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What Are Junior Colleges And Why Do Some Students Go There First?

what are junior colleges

Whenever I go to my grandma’s house, I hear her use words that are old-fashioned (yet adorable!) such as icebox instead of fridge, or neat instead of cool. When someone uses the term junior college instead of community college, I’m reminded of my grandma – using a word that is technically correct, but out of fashion.

So, what are junior colleges, and why do some students attend them over universities? I’ll answer that question in full below and explain why a junior college might be the right fit for some students.

What Are Junior Colleges?

A junior college, more commonly known as a community college (or CC), is an educational institution that provides courses of study in technical trades as well as areas of study more traditionally associated with universities (social sciences, life sciences, and so on).

Junior college students can obtain certificates and even graduate with a formal degree, called an Associate’s (AA or AS). Courses of study usually range from 1 to 3 years, and there is greater flexibility than at university- you can take one course without getting penalized for not having a full course load. 

Junior colleges attract a diverse range of people due to the following reasons:

  • Classes are affordable
  • Students get the opportunity to learn practicable skills (often with expensive equipment under proper instruction)
  • Professors are there because they love to teach


Students range from budget-conscious students looking to shave off a couple of years of university tuition to high schoolers trying to add a few college-level courses to their applications. There are also lots of people making career and life transitions, for example, the high-power real estate agent who sat next to me in a sociology class on a mission to become a nurse instead. 

Advantages Of Junior College

I went to Santa Barbara City College (city college being yet another term for junior college/community college, though not as common), and graduated from UC Berkeley. Someone like me, who transferred from junior college to a university, is called a transfer student.  

I made the decision to attend junior college straight out of high school, despite graduating as salutatorian, for a few reasons. 

  1. I wanted to learn a craft (photography) that I knew wasn’t going to be my career, in a formal environment.
  2. I had a goal of gaining in-state residency and transferring to a university after completing foundational coursework at community college. This ended up saving me more than $60,000 at UC Berkeley. On top of that, I saved more than $150,000 if I had gone to a private institution.
  3. I wasn’t 100% sure what major I wanted to get a B.A. in, and junior college was a risk-averse way for me to explore my interests and gauge what I wanted to do.


Should I Go To A Junior College First?

Not sure if you should go to junior college or university? Consider the following questions:

  • What do I want to learn? 
  • Where do I hope to be in 1, 2, or 4 years?
  • What am I reasonably able to afford for my education?


Depending on your answers, community college may be a good choice for you. If you aren’t confident in your town’s community college, I recommend searching Top 20 Community Colleges in your state or country, and consider moving. That advice is practicable both for transfer students and folks looking to specialize in a trade. 

Sometimes, I hear the stereotype that going to community college means that someone is playing it safe, that someone is staying home and not applying themselves to their full potential. That’s not my experience at all.

Going to community college is a great choice for people who want to learn a trade, explore many interests before doubling down, or stay financially healthy through their educational journey. Could it be a great choice for you? 

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