FAQ: 2-Year Colleges and Vocational Schools

Did you know that almost half of all undergrads in the U.S. go to community college? In fact, there are 1,100 community colleges nationwide, and they enroll 13 million students! If you’re looking to make that 13 million and one, read on to learn how to apply for community college: from deciding where to apply to enrolling in classes. Before getting the ball rolling, let’s review what community colleges offer their students and some good reasons to apply.

Students apply to community college for a number of reasons. Some high school students choose a dual enrollment track, in which they take community college classes to fulfill high school graduation requirements. Some adult students return to school after working for several years to further their education or pursue a new degree or career change. While students at 4-year colleges tend to be around 18 to 22, the average age of students at community college is a little

older at 28.

To Get an Associate’s Degree or Professional License

Community colleges are an ideal option for students who know they want to go into certain professional fields and are seeking the training or credentials to do so. Some of these occupations include nursing, medical assistants, police officers, engineering technicians, and dental hygienists, among many others.

As mentioned above, a few programs, like nursing and electrical engineering, may ask for certain prerequisites from applicants.

Usually, these are specific math and science classes in high school and  a minimum GPA. Otherwise, the programs are open enrollment.

While some students apply with the goal of an Associate’s degree or other certification, others enter community college intending to transfer after a year or more commonly, two years. These next three reasons apply to students looking to transfer and ultimately earn their Bachelor’s degree.

To Strengthen Their GPA

For students planning to transfer to a 4-year college, attending community college can be a smart and strategic way to strengthen their GPA. Most 4-year colleges require a GPA of at least 2.0 or 2.5 to apply. For students who had lower grades in high school, taking community college classes can be an opportunity to bring up their grades.

They can raise their GPA, earn credits, and transfer to a college to which they may not have been accepted immediately after high school. For students looking to develop their writing and math skills, they can take the time to do so in remedial classes. Any ESL students, furthermore, can hone their language skills in English language classes.

Once students have completed a minimum number of credits (usually two years worth), they typically don’t have to send SAT or ACT scores to transfer. This can also help students get into colleges they might not have been able to right after high school.

A couple of years in community college can help students strengthen their academic skills and renew their commitment to further education before transferring to a Bachelor’s program.

To Figure Out What They Want to Study

On a similar note, a year or two in community college can be a good way to figure out what exactly you want to study. Rather than jumping into college feeling unsure about their direction, some students take community classes to explore their options. Since community colleges tend to be a lot less financially burdensome, they make this kind of exploration more feasible.

While most community colleges want students to apply to a specific track of study, they do allow you to switch if you want to pursue a different field of study. If you’re planning to transfer, you’d just want to work closely with your advisor to ensure that you’re earning the right credits for a future Bachelor’s degree major.

To Minimize the Financial Burden

I’ve mentioned a few times that community colleges tend to be less expensive than 4-year colleges. Exactly how much less expensive are they?

According to the National Center for Education, the average community college cost for a year (tuition, materials, other fees) was $9,574 in 2013. While this is a significant sum, it’s less than half of the average for 4-year schools of $23,872.

In addition to saving money on tuition, community college students are eligible for financial aid, including federal grants, federal loans, state aid, and institutional aid. Plus they may be able to choose evening, weekend, or online classes that allow for a part-time or full-time job.

Students considered “in-state residents” get in-state tuition, which is why most community college students choose schools close to home (along with the convenience of the location). If they transfer to a state school through an articulation agreement, then they further save money with in-state tuition. Ultimately, their diploma comes from the institution from which they graduated, same as any student who attended for four straight years.

How to Apply For Community College, Step by Step

As discussed above, most community colleges are open enrollment, so they don’t require as much documentation as do applications to 4-year schools. Every school I know of lets you apply online. Your first step, though, is deciding where to go.

Step 1: Decide Where to Apply

Since community colleges are open access, you don’t have to send applications to a few different safety, target, and reach schools as you would for other colleges. Instead, unless you’re applying to an especially selective track, you can figure out where you want to go and just apply there.

