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Will a Grad School take you seriously if you start at a community college?


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I'm a high school senior who wants to eventually go to grad school and want to make sure I start off on the right foot. My mum thinks that starting off at a community college would be fine, but I think that they would probably not take me seriously. The reason for the community college is that my family does not have much money and she does not think that grad schools give out full rides. My boyfriends friend says that if you don't get a full ride to grad school that you are doing something wrong. Any advice?

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I'm a high school senior who wants to eventually go to grad school and want to make sure I start off on the right foot. My mum thinks that starting off at a community college would be fine, but I think that they would probably not take me seriously. The reason for the community college is that my family does not have much money and she does not think that grad schools give out full rides. My boyfriends friend says that if you don't get a full ride to grad school that you are doing something wrong. Any advice?

If you go to community college for financial reasons thats perfectly acceptable, although there is still stigma attached to it because some of the people who are there are those who got such terrible grades that they couldn't get accepted into a 4-year college. Just go and get straight A's, transfer to a 4-year college and they may give you some financial aid or scholarships. If you're grades are really stellar right now that might be a possibility right off the bat, maybe apply to some places and give it a shot, don't sell yourself short. If you end up having to go to community college to start it won't make a huge difference once you get to undergraduate. Grad schools do typically give out full ride scholarships, in the form of tuition remission, assistantships and stipends, but that is usually only if you're going for a PhD. My advice would be to check out some 4-year colleges and see if it's possible to get some financial aid or scholarships from them if you can, then wherever you go make sure you get great grades (above a 3.7 or an A- average) and you'll have a good chance of getting support once you get to the grad level. Good luck!

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Many Master's programs look at your last 60 hours. That means knocking out your first 30 hours of basics at a CC for cheaper tuition before transferring to a four-year school is perfectly acceptable.

(edited for clarity)

Edited by dacey
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I don't think it will matter too much. For what its worth, one of my best friends went to community college and now goes to Harvard (for theology). He was home schooled, then to community college, then to a private nice university (where I met him), and now at Harvard. He did go to a nice community college that offered a large variety of classes, with good profs, ect. As long as the community college is good and you do well, I think you will do just fine. Plus you will save a few bucks!

-Nick

I figured I would add, that I was denied at my three "top choices," and also spent time at a community college. But really, my gpa is a 3.7, his was a 4.0, among other reasons I believe I was denied (he really is much smarter than I am).

Edited by wagnern
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This would depend on how many years you spend in a community college and where you go after the CC. In any case, definitely address it in your graduate school application and explain your reasons. Some sentence like, "in spite of my high school success, I decided it would be a prudent financial decision to initial enroll in a community college" would probably be all the explanation they needed. This might be a little cynical, depending on the extent of your financial disadvantage, but tying this decision into a story about pursuing academic excellence in spite of financial difficulties could be an asset to your application.

I hope you do not mind some unsolicited advice: transferring from a community college only saves money if you take classes that your four-year school will count towards your BA or BS. I recommend knowing in advance what four-year school you want to attend (or at least having a very short list of options) and asking that school how many transfer units they will accept, and which courses from your community college will fulfill requirements for your bachelors degree. Otherwise you might end up wasting money and time taking classes that will only earn you elective credit, or will not earn you credit at all. I know a lot of people who have spent an extra year or semester in college because they stayed at community college for two years and then were unable to transfer all of their units into their new degree.

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I started out at a community college, and I just got accepted to my first choice grad school just coming out of my undergrad, so I don't think it's hurt my chances. I think the community college enrollment is more of a factor when you are trying to get into undergraduate institutions than graduate ones. Although be warned, some four year colleges don't transfer credits from community colleges. I didn't consider that enough when I was applying in undergrad and so it took me longer than I expected to graduate.

Sorry above poster reflected my thoughts exactly. Didn't see that there :)

Edited by graddamn
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I included a recommendation from my favorite community college professor with both of my graduate school applications, and I was accepted to each school with competitive aid for master's programs. If you take your time in community college seriously, graduate schools will, too!

I graduated from high school with a 4.0. Then I spent two years in community college, taking aggressive course loads. My last semester was about 25 units, including chemistry -- not my cup of tea! Like you, I already knew I wanted to go to graduate school, so I participated in courses and activities related to my topic of interest in addition to my general education courses, even though many of those extra units would not transfer to a 4-year school. I graduated from community college with a 4.0.

