June 19, 2024

Your Money: Bargains on the First 4 Semesters

He ended up graduating in 1981 from the University of Puget Sound, a private college in Tacoma, Wash. “Nobody ever asked where I went the first two years, and I don’t think anybody cares,” he said. “And I bet I saved myself $30,000.”

When it came time for his son Bret to start college, Bret decided to take the same path, choosing smaller classes, a more flexible schedule and a price that was a fraction of what he might have paid in Washington’s state university system.

He is hardly the only one. A few weeks ago, in a “Your Money” special section of the newspaper, I wrote about Mino Caulton, a high school senior in Shutesbury, Mass., who was weighing the virtues of a community college versus a more prestigious private university that would have required him to take out lots of student loans.

Advice for Mr. Caulton poured in on our Bucks blog, and it became clear that there were few centralized resources for families who had made a strategic financial decision to attend community college first as a cost-saving measure.

Merely deciding to attend community college does not guarantee that you will save money. If the goal is to earn a bachelor’s degree in four years, anything that goes wrong along the way, like taking the wrong classes or getting a bad grade in a required class, means extra semesters and extra expenses.

So what follows are a list of six of the most important things you need to think about if you’re trying to save money in this way. Please add your tips to our discussion on Bucks over the weekend.

A CULTURE OF TRANSFERRING First, pick the right community college.

“The first thing you have to assess is whether or not the community college has a transfer-going culture,” said Stephen Handel, who is executive director of community college initiatives for the College Board and began his undergraduate education at one himself.

Call or visit the advising office of community colleges you’re considering and ask what percentage of students who complete an associate’s degree transfer to a four-year university. Also, which universities do they end up going to and in what numbers?

Then, call the admissions staff at your target transfer university and ask them how many transfer students they take each year. Which community colleges send them the most students? What tends to get in the way of them gaining admission and then succeeding?

Pretty quickly, you’ll start hearing horror stories of students who took the wrong classes at community college and couldn’t get into a four-year university or ended up having to spend three or more years at the university making up credits.

Thankfully, a number of state universities and community colleges have made it easier to figure out all the rules ahead of time. The American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers has put together a state-by-state guide on its Web site, at bit.ly/h8ebPk.

Keep two crucial questions in mind here. Which credits will count toward the general education or distribution requirements at your four-year college or university? And if you have a target major, which community college classes could you take that would count toward that as well?

AN EARLY START Budget cuts are posing enormous challenges for higher education systems just as more people are trying to return to retrain and retool.

The resulting enrollment bottleneck has hit many community colleges especially hard. So if you’re going to get into the classes you need and get out in two years or less, you need to be first in line come registration time. Don’t wait until a few weeks ahead to sign up.

Peter Reagan, a 19-year-old student at Santa Monica College, a community college in Santa Monica, Calif., hopes to be eligible for enrolling in a University of California campus this fall after just over a year at Santa Monica.

But it wasn’t easy to pile up the credits he needed. Many of the classes he had hoped to take were closed to online enrollment by the time he logged on.

So he scrambled. “During the first two weeks of classes, I was going to different ones all day every day trying to add the ones I needed, taking whatever I could get,” he said.

“I’d heard that inevitably, even if you don’t get in on the first day, the worst-case scenario is that you keep showing up and hope that somebody drops the class,” he said. “That happens in every class. But I didn’t have to do that. I got rejected from a lot of classes, but I also got into enough of the ones that I needed.”

This approach requires flexibility, which will complicate matters for people who also need to work. Try to find a job ahead of time that has at least a little bit of flexibility.

SPECIALIZED ADVICE Most community colleges will have at least one adviser who knows how to work the transfer system. Your task is to hunt down those people before you enroll and pick your classes.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=111c08ce69c620e75cb1c6b190dc5949

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