If your main concern is staying close to home, as it is for many students who will be commuting, then you may simply choose the school in the most convenient location. Most states have several community colleges; Massachusetts has 15 in 24 locations, New York and Texas have over 30, and California has 113! Chances are, you shouldn’t have too much trouble finding local community colleges.

Of course, you also want to make sure that the school has the program(s) you want. Research its website, email the admissions office, go on a tour, and attend information sessions. These should be available throughout the year, and usually, you can sign up through the school’s website. Simply go to the website and find the “Visit Us” or “Information Session” page. That way you can make sure you find the best community colleges with the programs and resources you need.

Once you’ve figured out where to enroll, you can find its online application.

Step 2: Fill Out and Submit Your Online Community College Application

While many 4-year schools use the Common Application or Universal Application, most community colleges have their own online application portals. A few states offer one system for all of their community colleges, such as California with its “CCCApply” site.

Every college designs its own website, but most will have a tab where you can click “Apply.” You can see a few examples of the application pages of this northeast community college, Bunker Hill Community College, along with the Community College of Philadelphia and City Colleges of Chicago (note that the Chicago schools have you fill out an initial form and then send you a student ID number to fill out the rest).

While they have some differences in design, most community college applications ask for the same details: your name, address, citizenship, residency, high school, and intended major. Most ask for your overall goal, whether you want to earn an Associate’s degree or certificate, acquire personal or professional skills, transfer to a 4-year institution, or enter the workforce.

If you’ve already taken some college courses, then you may be able to transfer credits. Additionally, these applications ask if you’re applying for financial aid. Your last step will be providing your electronic signature and hitting submit.

As for when to apply for community college, most applications are processed within 24 to 48 hours, allowing you to enroll as late as two weeks before the start of classes! I wouldn’t recommend leaving your application this last minute, especially if you’re applying for financial aid, but it’s a nice back up in case some other plans fall through.

As you can see, you typically don’t need to write essays, gather recommendations, or send SAT / ACT scores to community colleges. Generally speaking, the only document you need to provide from your high school is your diploma, GED, or transcript. 

Step 3: Provide Your High School Diploma, GED, or Transcript

Community colleges want to see proof of past or upcoming high school graduation. If you don’t have your diploma from graduation yet or a GED, you should send a copy of your transcript. This will show your expected date of graduation and provide evidence that you’re working toward fulfilling your high school requirements.

You can get your transcript from your guidance counseling department. Then you can upload it to your online application, mail, or deliver it to the college in person. If you do have your diploma or GED, you usually don’t need to send your transcript, except for the select programs with their own requirements. You can just send one of those documents.

Step 4: Provide Proof of State Residency, If Applicable

If you’re applying for in-state tuition, then you may need to provide proof of in-state residency. Students who have

attended high schools in the same state as the community college for more than a year usually don’t need to send

any further evidence. Your transcript will show that you lived and attended school in-state.

If you didn’t attend high school in the state or the college asks for further documentation, you could send a state driver’s license, local bank account, vehicle registration, voter registration, or state or federal income taxes with in-state residential addresses. All of these should be dated at least a year previous.

If you’re a dependent, then the document you send should belong to a parent. If you’re an independent, then it should belong to you.

If you’re not sure what steps you need to take here, you should contact the community college to get their advice. You wouldn’t want to miss out on financial aid due to confusion with the application. The community college should contact you if there are any issues, but it’s still worthwhile to be proactive and ask them for guidance.

Step 5: Submit Your FAFSA

Another important financial consideration is applying for federal financial aid with the FAFSA. Your timeline for this may actually fall earlier than your application to community college. The FAFSA application opens up on January 1.

As the U.S. Department of Education itself suggests, you should submit your FAFSA as early as possible “to ensure that you do not miss out on available aid.”

