How Hard is Community College: The Ultimate Guide

There are almost 6,000 institutions for higher education in the US. Of those, according to the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), more than 1,100 are associate degree-granting community colleges. And now, you may be wondering if it’s easier to attend a community college than a university.

It is easier to get accepted into most community colleges than universities. That’s because of their open-admissions policy. However, general education courses at community colleges, which are necessary for earning a bachelor’s degree, are just as hard as general education courses at universities.

According to a survey, 59% of high school students expect to attend a four-year institution. On the other hand, 12% expect to go to a two-year college. The rest are not sure or have other plans after high school.

Read on if you are considering applying to a community college because you heard it’s easier than a university.

Below, you will come across just about everything you need to know about earning an associate degree from a community college — from how easy it is to gain admission into a community college to having a favorable academic record, which is vital for transferring to a university to get a bachelor’s degree or applying for a job.

Are Community Colleges and Junior Colleges the Same?

Community colleges and junior colleges are the same. In the past, community colleges were referred to as junior colleges due to the reason why they were founded. These days, however, fewer people today refer to community colleges as junior colleges. Many still refer to them as two-year colleges.

The very first community college in the US is called Joliet Junior College.

Because of its name, other community colleges established after the founding of Joliet Junior College, which happened in 1901, were referred to as junior colleges.

The first-ever community college came into being when the then principal of Joliet Township High School, J. Stanley Brown introduced college-level courses into the curriculum.

However, it was the University of Chicago that first separated college into a junior college and a senior college. This took place in 1892, which was also the same year when the associate’s degree was introduced.

The separation of the University of Chicago into two divisions was based on the idea that the first two years of college are not necessarily a part of university-level education, given that they focused more on general education courses.

Also pointed out was the fact that the character of the teaching was identical during the freshman and sophomore years of college.

Community colleges these days still offer general education courses that provide background and core skills students can use later in their chosen majors or careers. However, calling them junior colleges is no longer popular.

Related Article: Is C+ Enough for College?

Are Community Colleges and Vocational Schools the Same?

While they may look the same, community colleges and vocational schools are different types of institutions. Community colleges focus on general education courses toward associate degrees and certificates, too. On the other hand, vocational schools focus on preparing students for specific careers.

Some people refer to community colleges as junior colleges, and that’s alright. Some people refer to vocational schools as technical schools or career schools, and that’s fine, too.

However, it’s wrong to think that community colleges and vocational schools are the same because they’re not!

Are you one of those who believe that a community college is just a fancier name for a vocational school?

Then you may not be completely happy with your experience if you happen to attend one when you should be going to the other instead. Needless to say, it’s a must to know the key differences between the two.

Here are some common points of comparison that can help you tell apart a community college from a vocational school so that you may apply to the right institution after high school:


The courses at a community college are general education, the kinds taught at universities during the freshman and sophomore years.

On the other hand, the courses at a technical school are career-specific, the kinds you will need to gear up for a particular occupation after getting your hands on your diploma or certificate.

Keep in mind that some programs at certain vocational schools may also include a few general education courses. Some typical examples include English, math and history.


Students who go to community colleges earn an associate degree. The degree they obtain, usually after two years, can be used for applying for a job or attending a four-year institution to earn a bachelor’s degree.

On the other hand, students who attend vocational schools earn diplomas or certificates necessary for applying to certain jobs, particularly the ones they had in their minds before enrolling at vocational schools. Some vocational schools also grant associate degrees, just like community colleges, but they are rare.

Here are some common programs at vocational schools:

  • Carpentry
  • Cosmetology
  • Electrical installation and maintenance
  • Floral design
  • Hotel and restaurant management
  • Locksmithing
  • Medical transcription
  • Motorcycle and automotive repair
  • Plumbing
  • Welding


Nearly all community colleges have an open-admissions policy, which means that almost anyone who applies to them gets accepted.

This is especially true if a high school diploma or an equivalent, such as a GED certificate, is present. Proof of residency is an application requirement, too, but you can attend an out-of-state community college.

When applying to vocational schools, students should also meet the minimum requirements, such as a high school diploma or a GED certificate. Generally speaking, gaining admission into a community college or vocational school is easy.


