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What's a junior college?

Published March 20, 2024| minute read
Hadiya Iqbal

Senior Associate, JPMorgan Chase

    If you’re scratching your head wondering what a junior college – sometimes called a community college – is, think of it as a step some students take to further their education beyond high school. Those enrolled in a junior college can pursue a two-year degree, pick up specific specialized skills, or use the experience to aim to transfer to a four-year college to continue to further their education.

    Whether you’re aiming to transfer to a bachelor’s degree program or just want to obtain certain skills to enter the workforce, continue reading for more information about junior colleges, including their potential pros and cons.

    What degrees does a junior college offer?

    A junior college typically offers two-year associate degrees, including Associate of Arts (AA), Associate of Science (AS), or Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degrees.

    Often, these degrees require students to take general education classes, like math, science, and language, and they usually require 60 credits and two years to complete. AA and AS degrees are usually considered transfer degrees, which means you can transfer the credits earned to a four-year college to earn a bachelor’s degree if you choose.

    AAS degrees are designed for students who want to enter the workforce immediately after they graduate. Most AAS degree programs require students to choose their specialty early on so they’re well prepared for entry-level career positions in a specific field upon graduation.

    Pros and cons of a junior college

    Like any education decision, some possible pros and cons come with attending a junior college. Weighing the potential pros and cons of attending a junior college may help you make a more informed decision on whether this type of school is a good fit for you.

    Potential pros

    Affordability: Junior colleges often have lower tuition costs than four-year colleges or universities, making these colleges potentially more accessible.

    Flexibility: Many junior colleges offer flexible class schedules, including evening and weekend classes, which can accommodate students who work or have other responsibilities.

    Transfer opportunities: Junior colleges often have transfer agreements with four-year colleges and universities to allow students an easier path to transfer credits and continue their education at a higher level.

    Potential cons

    Limited degree options: Junior colleges may have a more limited range of degree programs compared to four-year colleges, potentially restricting students’ academic and career choices.

    Campus resources: Junior colleges may have fewer resources and facilities compared to larger universities, which could impact the student experience.

    Social environment: Some students may find that junior colleges have a less vibrant social environment than larger colleges with fewer extracurricular activities and a smaller student population.

    Common FAQs about junior colleges

    If you’re a student considering a junior college, here are some potential questions you might find yourself asking about this type of school.

    What are class sizes like at junior colleges?

    Class sizes at junior colleges will vary depending on the specific college, the subject area you pursue, and the course level of the class. If small class sizes are important to you, know that it’s possible to seek out junior colleges offering smaller classes. This may provide you with more personalized attention from instructors, more opportunities for class participation, and a supportive learning environment.

    What are the admission requirements for a junior college?

    Admission requirements for a junior college will vary depending on the specific college and the type of program a student is applying to. Typical admission requirements for a junior college may include the following:

    • A high school diploma or equivalent
    • A completed application
    • An application fee
    • Some junior colleges may require students to provide placement tests in subjects such as math and English to determine appropriate course placement

    Do junior colleges offer online courses?

    Many junior colleges offer online courses to students. Additionally, some junior colleges may offer fully online degree programs, providing students the opportunity to earn their degree or a certificate entirely through online coursework.

    Can I save money by attending a junior college?

    According to the College Board Trends in College Pricing 2023 report, the average tuition for a public community college was $3,990 for the 2023-24 school year. In comparison, the price of attending a public four-year in-state university was $11,260 for the 2023-24 school year.

    As you can see, the sticker tuition price at a junior college is much more affordable than a four-year college, though keep in mind that many students, because of financial aid, don’t end up paying the sticker tuition price to attend school. It’s also important to remember when considering the costs of different types of colleges that you still may have additional costs that come with attending college, such as textbooks, living expenses, and potentially extracurricular costs, to budget for.

    Are there financial aid options for junior college students?

    Students attending a junior or community college are eligible for financial aid opportunities. To receive federal financial aid, such as federal grants and student loans, it’s essential to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®).

    Final thoughts

    Attending a junior college can be an opportunity to get your foot into the door of your college journey and may also help you save money. That said, junior colleges may not be a good fit for everyone. If you’re considering attending a junior college, weigh the potential pros and cons, and make sure a junior college degree will help you reach your overarching educational goals.