Financial aid is another good reason to plan early for college. The FAFSA will ask you to list the colleges to which you’re applying so it can send them your calculated financial need and estimated contribution. If you change your plans, you can sign back in and add a recipient. However, the smoothest plan is to list your community college at the time you apply to FAFSA.

In addition to applying for federal financial aid, you might search for and apply to other external scholarships. There are all sorts of scholarships out there with different requirements, so you might find one that seems made just for you!

Step 6: Attend a New Student Orientation

As mentioned above, it’s a good idea to attend a campus tour and an information session before you apply to learn more about your prospective school. Many community colleges also hold orientations for new students. These usually span a day or two and give you information about financial aid, placement testing, student and campus resources and policies, and academic guidance.

They may also have you set up a school account and email address. If your school offers its own online portal, then you’ll probably do your class registration and other communication through that.

Step 7: Take Placement Tests in Math and English

One unique requirement of community colleges is their placement tests. After the college processes your application, you’ll be invited to take placement tests to determine your level for math and English classes. While you don’t have to take the SAT or ACT to enroll, you may find yourself exempt from these placement tests if you have a minimum SAT or ACT score. These vary from school to school, but tend to be around a 450 on SAT Reading or a 47 on ACT English and Reading combined. For math, schools usually want to see around a 450 on SAT math or a 22 on ACT math.

Placement tests don’t affect whether or not you get into community college. Instead, they help to determine what courses you should take in your first semester. It still may be useful to review math and English material before taking them to make sure you don’t end up in a class repeating much of what you already learned in high school.

Step 8: Meet with Your Advisor

By the time you meet with an advisor, you should be all set with enrollment and placement testing. Your advisor can talk to you about the classes you want to take, as well as give you guidance about requirements and classes that could transfer credits to a 4-year school, if that’s in your plans.

You can also ask her about opportunities outside of class, like cultural clubs, sports, language groups, and support services. To make the most of this meeting, make sure to research classes and prepare questions.

Step 9: Register for Classes

Finally, you’ll register for your classes! Full-time students usually take about 4 to 5 classes per semester. The first semester for first years tends to be highly structured, so you may not have a lot of choice with these first few classes.

If your registration is delayed, double check that you’ve paid all your fees and provided all required documentation,

like proof of immunization (required for all college students when they start as freshmen – and grad students too, for that matter).

Once you’ve registered for classes, you’re all done with the application process! It’s time to settle in and get studying!

Now that we’ve gone over the steps for how to apply for community college, is there anything else you can do to get ready?

Step 8: Meet With Your Advisor

By the time you meet with an advisor, you should be all set with enrollment and placement testing. Your advisor can talk

to you about the classes you want to take, as well as give you guidance about requirements and classes that could transfer credits to a 4-year school, if that’s in your plans.

You can also ask her about opportunities outside of class, like cultural clubs, sports, language groups, and support services. To make the most of this meeting, make sure to research classes and prepare questions.

Step 9: Register for Classes

Finally, you’ll register for your classes! Full-time students usually take about 4 to 5 classes per semester. The first semester for first years tends to be highly structured, so you may not have a lot of choice with these first few classes.

If your registration is delayed, double check that you’ve paid all your fees and provided all required documentation, like

proof of immunization (required for all college students when they start as freshmen – and grad students too, for that matter).

Once you’ve registered for classes, you’re all done with the application process! It’s time to settle in and get studying!

Now that we’ve gone over the steps for how to apply for community college, is there anything else you can do to get ready?

Most community colleges offer two-year Associate’s degree programs in a wide variety of academic and pre-professional fields. A growing number also offer Bachelor’s degrees, though most of these programs are relatively new and limited in options.

People who run community colleges know that not every student wants to stop at their Associate’s degree; in fact, many students attend community college to earn credits and transfer to a four-year college. To ease this transition, lots of community colleges have “articulation agreements” with their local state school system.

