Should I Go to Community College First Then Transfer?

Should I Go to Community College First Then Transfer?
Campus is the new alternative to online community college that provides a 100% live and online Associate of Arts in Business Administration degree program. We’re on a mission to maximize access to a world-class education, starting with our career-focused business program that equips students from across the U.S. with a solid foundation in core business principles to set them up for success no matter what their next step is.

Many students choose to further their education at a community college before transferring to a traditional four-year institution, often asking themselves, "Should I go to community college first then transfer?" This pathway provides numerous benefits, including financial savings and academic preparation.

According to data from NCSES, between 2008 and 2017, among 14.8 million U.S. graduates who acquired their first bachelor’s degree, 52% had earlier attended a community college, and 25% had earned an associate degree. The question of "do you have to go to community college before university" is more about personal choice than necessity, reflecting the strategic planning of one's educational journey. For those pondering if they should go to community college first then transfer, data supports this as a viable option.

A report from the Community College Research Center also shows that annually, out of those who begin at community colleges, about 80% intend to transfer to a four-year school, and a significant percentage do successfully transfer to competitive universities or the Ivy Leagues and go on to achieve successful careers. Opting for going to community college first provides an accessible entry point into higher education with the prospect of transitioning to more prestigious institutions later. It's a strategic move for those considering their future university options and wondering, "Should I go to community college first then transfer?"

Starting your educational journey at a community college vs university can be a great choice for many students. Some of the advantages of starting at a community college include saving money on tuition, enjoying smaller class sizes, and getting a feel of a particular major before committing to a degree. However, being successful begins with early planning. For those debating "do you have to go to community college before university," the answer lies in their academic and financial goals.

The earlier you plan, the more you empower yourself with knowledge regarding the transfer credits process and increase your chances of admission to the university of your choice.

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Reasons to Consider Community College First

Community colleges are a great stepping stone toward advanced degree programs. There are several reasons to consider attending a community college for your first two years, especially for those contemplating the path of going to community college first to ease their academic and financial transition.


You may be wondering: how much is community college?

On average, the cost of attending a community college can be a tenth of that of a traditional university with the same subject matter. In fact, some community colleges in the U.S. offer free tuition to qualified students.

Since your first year of undergraduate classes is likely to be the same whether you’re attending a two-year college or four-year university, you could save a lot of money by starting at a community college. That means that you could potentially earn identical credits that also count towards an associate degree before paying more for four-year school tuition.


If you have other obligations, such as part-time jobs or family commitments, or are pursuing other responsibilities outside of your education, community college may offer the flexibility to balance your education. They accommodate a range of scheduling options, like taking evening classes, weekend classes, and online/distance-learning classes to fit individual needs.

Ease of Admissions Process

The admissions process is generally less complex and competitive for community colleges than for traditional universities.

They often accept many students without extensive application requirements or high standardized test scores. Once you can prove yourself through your two-year coursework and earn your associate degree, you can possibly transfer your credits to a four-year university to finish your bachelor’s degree.

Smaller Class Sizes

According to data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), the average community college class has less than 35 students. Meanwhile, there are many introductory classes at four-year schools with as many as 300 students in a class and even more.

With smaller classes, you can interact with the lecturers and fellow students more easily with this lower student-to-faculty ratio. You can engage in meaningful discussions, ask questions, and receive individualized attention from professors. You may be able to understand the coursework and do better academically if this kind of learning is more of your style.


Many community colleges are located within or near their local communities, making them easily accessible to nearby students. This proximity can significantly reduce commuting time, energy, and expenses compared to traveling or moving to a distant four-year university. With this, you can focus more on your studies and other commitments.

infographic on the reasons to consider community college first before transferring

Is Community College Right for You?

In selecting the right school, you need a clear understanding of your specific needs and goals. To know how to answer the question, "Is going to community college first a good choice?", you need to thoroughly know what you want to achieve from your education – considering your career aspirations, finances, preferred learning environment, personal circumstances, etc.

Career Goals

There may not be a single school that fits, but it is up to you to find one that will help you meet your desired career path and provide the necessary resources and opportunities to help you achieve your professional aspirations.

Consider factors like the availability of relevant majors or programs, internships, co-op opportunities, and connections to industry professionals.