The average tuition at a community college amounts to $3,400. Just like a public university, tuition is higher for an out-of-state student, usually costing around $8,120.

Per academic year at a community college, expect to pay a total of $10,300. Some students going to community colleges are eligible for the same type of financial aid at universities.

Some vocational schools are private, while others are public. It’s because of this why tuition can vary tremendously from one vocational school to the other.

The cost of earning a diploma from a vocational school can cost around $33,000. Completing a certificate program from a vocational school costs less.

Related Article: Do You Need SAT to Transfer From Community College?

Is Getting Accepted Into a Community College Hard?

The majority of community colleges have an open-admissions policy, which means they accept anyone who meets the minimum requirements. However, at most community colleges, admits have to take placement tests, which have no failing grades. Some universities have an open-admissions policy, too.

Some students are wary of applying to universities. This is especially true for competitive and selective ones that require applicants to meet minimum GPAs, college-level course grades and standardized test scores.

When it comes to admissions, community colleges are less selective than a lot of universities. This has something to do with the fact that many of them follow an open-admissions policy.

Also sometimes called an open enrollment policy, this means that the only requirement for applicants to be accepted is that they have a high school diploma or a GED certificate.

However, it doesn’t mean that you will surely get accepted because you meet the minimum requirements.

For the academic year 2021 to 2022, the average acceptance rate at community colleges in the US is 79% only. The acceptance rate at public community colleges averages at 85%. On the other hand, at private community colleges, the average acceptance rate is only 79%.

Related Article: Four Reasons Why Community College Can Deny You

Before anything else, it’s important to note that the acceptance rate at some community colleges is 100%.

At other community colleges, some applicants may not be accepted due to a variety of reasons:

High enrollment rate

The tuition at community colleges is usually cheaper by thousands of dollars than the tuition at public and private four-year institutions.

It’s because of this why many students, especially those who cannot afford the steep cost of earning a bachelor’s degree, apply to community colleges.

However, just like universities, community colleges can only admit so many students due to limited resources such as teachers and classrooms. If there are no more slots available, community colleges turn down applicants.

Failure to meet requirements

As mentioned earlier, it’s easier to gain admission into community colleges than universities because, most of the time, it’s enough for applicants to have a high school diploma or a GED certificate to get admitted.

So, in other words, if you don’t have any of the two, it’s unlikely for you to get accepted.

Keep in mind that there are some community colleges where you don’t have to have a high school diploma or a GED certificate.

In some instances, it’s enough that you are at least 18 years of age. These community colleges usually require applicants to take placement tests, which do not have failing grades, to know which programs are best for them.


Are you enrolled at a private university, and transferring to a community college is your only option due to some unforeseen budgetary issues?

Then you may need to have a certain GPA to gain admission into a community college.

Having a college GPA that’s lower than 2.0, for instance, may keep you from receiving an acceptance letter from a community college.

Similarly, if you fail to meet a satisfactory GPA while attending a community college, you may be asked to leave. Needless to say, as a transfer student, your GPA is a major role player.

Disciplinary action

Some students who behave badly at four-year institutions think that they can easily transfer to community colleges.

It’s important to note that schools tend to share information with one another. If a community college learns that an applicant is a constant source of headache at his or her current school, he or she might get rejected.

Similarly, a community college may not accept a student who is currently under probation or suspended at another institution.

Can You Fail Community College Classes?

It’s possible for students enrolled at community colleges to fail. This is especially true if they fail to devote enough time and effort for their studies. However, due to the smaller student-to-faculty ratio at community colleges, students may find it easier to pass their courses and get good GPAs.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the national average student-to-faculty ratio at US colleges and universities is 18:1.

As a general rule, the smaller the ratio, the better.

It’s not uncommon for large four-year institutions to hold classes in lecture halls and auditoriums, especially for introductory courses. The goal is to accommodate all students, which can amount to 300 or sometimes more.

On the other hand, community college classes are so much smaller, usually consisting of 25 to 35 students.

Due to this, the student-to-faculty ratio at community colleges is typically smaller.

There are many perks that come with a small student-to-faculty ratio. Leading the list is the fact that the professors can spend enough time with every one of their students. As a matter of fact, it’s not unlikely for community college professors to know the name of their students, which professors at large universities may find impossible to do.