These agreements allow a student to transfer credits smoothly from community college and enter as a junior in a 4-year program. Students can also apply to schools outside of this agreement, but they may need to put a bit more individual effort into making sure their credits will transfer.

This plan, often referred to as a “2 + 2” plan, can have serious financial benefits. Community colleges tend to be more affordable than 4-year institutions, and their flexible class times make it easier for students to work part-time or even full-time jobs.

Most community colleges are open access, meaning that all students can enroll (with the exception of a few programs, like nursing and engineering). Many students appreciate the typically small class sizes and attentive professors, who tend to spend most of their time teaching rather than doing research, as with many of their counterparts at research universities.
While most community colleges are commuter schools without residential facilities, they often offer clubs, sports teams, and support services that allow students to connect with one another and school staff. These benefits form the basis of the main reasons that students apply to community college.

Two-year colleges offer many benefits to students, including affordability and convenience.

Discover why students should consider community college.

The rising costs of the traditional four-year college experience may not be affordable for everyone. Factor in some uncertainty of what some students want to study, this might be a more attractive option in more ways than one.

Consider the opportunity to study for two years at community college before transferring to a four-year college can be a significant saving on tuition. Another eye opener is some community colleges offer job training and certificates as well as associate degrees expectations to earn more than $50,000 a year.

 If you’re considering attending a community college, or if you’re curious about the benefits, check out the following reasons why attending one might be a good decision.

  1. Money

Paying for college is a big consideration, and the average cost of annual tuition and fees at
four-year institutions in the 2018-2019 school year was $35,676 at private colleges, $9,716 for state residents at public colleges and $21,629 for out-of-state students at state schools, which can lead to significant student loans (according to U.S. News).

In contrast, community colleges charge about $3,660 on average per year for in-state students, (according to the 2018 Trends in College Pricing report released by the College Board).

According to the report, many states are adopting free community college programs like the Tennessee Promise program, which provides funding for students to fill the gap between Pell Grants and other grant aid for high school graduates who meet certain requirements.

  1. Academic flexibility

Attending a community college can be a good way for students to ease into the world of higher education and learn at their own pace. This is especially true for students who struggled in high school or anyone who’s unsure if they want to make the significant time and money investment in college, experts say.

  1. Financial aid

Financial aid isn’t only for four-year college students – community college students are eligible as well. Federal student loans require students to be enrolled half time – about six credit hours, or two courses. Students just need to make sure they don’t drop out of classes or they’ll risk losing their aid award.

  1. School-life balance

About 60 percent of community college students attend school part time, so anyone interested in taking one or two classes at a time will not feel out of place. This makes community college a good option for nontraditional students like parents and older students who wish to balance school with family or career obligations.

  1. STEM education opportunities

Community colleges have associate degree programs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. These so-called STEM subjects are in demand by employers, and some community colleges are supporting these students as they work their way up to a career, experts say.

  1. Transfer agreements

Enrolling in a community college doesn’t have to be a student’s final destination. Many two-year schools offer admissions agreements with public colleges that allow qualified students to transfer their credits toward earning a bachelor’s degree. According to National Student Clearinghouse Research Center data, 29% of community college students who started in fall of 2011 transferred to a four-year institution within six years.

  1. Elements of traditional college

Two-year colleges haven’t always provided the same student experience as four-year schools, but that is changing. Over one-quarter of community colleges now offer dorms, according to a 2016 report from the American Association of Community Colleges. And it’s possible to find extracurricular activities, scholarships and networking activities on two-year campuses.

  1. Personalized attention

Many community colleges offer smaller class sizes than larger schools, meaning students can find more personal attention and one-on-one time with instructors. This can be a plus for students who like to learn at their own pace and ask plenty of questions as they go.

  1. Professional certificates

Career progress is often tied to advanced degrees and skill development, usually through costly graduate school programs. But community colleges provide professional and short-term certificates in many fields, including information technology and electronics. In 2016-2017, community colleges conferred 549,149 certificates, according to the American Association of Community Colleges.

