What's the Difference Between Community College and University?

Are you transferring from community college to a four-year university? Ease the transition with these tips from a Noodle expert, who relays her personal experience. Part Two discusses differences you may encounter as you adjust to university life.

This is Part Two of a guide to the transition from community college to university.

On-Campus Housing

Once you are accepted at a university or four-year school, you may have the option of living in campus housing, which has its advantages and disadvantages. Depending on your previous circumstances, living on campus either sacrifices or adds freedom. It may also increase your college expenses. Look at your financial aid package, and ask yourself how the housing costs that the college is charging compare with what your expenses would be to live off campus. Weigh all the other pros and cons of campus housing, and if you choose it but have been living independently thus far, inquire about obtaining a single rather than a shared room. Many colleges offer different types of housing, from quiet floors in the dormitories to shared campus apartment options.

Working While in School

If living off campus and paying rent is your choice, ask yourself how many hours you can reasonably work while maintaining your desired GPA. The three part-time jobs plus full-time school I was able to balance while in community college dwindled to only a couple shifts per week once I started at my four-year. I needed to re-balance my commitments in order to prioritize my undergraduate performance at my four-year. My best advice is to look early for on-campus paid internships and job opportunities in your field of interest. Since work-study jobs are often part of financial aid packages, the good ones fill up quick.

A Different Academic Workload?

I’d like to dispel the myth that the workload expected at a four-year school is far greater than what is expected at a community college. Many students transferring from community colleges to four-years enter as juniors and need to fulfill the requirements for their chosen major. As your academic journey ascends, higher expectations of intellectual performance come with it. If you challenged yourself at community college, you will be prepared for the expectations of a four-year. If you didn’t, you are more liable to receive a wake-up call. That said, be prepared for the possibility that some of your credits from community college may not transfer to your four-year. Additional educational experiences that transfer students may have already pursued, such as credited internships, study abroad, or experiential learning programs may or may not count toward your bachelor’s at your transfer institution. Additionally, some four-years have limits on how many transfer credits they will accept. It is best to contact the registrar’s office at your choice schools to inquire about the specifics concerning their transfer credit policies.

Finding Your Academic Niche

Academic and cultural life is different at a four-year. If your community college was like mine, it was small: classes had between 20–30 students, and developing positive relationships with faculty and staff was encouraged. Luckily, my four-year liberal arts college was also small, supportive, and well-run. Although larger universities are wonderfully diverse, offer a range of opportunities, and are more likely to have graduate programs, many community college transfers find it difficult to distinguish themselves in a sea of faces. University courses tend to be populated by hundreds of students, and, often, your work never gets past the teaching assistant to an actual professor. Navigating the operational framework of a larger university can also present its own set of challenges. If a large school is the place for you, be sure to take advantage of your professors’ office hours, discuss their research, ask for help when needed, and be what they call “a self-starter” by asking about opportunities to get involved. If graduate school is your goal, this attitude will make all the difference when seeking academic recommendations.

More Opportunities

Four-year colleges provide a plethora of opportunity. For all the questions you ought to ask yourself when transferring to a four-year, no doubt the most important question is “What do I want to do?” Ask this early on in your transition, and give it significant consideration. Not only will this help in deciding where to go and which major to pursue, but it will be a guide as you explore the opportunities available at your four-year school. Doors will open that you never knew existed: Internships, job opportunities, teaching assistantships, independent studies, research funding, international opportunities — find them. The better you know what you want to do, the better you will be prepared to take full advantage of all that your four-year has to offer. Inquire as to whether you have a choice of an academic advisor, and work closely with the one you have. Upon matriculation, it is likely you have approximately two years until you complete your bachelor’s. You worked hard to get there, make the most of it!

I didn’t know all of this while transitioning to my four year, but my community college professor’s advice stuck with me. Although I know I got that grade because that’s what the work deserved, his response made all the difference. I learned to step up my game and prove I could achieve at a four-year just as well as I had at my community college. As I navigated that world, I needed to prepare for unforeseen challenges and differences. I also learned to take it easy on myself and accept that the grade I got was fine, but that sometimes I would just have to work a little harder.

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