Financial Situation

Besides tuition and living expenses, you should consider expenses for books, supplies and the availability of financial aid, and work-study opportunities.

Preferably, work up a sample budget for your costs to see how each school does or does not meet them. Aligning your financial situation will ensure you can pursue your education without strenuous financial stress.

Want to know if your state offers free community college programs? Check out our guide.

Experience Preferences

Think about the type of learning environment you thrive in.

Do you prefer a large campus with a bustling social scene or a smaller, more intimate setting?

Do you want to be close to home?

Consider factors like class size, campus culture, extracurricular activities, and more. Reflecting on your experience preferences will help you find a school where you feel comfortable, engaged, and able to make the most of your college years.

Understanding the Transfer Process

While community colleges can be a great way to save money and pursue higher education, credit transfer is not always guaranteed.

If you enroll with the intention of transferring to a four-year institution, you must conduct thorough research. Before wondering, “Will my credits transfer?”, here is what you need to know.

Credit Transferring

Before transferring to a university, you must consider the institution’s transfer credits policy. While credits don’t “expire” once you achieve them, the credit acceptance is ultimately always left to the receiving institution to take or not.

Transfer policies can change from institution to institution and even from year to year. They may also have small details that are easily overlooked, so be sure to read carefully and talk to an advisor to help you best understand your situation.

Some colleges will accept partial credits from certain courses or associate degree programs, or full credits, while others may not take any. This mismatch in course offerings can delay graduation or require students to retake courses they have already completed that may have a different name.

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You just have to figure out which university will take the credits you’d like to be accepted, if not all, and keep updated with that university’s policies.

Our recommendations on how to ensure a smooth transfer to a university? Connecting with the university enrollment advisors to help you understand the transfer process. They are experienced in the process and can guide you in choosing the right courses, making the process as easy as possible.

Note that if you earn your associate degree instead of individual credits, your associate degree is for life and can be a great credential to begin your career with, regardless of whether you want to transfer to another school or jump into the workforce.

university admissions office

Articulation Agreements

Articulation agreements define the detailed policies that govern the transfer from a community college to a four-year institution. While many community colleges have established articulation agreements with specific four-year institutions, the extent and comprehensiveness of these agreements can differ widely.

In the U.S., many states have developed statewide articulation agreements that outline credit transfer policies between community colleges and public four-year universities within that state.

For instance, in Massachusetts’ MassTransfer program, you can begin your higher education at any 15 community college campuses and transfer into one of the 13 public four-year state colleges.

With the clear guidelines articulation agreements provide on which courses from the community college will transfer with full credit to the desired four-year university and how they will count toward degree requirements, you can make more informed decisions about your academic path.

You will be able to plan to meet the necessary prerequisites and not lose time or money on non-transferable credits.

Additionally, since these agreements are with specific schools, you can be confident that your community college credits will be recognized and accepted by your desired four-year institution. This will make the process very straightforward and reduce the risk of credit loss and the need to retake similar courses, saving time and money.

Now, while articulation agreements are great to look out for, they are certainly not at every school but are also not necessary to transfer your credits either.

Regardless, you should proactively research your school's articulation agreement availability and terms if you aim to transfer one day. You'll know exactly what to expect, making your adjustment to the new university environment smoother.

Work closely with your academic advisor at the community college and your desired institution to obtain updated information and support.

So, Should You Start at Community College?

Community colleges offer a valuable starting point for students beginning their academic journey, depending on their goals, financial circumstances, and preferences.

They cater to a diverse range of students, from recent high school graduates to adult learners, offering smaller class sizes, flexible scheduling, and the opportunity to explore different academic interests.

Though community colleges sometimes face the unfair stigma of being less desirable than four-year institutions, community colleges provide a quality education that can lay a strong foundation for future academic and career success!

If you aim to transfer one day, diligently research and reach out to advisors at your community college and potential transfer institutions to grasp the credit transfer policies and processes. Planning and taking a proactive approach ensures that your transition to a four-year university aligns seamlessly with your ambitions.

If you’d like to try the online route, Campus is an accredited online alternative to community college that offers an online associate degree in the business program for students who want to launch their business career or business education with a two-year degree. If you’d like to learn more, request more info today.

Want to learn more about Campus?

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