  1. Online class options

As is the case with four-year universities, certain community colleges have expanded online offerings to entice more students. This includes training professors to be available at odd hours and tailoring programs to fit regional industry needs. The National Center for Education Statistics reports that two-thirds of community college students were enrolled in online classes in fall 2017. These credits can potentially be used toward a four-year degree.

By Travis Mitchell and Emma Kerr July 10, 2019,

A great career doesn’t require a four-year degree.

For many people, the first step to their dream job is through the doors of their local community college. An associate degree is the final educational hurdle to clear before getting started in a range of health care, science and technology gigs. Among the U.S News 2017 Best Jobs rankings, these 19 professions offer low unemployment, solid salaries and growth potential without necessitating a four-year degree. (Take note: Some jobs do require licensing, certification or continuing education credits, depending on your employer and state.)


  1. Preschool Teacher

Median Salary: $28,570

Unemployment Rate: 3.4 percent

Expected Job Openings: 29,600

Preschool teachers are trained to teach and care for children from infancy to age 5 – and sometimes older. Requirements to enter this career differ, depending on employer and state standards. Some preschool teachers can start with a high school diploma and coursework in early childhood education, but some employers may prefer further postsecondary schooling and continuing education credits.


  1. Paralegal

Median Salary: $48,810

Unemployment Rate: 2.8 percent

Expected Job Openings: 21,200

These legal workers perform a variety of duties to support lawyers, including organizing files and conducting legal research. Paralegals typically have an associate degree in paralegal studies from a community college although some employers may prefer a bachelor’s degree.


  1. Environmental Science and Protection Technician

Median Salary: $43,030

Unemployment Rate: 3.1 percent

Expected Job Openings: 3,400

These experts monitor the environment, including investigating and preventing pollution and contamination. Some environmental science and protection technicians can get started in the field with an associate degree in environmental health, environmental science, public health or a related course of study. Some jobs may require a bachelor’s degree.


  1. Environmental Engineering Technician

Median Salary: $48,650

Unemployment Rate: 3.6 percent

Expected Job Openings: 1,900

These experts help carry out the plans that environmental engineers have developed. Their duties may include testing and operating equipment, collecting samples and other work. An associate degree in applied engineering technology, environmental engineering technology or a related field is typically required to become an environmental engineering technician.


  1. Medical Equipment Repairer

Median Salary: $46,340

Unemployment Rate: 4.3 percent

Expected Job Openings: 2,900

Medical equipment repairers set up, maintain and fix medical equipment, such as CAT scanners and MRI machines. To get started in the field, aspiring medical equipment repairers may earn an associate degree in biomedical technology or engineering.


  1. Radiologic Technologist

Median Salary: $56,670

Unemployment Rate: 1.4 percent

Expected Job Openings: 17,200

These health care workers are trained to perform medical imaging exams and administer radiation therapy treatments to diagnose and treat medical conditions. Many get started by earning an associate degree, certification and state-specific licensing.


  1. Nuclear Medicine Technologist

Median Salary: $73,360

Unemployment Rate: 1.4 percent

Expected Job Openings: 300

Nuclear medicine technologists have mastered a process that involves injecting small amounts of radioactive material into patients to diagnose certain diseases and illnesses. These workers typically need to earn an associate degree from an accredited nuclear medicine technology program and may need certification and a license, depending on the employer and state.


  1. Veterinary Technician

Median Salary: $31,800

Unemployment Rate: 1.8 percent

Expected Job Openings: 17,900

These animal aficionados work under the direction of a licensed veterinarian, handling lab work, assisting with surgeries and tackling other tasks related to animal health care. Veterinary technicians typically need to complete a two-year associate degree and may need to pass various credentialing and licensing hurdles, depending on the state.


