Whether you are taking the next step on the academic ladder or need additional education for a career change or promotion, community colleges provide an opportunity to achieve both types of goals. With their varied programs and proximity to home and work, these schools are highly affordable and widely effective options.
The key to success is to identify which program or programs interest you, what schools offer which programs, and what is necessary to apply for admission to each program.
One key is to set a career goal or a direction for your future. A certificate or a degree in a certain area of study does not however guarantee you a job once you graduate. It will give you exposure, education, access to industry contacts, and an overall understanding of the direction you have chosen. Many admissions brochures paint highly optimistic portrayals for each course of study and the path to success. More important is that before you apply, you should know what’s involved with studying in a program and then working in a given field.
If a given area or career interests you, consider both informational interviews and job shadowing before you enroll. Informational interviews are a one on one meeting either with someone currently employed in the area or their supervisor and traditionally held at their offices. This is an excellent opportunity to learn more about the field while hearing someone’s real-life experiences. This is also the chance to ask questions and receive valuable feedback on your career choice. Job shadowing is where you literally follow someone already employed in the field in a given position for a day. You will watch them while at work during a typical shift. This will give you exposure to their work environment, the pace of the job, and the actual situations that can come up during the business day.
Once you’ve chosen your career path, research the colleges and programs available in your area. Traditionally community colleges offer both courses in broadly desired fields, including nursing arts and medical technicians, information technology, and general business. Many community colleges offer special programs and certificates unique for their campus and region. Fields for specialty learning include audio and video production, culinary arts and restaurant services, automotive technologies, industrial manufacturing, and robotics. These and many more are prime examples of the specialized programs which community colleges can offer.
Community colleges tend to be far less rigid about application times than larger educational institutions. With year-round application reviews, many community colleges simply require you to register at some point before your class begins, though other schools may require you to register 30 days or more before the class starts. Most community colleges operate on fall, spring, and summer start dates for semesters, so it’s worth checking in advance with the college you’re interested in attending so that you don’t miss the enrollment window. Some may be on a quarterly system, while most others are on the semester calendar. This is similar to four-year colleges.
Factors That Affect Your Enrollment
While you generally have a lot of freedom in enrollment at a community college, you should keep some of the following factors in mind.
Financial Aid Deadlines
Many community colleges require you to file for financial aid by a particular date. This applies to both the financial aid offered by the college, as well as to aid offered federally through FAFSA. Different states also have individual deadlines of application, and the federal cut-off deadline is typically in late June for starting during the Fall Semester. If you haven’t applied for financial aid and registered for your classes by that date, you could find yourself ineligible for the money you need and will have to make other payment arrangements for your classes including borrowing the money or taking out loans. It is important that you research the requirements of your state and apply well in advance.
While most community colleges have open enrollment, most also require scores from placement exams for registration in order to put you in the appropriate college-level course. This is to ensure that you have the skills and ability to complete classes on a college level. If you have completed such exams, having the scores available when you apply can help ensure you’re able to attend your community college at the time that works best for you. You may also have to take placement exams administered by the school as part of your orientation process.
Securing A Spot in a Course
Even if you can wait up until the last moment to register, you probably shouldn’t wait one minute longer than you can. Keep in mind that demand drives enrollment and that many community college courses will fill up quickly. Others may be canceled if a certain minimum number of students haven’t enrolled by a certain date. Waiting until the last minute to register can severely limit your available options and lead to a postponement of required courses or may mean you get stuck enrolling in a course you’re not interested in taking, just because you have the grants and loans to pay for it.
Part of your admissions and registration process is a meeting with your school’s admissions advisor. A good advisor knows both the path to a successful enrollment and will keep you on schedule with the deadlines you will have to make. Working and trusting them is important; they will always have your best interests at heart. Try to review your choices and options early, as soon as the course schedule is published, and register as soon as the classes open.
Understanding the admission process, including when you should apply for community college is a key to a successful academic experience. If you are the first to attend college in your family or circle of friends, knowing how this actually works is important to your future success.