or her own prospects.

 

Also provide good insight into your teen’s strengths and weaknesses, both academically and personally. You have a unique perspective since you have watched your child grow up. Share with your teen all the things that you see he or she is wonderful at and the things he or she needs to work on before being ready for a four-year college away from home. It’s important to be honest in these conversations. You may be reluctant to sound discouraging or to tell your child that he or she isn’t capable of something, but you can be kind and compassionate while also being realistic, and doing so is a way of caring for your teen (even if he or she feels otherwise in the moment). Having these conversations early will allow your teen both the time to work on areas that need strengthening and the time to reflect realistically on his or her future.

 

Another great way to help your teen is to gather materials about her available options and present them in a positive way. Gather information about local community college offerings, transfer programs, and transfer regulations at schools that he or she’s interested in. Encourage him or her to view community college as a step towards his or her goals, not away from them.

 

Finally, if your teen is not going to a four-year program, it’s very important to discuss your expectations about what happens if the student continues living at home. This conversation should include rules, responsibilities, and consequences. Be sure to include financial expectations in this conversation too. Your teen deserves to have a clear vision of what his or her time at home will look like after he or she graduates high school, and he or she should be granted both additional independence and additional responsibilities, if you believe he or she’s capable of handling them.

 

Sometimes, your greatest role as a parent is to support and guide your child through life’s difficult decisions and upheavals. While it can be hard to balance your role as a supporter with your role as a reality check, if you are honest and compassionate with your child, and you have these conversations early and frequently, your teen will never be surprised by your decisions and you’ll both benefit from an open line of communication.

 

If your teen could use some more perspective or you need help communicating about goals and visions, consider the benefits of the CollegeVine Near Peer Mentorship Program, which provides access to practical advice on topics from college admissions to career aspirations, all from successful college students.

 

To learn more about the parent’s role in the college admissions process, check out these CollegeVine posts:

 

A Parent’s Guide to College Planning

How Can I Help My Shy Child Put Themselves Out There In High School?

Financial Aid Application Through a Parent Lens

Parents, How Involved Should You be in the Application Process?

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Kate Sundquist

Kate Sundquist

Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Kate Koch-Sundquist is a graduate of Pomona College where she studied sociology, psychology, and writing before going on to receive an M.Ed. from Lesley University. After a few forays into living abroad and afloat (sometimes at the same time), she now makes her home north of Boston where she works as a content writer and, with her husband, raises two young sons who both inspire her and challenge her on a daily basis.
Kate Sundquist