Community colleges are commonplace in America, offering students the opportunity for a vocational course or the first half of an undergraduate degree, coupled with a transfer to one of the many prestigious universities that the United States has to offer.
Working with San José City College, a highly regarded community college located in the buzzing Silicon Valley of California, we will take a look at what a community college is, how it differs to other types of college and the many benefits of attending a community college.
What is a Community College?
In the United States, community colleges are often also known as junior colleges, technical colleges or city colleges. They are primarily two-year institutions which offer an education for students wishing to earn a vocational degree or transfer to a four-year university.
The term ‘community college’ can mean something slightly different in Australia, in which it refers to small private businesses running short self-improvement courses, and the United Kingdom, where a community college is a school that also provides additional services for the local community.
American community colleges such as San José City College (SJCC) remain very popular, both for domestic and international students, primarily operating as institutions that can aid students hoping to achieve a full bachelor’s degree, by offering the first two years of the course, then supporting students after graduation, whether that be to a full university or even directly into a career.
For international students, this can be particularly valuable as the two years spent at a community college that forms half of a full American undergraduate degree can allow a student to become more acclimatised to the language, the culture and the people of America, in a more localised, community environment before moving onto a university, which often already expect a level of cultural understanding that an international student may not have immediate access to.
And that is an element that community and city colleges pride themselves on: their communities. While universities make efforts to integrate their students (who will often come from a wide variety of places) with the local community and with one another, it is often the responsibility of the individual student to join clubs and societies, to go out and integrate with people and to feel like they belong in a place they may have never been before.
Not so with community colleges because, as the name suggests, a lot of their students will have joined the college from local areas, meaning an already established identity that can often be a lot easier to become integrated with and understand, resulting in a far greater chance of coming to understand the wider culture in general. As well as that, community colleges will often be supported by local government and businesses, giving the college an even more established overall friendliness and camaraderie feel.
But do not mistake the community nature of community colleges for something small or inconsequential. Despite their more localised nature, community colleges exist even in some of the United States’ largest cities. SJCC, for example, is located in San José, the largest city in Northern California and third in the entire state, only behind Los Angeles and San Diego.
It is the economic, cultural and political centre of Silicon Valley, home to some of the world’s largest businesses like Apple, eBay, Facebook, Intel and Google. So do not feel then, that by attending a community college you are preventing yourself from gaining access to valuable internships or work experience opportunities. Nor will you avoid the more general benefits of living in a busy cosmopolitan city- the wide variety of food, modern housing, good transport links and innumerable chances to experience living, breathing culture.
San Francisco is a short car journey away, as is Napa Valley. If you have a spare weekend or week off, there are many majestic Californian and Nevadan sights to go and visit, including Yosemite National Park, Lake Tahoe, Hollywood, Las Vegas, San Diego and of course, Disneyland.
Who is a Community College for?
Every year, millions of Americans take courses at community colleges, from all range of ethnic backgrounds, social classes and education histories. When it comes to the age of students, students at community colleges are equally diverse. From a recent headcount of students at San José City College, students include those as young as 17 (and sometimes even younger) to those over 40. This creates an enriched multicultural learning environment.
Community college students are also able to obtain a far more cost-effective education when compared to a full four year stay at a university, without sacrificing any of the education quality. With the courses offered making up the first half of a bachelor’s degree, the 60 credits obtained will simply transfer to the awarding, if you so choose, of a full undergraduate degree. This strong academic preparation is available in a multitude of fields for students to transfer to any one of the many prestigious universities in the United States to earn a full four-year degree.
While students are free to transfer their credits to an accepting university of their choosing, community colleges will often have close relationships with nearby education institutions that guarantee a smooth transition- you may not even have to move house!
At San José City College, for example, students can take advantage of guaranteed transfer admissions to many California State Universities and the University of California campuses. After graduating from SJCC, these universities will not require the SAT, ACT, or TOEFL exam scores from students transferring from SJCC. SJCC students have transferred to prominent universities including UC Berkeley, UC Los Angeles, Stanford, USC, San José State, and San Francisco State.
SJCC’s current tuition is around $7000 USD for the academic year. This includes access to the college’s Student Health Services as well as free public transportation in the area such as light rail and bus. To put that in perspective, SJCC students pay about half the tuition needed to study at California State University and around five times less than the annual tuition at the University of California or other private universities.
The Benefits of Community Colleges
Whereas universities typically only carry ‘academic’ courses that don’t necessarily funnel one into a specific role (there are both positives and negatives for this), community colleges offer both academic courses, for those who especially want to go on to complete their bachelor’s degree at a university, but also vocational courses for those who wish to graduate and enter the job market directly.
At SJCC, students can choose from over 50 majors with Business, Education, Technology, Health Science, Media Arts and University Transfer as the most popular. Being a STEM-focused college, students with strengths in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics areas also have a good chance of working as tutors or lab assistants on campus- excellent additions to a resume, as well as good experience generally.
Some of the more unique offerings include Air Conditioning & Refrigeration, Cosmetology, Kinesiology, Real Estate and Solar Systems. Then there are the more typical topics, like English, Mathematics, Theatre, History, Economics and so on. So there are options at community colleges for everyone- even more choice than many universities, even.
Class sizes are often small too, giving each student more one-on-one time with their professor. At SJCC, class sizes are generally around 20 students to a class. This makes the time spent at SJCC incredibly valuable as the smaller the class size is; the better chance you have of graduating. Some universities, for example, may have as many as 300 or more students in a class and professors may often hand classes over to a teaching assistant or even another Masters or doctoral student.
Professors at university are also often more dedicated to their research duties, whereas at a community college, a professor’s primary concern will be the teaching of students. Therefore, students can receive more help in achieving their goals, work more closely with their chosen expert and can get more support over the course of their studies.
Community colleges are also excellent options for athletes- talented players who do not reach the academic or athletic standards of a major American university can establish themselves at a community college, both their academic record and incubating their physical abilities. SJCC has nine athletic teams: Men and Women’s Cross Country; Men and Women’s Basketball; Football; Golf; Men and Women’s Track and Field; Softball and Volleyball.
Perhaps the greatest benefit of attending a community college, especially when considered alongside all of the academic benefits, is just the sheer financial value of such a course. After graduating from a community college, one can find themselves a very respectable job and income in far less time, with far less tuition, student loans and lost earnings while maintaining the option of upgrading to a bachelor’s degree at a later date.
Students at community colleges will often have the opportunity to work while they study too. On-campus employment opportunities are frequently available, during which real life work environments can form strong parts of a course.
At SJCC, the distinguished faculty, comprehensive curriculum, small class size of about 20 students, excellent personalized support services, and campus life make it an ideal study environment for students. San José City College strives to maintain modern facilities filled with the latest technology.
Students are also eligible to apply for scholarships after their first year at the college.
SJCC is eager to maintain a strong network for international students, to help them feel welcome, safe and integrated. Student clubs, sports and activities are regularly offered to establish connection with international students.
Other services include student orientations, workshops, academic counselling, immigration advising, learning resources, language support, tutoring, cutting-edge computer labs and many more. From the time students apply to the time they graduate, ongoing personalized support is available in the International Student Program office.
When it comes to housing international students, San José City College works with the International Student Placements Program www.isphomestays.com to provide students the opportunity to live with host families.
For more information about San José City College, please visit www.sjcc.edu or email [email protected]. There is no fee to apply to the college or even just to enquire. San José City College looks forward to welcoming international students to the San José area!