You may be surprised to know that the average tuition fees for undergraduate studies in the USA are around $26,000 per academic year. However, what do not know is that more than 100,000 international students in the USA are paying less than half of the previous tuition. Community Colleges in the USA are an ideal choice for international students on a tight budget.
The American Association of Community Colleges states that there are approximately 1,170 community colleges in the United States. Most of these colleges accept international students’ applications. So what is a community college in the USA and why do a large number of international students choose to study there?
What is a community college in the USA?
Community college in the USA is an independent educational institution smaller than a university in terms of size, number of enrolled students, and faculty staff. USA community colleges accept international students who finished their secondary education and would like to continue their studies in the USA at low tuition fees.
One of the main differences between a community college and a university in the USA is that community college only offers associate degrees, diplomas, and certificates. Therefore, students can not study undergraduate, master’s, or Ph.D. programs at community colleges.
However, once you finish your studies at a USA community college you can transfer to a university to complete your undergraduate studies starting from the third year. So basically, 2 years at a community college + 2 years at a university = 4 years (bachelor’s degree)
What type of degrees does a USA Community College offer?
The most common degrees that a community college in the USA award are two-year associate degrees and certificates.
1. Associate Degree
An associate degree at a US community college is a two-year degree with approximately 60 credit hours. After graduation, a student can either enter the labor market or transfer to a university to complete his undergraduate studies.
There are 3 main types of two-year associate degrees at USA community colleges. Choosing the ideal program depends on your desired field of study.
Associate in Arts (A.A.)
This type of associate degree focuses on preparation for higher levels of academic study. So it’s a good option for students who would like to transfer to a university to complete his undergraduate studies after graduation
International students can choose this degree to study fields such as architecture, arts, interior design, business administration, education, languages, media, psychology, theatre, tourism and hospitality, and other related programs.
Associate in Science (A.S.)
This degree is also chosen by students who would like to transfer to a university later. So it prepares you for higher academic study.
International students can choose this degree to study fields such as biology, chemistry, computer science, engineering sciences, mathematics, and other related programs.
Associate in Applied Science (A.A.S.)
This type of degree is more focused on preparing students for a specific career, focusing on practical vocational skills. So it’s a good option to be ready to enter the labor market after graduation.
However, students with an Associate degree in Applied Science (A.A.S.) can also transfer to a US university to complete their bachelor’s studies.
By choosing this degree you can study programs such as Accounting, Applied Engineering, Automotive Technology, Biomedical Equipment Technology, Information Technology, Criminal Justice, Culinary Arts, Facility Management, Marketing, Fashion, Network Management, Nursing, Photography, Web and Mobile Application Development, and other related programs.
Check: Top 5 Cheapest states to study & live in USA for international students
Certificates are non-degree programs that usually last between one to three semesters in a specific discipline as associate’s degrees. These courses aim to prepare students with the necessary experience to enter the labor market.
However, earning a certificate does not qualify the student to transfer to complete a bachelor’s degree, although some certificates combine to lead to an associate degree.
There are two main types of these non-degree programs:
These programs include a set of short courses that help students to gain experience in a specific field or complete an associate degree in the same field of study.
In order to get admitted to such programs, International students are usually required to complete two semesters of English classes and one semester of mathematics.
Proficiency Certificates focus primarily on preparing enrolled students to get employed in the job market. However, students may choose to transfer to an academic certificate or an associate’s degree in a related field.
Read: 10 best In demand degrees with guaranteed Jobs in USA
5 reasons for international students to choose community colleges in the USA
Community colleges in the USA were primarily established to meet the educational needs of the US national students. The idea was to facilitate their access to nearby educational institutions instead of moving to universities in major cities.
Later on, Community colleges have become popular destinations, not only for US local students but for international students from around the world.
Statistics indicate that more than 100,000 international students are studying at community colleges in the USA. They choose community colleges over universities for many reasons. Here are the top 5:
1. Low tuition fees
Check our previous article about the cost of studying in the USA for international students. You will know that the average yearly tuition fees to study an undergraduate degree in the USA are $26,000. Whereas Master’s and Ph.D. studies might cost you around $20,000 per year.