Because you can approach a professor at a community college if you have a pressing question or difficulty grasping a lesson or topic, it’s less likely for you to fail a community college class.

Just in case you are unhappy with your college GPA and fear that it can considerably limit your academic or career opportunities after graduation, many community colleges offer what’s called a Fresh Start Policy.

It also comes in other names, such as Fresh Start Program, Academic Forgiveness Policy and Academic Fresh Start.

Simply put, the Fresh Start Policy allows students with a poor academic record and who have not attended college for a few years (usually, two or more consecutive years, depending on the community college’s policy) to have a fresh start.

And it’s by having the opportunity to refresh their GPA and thus have a more satisfactory academic record.

The following are some community colleges in the US that offer the Fresh Start Policy:

  • Aims Community College
  • Bunker Hill Community College
  • Cape Cod Community College
  • Delaware Technical Community College
  • Eastern Iowa Community College
  • Elgin Community College
  • Holyoke Community College
  • Kellogg Community College
  • Middlesex Community College
  • Niagara Community College
  • North Shore Community College
  • Pikes Peak Community College
  • Portland Community College
  • Roane State Community College
  • Rochester Community and Technical College
  • Sinclair Community College
  • Southwest Tennessee Community College
  • SUNY Dutchess (Dutchess Community College)
  • Tacoma Community College
  • Trinity Valley Community College

Please note that it’s not just a lot of community colleges that offer a Fresh Start Policy. Some state colleges and public and private universities in the nation offer it, too.

Are There Online Community Colleges?

Community colleges have long made secondary education more accessible to a lot of students. These days, many of them also offer online certificate and degree programs, through hybrid classes or fully via the web. Online community colleges are especially suited for non-traditional college students.

It’s true that community colleges make it easier to earn an associate degree, which can be used for applying for jobs or completing a bachelor’s degree.

Despite this, some students may still find it difficult to attend traditional classes. This is true for adults who have jobs, either full-time or part-time, are already retired, or busy raising their respective families.

They are referred to as non-traditional students. Luckily, there are many private colleges and universities that offer online associate degree programs.

Related Article: Is Online or Traditional College Harder and Why

While generally cheaper than a traditional degree, some online degrees are still too costly for other students.

It’s a good thing that many community colleges of today also offer online programs. The cost per credit amounts to around $100 — it can be slightly lower or higher, depending on factors such as the community college offering it, online associate degree program, or whether you are an in-state or out-of-state student.

Some community colleges with online degrees offer purely online classes. So, in other words, all classes, which can be either synchronous (all students go online at the same time) or asynchronous (students can finish their coursework without the need to attend real-time online classes), take place via the internet only.

On the other hand, some community colleges have hybrid classes. This means that an associate degree can be completed by attending virtual classes at certain times and going to traditional classes at other times.

The following are some community colleges that offer online certificate and associate degree programs:

  • Aims Community College
  • Alexandria Technical & Community College
  • Barstow Community College
  • Bucks County Community College
  • Cayuga Community College
  • Cincinnati State Technical and Community College
  • Clovis Community College
  • Copiah-Lincoln Community College
  • Cowley County Community College
  • Frontier Community College
  • Hillsborough Community College
  • Hudson Valley Community College
  • Kirtland Community College
  • Lewis and Clark Community College
  • Marshalltown Community College
  • Pamlico Community College
  • Pima Community College
  • Richmond Community College
  • Sinclair Community College
  • Snead State Community College
  • Southwest Mississippi Community College
  • Southwest Virginia Community CollegeSouthwestern Community College
  • Sussex County Community College
  • Washtenaw Community College

Just Before You Attend a Community College

Refrain from assuming that earning a degree from a community college is easier than getting a degree from a university because the admissions process is simpler.

If you fail to study well, it’s not unlikely for you to get a low GPA or even a failing mark. However, because of a low student-to-faculty ratio and a Fresh Start Policy, if available, it’s not just an associate degree that you may get but also a favorable academic record, which is vital for completing a bachelor’s degree or applying for a job.

Non-traditional students who cannot attend physical classes and afford the steep cost of online programs offered by private colleges and universities may go for online degrees offered by many community colleges these days.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the College Reality Check.

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