  1. MRI Technologist

Median Salary: $67,720

Unemployment Rate: 1.4 percent

Expected Job Openings: 3,500

MRI technologists operate machines that use magnetic fields and radio waves to take images of patients’ organs and other internal parts. Most MRI technologists earn an associate degree in radiologic technology.


  1. Computer Support Specialist

Median Salary: $62,250

Unemployment Rate: 3.7 percent

Expected Job Openings: 88,800

These specialists come to the rescue to diagnose and troubleshoot computer problems. Educational requirements vary, depending on the employer and job specifics, but an associate degree in a computer-related field is a competitive starting point.


  1. Clinical Laboratory Technician

Median Salary: $38,970

Unemployment Rate: 1.9 percent

Expected Job Openings: 29,000

Working under the supervision of technologists, clinical laboratory technicians analyze lab work and perform other behind-the-scenes tasks. Technicians typically earn an associate degree in clinical laboratory science.


  1. Radiation Therapist

Median Salary: $80,220

Unemployment Rate: 1.7 percent

Expected Job Openings: 2,300

These medical professionals may need a 12-month certificate or associate degree to get started in radiation therapy, which involves the use of radiation to treat cancer.


  1. Cardiovascular Technologist

Median Salary: $54,880

Unemployment Rate: 1.4 percent

Expected Job Openings: 11,500

Cardiovascular technologists conduct tests on patients to help diagnose heart-related conditions. One pathway to a job as a cardiovascular technologist is through an associate degree in cardiovascular technology.


  1. Physical Therapist Assistant

Median Salary: $55,170

Unemployment Rate: 4 percent

Expected Job Openings: 31,900

PTAs work with physical therapists to help patients regain movement and mobility after an injury or illness. To enter the field, physical therapist assistants need an associate degree from an accredited program, plus licensing or certification.


  1. Respiratory Therapist

Median Salary: $57,790

Unemployment Rate: 0.6 percent

Expected Job Openings: 14,900

These medical professionals provide care and treatment for patients with heart and lung problems, including those with asthma, chronic bronchitis and sleep apnea. An associate degree is typically necessary for entry into the field while licensing and certification requirements vary by state and specialization.


  1. Dental Hygienist

Median Salary: $72,330

Unemployment Rate: 1.2 percent

Expected Job Openings: 37,400

Dental hygienists typically work in dental offices, cleaning teeth and educating patients on how to brush and floss properly. These dental professionals typically have earned an associate degree in dental hygiene.


  1. Web Developer

Median Salary: $64,970

Unemployment Rate: 3.6 percent

Expected Job Openings: 39,500

Web developers build websites, working with software applications or writing code to finish the job. Employers may prefer candidates who’ve earned an associate degree in web design.


  1. Diagnostic Medical Sonographer

Median Salary: $68,970

Unemployment Rate: 0.4 percent

Expected Job Openings: 16,000

These health care specialists use sonography equipment to capture images for a number of medical purposes, from finding out the gender of a baby to imaging tumors. Associate degrees in sonography are available to aspiring diagnostic medical sonographers.


  1. Occupational Therapy Assistant

Median Salary: $57,870

Unemployment Rate: 0.6 percent

Expected Job Openings: 14,100

OTAs specialize in working with occupational therapists to help patients relearn daily tasks after an injury or illness. These professionals need an associate degree and will need to meet any certification and licensing requirements required by the state and employer.


If you’re being recruited as an athlete, you are most likely going through NCAA Clearinghouse. You will still have to take the SAT or ACT, if your college requires it, but your scores don’t have to be as high as non-recruited students.

Your SAT and ACT scores are compared on a sliding scale with your grade point average (GPA). So if your GPA is on the higher side, you can get by with lower test scores. If it’s low, then you have to score higher on the SAT or ACT to make up for it.

Click here to read about all the NCAA requirements, what SAT scores you need, and how to achieve them. This article is for you if you’re a student athlete planning on taking the ACT.

Your score requirements may also be less stringent if you’re applying with a special talent.

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