However, the average cost of studying in US community colleges for international students is $5000 per year. This makes US community colleges an ideal choice for international students on a tight budget.
In addition, since the annual tuition fees for community colleges are low, you need fewer financial resources in your bank account to apply for a US student visa.
Once you are ready to apply for your student visa, you need only $18,000 as evidence of financial support to cover your tuition and living costs during the first year.
2. Getting your undergraduate degree at lower fees
When you apply for a two-year associate degree make sure that this program qualifies you to transfer to complete an undergraduate degree after graduation.
This will help you to complete the first two years of your bachelor’s studies at lower tuition fees. As you will be doing 2 years at a community college + 2 years at a university = 4 years (bachelor’s degree).
Usually, most community colleges in the USA partner with many US universities so that international students have more than one option to transfer after their associate degree completion.
Check: Guide to transferring universities or college to university in the US
3. Easier admission requirements for international students
It’s easy to find US community colleges that accept international students regardless of their academic qualifications.
Most community colleges in the USA have open admission policy. This means that any international student with a high school diploma can attend. In other words, most of these colleges have a 100% acceptance rate.
Community colleges accept low GPAs
You don’t need to worry about your GPA, as most US community colleges accept a 2.0 GPA or even do not require a minimum GPA. Therefore international students with low GPAs will be accepted.
Community colleges do not require IELTS or TOEFL
Many US community colleges accept low scores on accredited English language tests, such as 5 in IELTS or 85 in Duolingo.
However, international students can be accepted in US community colleges without IELTS or TOEFL as long as they take an English preparation course in the same college prior to their studies.
ESL program (English as a Second Language) is a two-semester program that prepares international students to complete their associate’s degree in English.
Check: Universities admissions in the USA without IELTS or TOEFL
4. Flexible application dates
Most community colleges accept applications during three periods of the academic year.
The application deadlines for the fall, winter, and summer semesters are in July, November, and April, respectively.
5. Smaller classes and supportive environment
A community college is smaller than a university, therefore, the total number of students at a community college usually may not exceed 4,000. Also, there would be around 50 students or less in one classroom.
This helps international students to integrate faster and makes it easier for them to communicate directly with professors. Therefore, each student can get more individual attention.
How to find the best community college in the USA
In order to find the best US community college you should consider the following points:
1. Community College Acceptance Rate for International Students
It’s very important to choose a community college that has a good supportive environment for international students. Try to look for colleges with a large international student community.
Your lifestyle outside college hours is a very unique part of your experience. Therefore, make sure that the college location is suitable for your lifestyle, whether it’s in a vibrant city, by the beach, or in a rural area.
Unlike universities, most community colleges in the USA do not offer accommodation for their students. So you have limited options if you prefer on-campus accommodation. Otherwise, you will have to share off-campus housing with other students or live on your own.
4. Partnerships with good US universities
If you plan to transfer to complete your undergraduate studies after your associate degree completion, it’s essential to choose a community college that has agreements and partnerships with accredited well-known US universities.
5. Community college size
Larger community colleges offer more variety of programs, therefore more options for you.
Read: Becoming a doctor in the US: How long is medical school in the US?
Student visa to study in US community colleges
The US community college will send you your I-20 form, once you get accepted. With your I-20 document, you will be ready to apply for your F1 student visa if you comply with all requirements.
International students need to prove at least $18,000 as evidence of financial support to cover their tuition and living costs during the first year. Also, they need to pay the SEVIS fee and be interviewed at the US embassy in their country.
For more information check: How to Prepare for US Student Visa (F1) Interview Like a Pro?
Can international students work while studying at a US community college?
As long as you hold an F1 student visa, you will be eligible to work part-time on-campus (up to 20 hours per week). However, there are restrictions on working off-campus. Students can work off-campus after completing their first academic year through Optional Practical Training (OPT) or Curricular Practical Training (CPT).
If you don’t work off-campus through Optional Practical Training (OPT) during your studies at a community college, you will be allowed to work for one year after graduation through the same program
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