Spending your summer in a classroom probably doesn’t sound terribly appealing.

But some savvy students are finding that attending community college before starting a bachelor’s degree program can help bring down tuition costs.

There are two ways this can help, according to Zack Perkins, cofounder of CollegeVine, a service that matches mentors and mentees to guide undergraduates through the admissions process. “First of all, if your four-year college charges by credit hours, you could skip some classes by studying them earlier and less expensively at community college.”


  • A Summer at Community College

    Is It Right For You?

  • 1: Tuition

  • Earning credits early can cut down on tuition by thousands of dollars.

    On average:

    • Two-year community college course = $135 per credit

    • Four-year private college course = $1,000 per credit

    Source: U.S. Department of Education

  • Pro:

    By building up credits and graduating early, you might save money on college expenses, including:

    • Food

    • Housing

    • Transportation

  • But, do you want to graduate early?

  • Con:

    Leaving school early means
    less time with classmates.

  • Con:

    It might also mean less time
    to take cool electives.

  • 2: Gaining an Edge

  • “Showing you’re eager to learn more and bulk up your knowledge is a good thing." Zach Perkins, cofounder of CollegeVine

  • Pro:

    Bumping up your skills could help
    you make the case for additional
    merit-based financial aid.

  • Pro:

    Completing a technical course not offered at a four-year college could give you an edge when applying to internships and jobs.

  • 3: Your First Semester

  • Studying over the summer could free up time during your first semester.

    You could use that time to:

    • Acclimate to school

    • Join a club

    • Try out a sport

    • Go exploring

  • Con:

    If your community college course isn’t as rigorous as degree courses, you might end up feeling behind later.

  • So should you consider spending a summer at community college?

  • The answer is different for everyone. Do your research, and be an informed consumer.

  • Need more advice on applying to college?

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The difference between tuition fees at community colleges and four-year colleges is stark. The Department of Education data shows the average cost of a credit at a:

  • Two-year community college is about $135
  • Four-year private college is about $1,000

And it’s not just tuition fees you have to worry about during your tenure at a traditional four-year college — there are living, travel, enrollment and other expenses to factor in. Building up credits at a community college can allow you to graduate early, which in turn cuts back on the time you’re responsible for these costs.

Showing you’re eager to learn more and bulk up your knowledge is a good thing.

In addition, taking extra classes looks impressive. “Showing you’re eager to learn more and bulk up your knowledge is a good thing,” says Perkins.

There are also non-financial benefits to taking community college classes before you start at a four-year university. Gail Grand, director at The College Advisor, considers it a great way to relieve pressure down the road. “Taking just one course at a community college ahead of time can make for an easier first semester when you get to a four-year college,” she says.

It’s also a chance to hammer out a tough subject when you’re not distracted by other courses. According to Grand, summer class sizes at community colleges are generally smaller than those at public, four-year institutions, so you could get more one-on-one time with your professor to really understand the coursework and build a solid foundation.

Alternatively, you could use the summer to tick off any prerequisites, giving you more time later to focus on electives or tougher classes required for your major. Or you could study technical subjects not offered by your four-year college to gain additional skills that will help you stand out for internships and jobs later on.

You’ll need to do a little investigating, however, before deciding if this is the right option for you. Some four-year colleges charge per term, rather than by credit, so taking three or six classes could cost the same. There’s also the question of how many hours you would need to put in. As Perkins says, “Some community colleges are very flexible and allow you to study online; others require you to show up for class three days a week.” Another consideration: some community college courses may not be as rigorous as degree courses, so earning that early credit in a prerequisite class could leave you feeling behind later.

Most importantly, check that your degree course accepts transfer credits — not all do.

Finally, if your goal is to graduate early, consider what you’ll do with that extra semester or year. “If you’re going right out to work, that could be wonderful. You may not have to compete with so many recent grads for jobs,” notes Grand. However, if you’re planning on transitioning to graduate school quickly, be sure to plan for the time in-between. Those few months can be a great time to work and save money before starting school again, but it could be challenging to find a short-term job. Start looking into your options with plenty of time before you graduate.

“Do your research, and be an informed consumer,” Grand advises. “See a summer in community college as an option, but consider the pros and cons, too.”