I can't say my journey was without stumbles: Up until the beginning of my sophomore year, I planned to transfer to San José State University (for journalism and graphic design), but then I suddenly decided UC Berkeley was the only school for me (for media studies, American studies and public policy) -- right before applications were due. The CSU and UC systems have a few different transfer requirements and courses, and of course have different major requirements. I ended up taking all of my required transfer courses and major prerequisites for Berkeley in my last semester of community college -- so if admissions accepted me, it would be without knowing how well I did in the courses they cared about most, or if I'd manage to finish them all. I was so happy and relieved that they accepted me anyway!

I successfully transferred to UC Berkeley, and am graduating on-time as a double-major this semester (yay). So, if you plan carefully, you can go to community college, accomplish all you desire and still graduate in a 4-year time frame.

I wrote proudly of my experience in community college in both of my graduate school applications. And community college was a great experience for me. I never said I went there for financial reasons, because that was only a part of the value -- although I do have zero debt from college. Going to community college was an excellent beginning for me: I remained active and relevant in my locality -- where I plan to have my career -- and I made connections with people of different ages, life experiences, professional backgrounds and goals, and not just twenty-something academics.

Community college was relevant in my graduate school applications, because I did a lot of work towards my graduate school ambitions there.

My community college not only served as a great launching pad, it's also been a great support network for me. They awarded me a large transfer scholarship, and my work there helped me secure two other large renewable undergraduate scholarships. Many of my professors there still advise me today. A few of my community college friends transferred to Berkeley as well, so we have a community at Cal, too!

Heck, I include my community college A.A. degree in my e-mail signatures. :P

My advice to you is, make the most of your time anywhere, but only go somewhere you'll be proud of your work. If you go to community college, go the extra mile; challenge yourself inside and outside of your major fields. Think of it as a smorgasbord. Make yourself well-rounded. Take classes and do extracurricular activities related to your future graduate school interest. Build yourself a network of contacts related to your interest. Develop relationships with local scholarship programs, so you can afford to transfer. Try to take as many classes as possible for letter grades, to impress schools with your achievement and transparency. Use community college as your time to shine in a smaller circle. Respect it. Ace it.

In no way does community college rule out graduate school, as long as you excel there and at the 4-year you transfer to.

Good luck!

Edited by Jae B.
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In addition to what has been said: you need to build a great relationship with your professors in the field after you transfer to a 4 years university. Be an outstanding student in the class, be proactive/participate in discussions, visit the professors' office hours to be known (but with good questions). If the professor likes you, s/he may even invite you to grad seminars. Getting supports from your department professors is crucial. People know each other in the academic circles and it goes a long way.

Edited by appliqed
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Also, make sure that you enjoy college and do what you really want to do. I think it is rare to have decided to go to grad school all ready when in high school, and it is incredibly likely that you will change your life plans in the next few years. I don't think schools will care at all if you came from a community college. But they will care if you really truly want to be there, try not to get too far ahead of yourself and just enjoy the ride. If you are meant to be in a PhD program, it will show and you will eventually find your way there.

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  • 3 weeks later...

I'm going to make a point for the other side of the argument, just to balance things out a bit.

I also did 2 years of community college before transferring to a four-year. The biggest downside, at least for the field I am trying to break into (psychology), is that you only have two years to be a research assistant and gain experience that way, something vital for certain grad programs. It took me some time to find three great labs that had openings, so I was really only an RA for 1.5 years about. If I could do it all over, and I knew that I really wanted to get into grad school in psychology in advance (though, like others have said, it is pretty unlikely you will have that foresight just fresh out of high school, although some do) I would skip community college, if it was reasonable financially. So, I don't think grad schools will directly punish you for going to a CC, but, you may have less opportunities for research, which may or may not be important depending on your field. If research is important in your field, joining labs as a 1st or 2nd year will net you more experience and a higher chance at co-authored presentations and papers than entering as a 3rd year might.

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I wouldn't sweat it. College is expensive and there is this illusion that floats around in guidance offices at high schools that "everyone can go where they want, there will be money for you everywhere and it will all work out." Then you 4-5 years later you graduate with tens of thousands of dollars in debt and wonder if you can even financially swing going to graduate school. you are being pragmatic.

Now if you need research experience for your prospective field- most kids don't know the first 2 years of school they want to be involved with that. In fact, I'd think it rather odd that a freshman just started doing research and didn't experience anything else outside of class for extracurriculars. It is going to be what you do with that time. So when you do transfer if you do need that kind of experience find a way to work your way up and make it count. In my experience most professors are really happy and surprised to have competent youngsters eager to get involved with all aspects of research. Tell them up front you know you have to do the basics, but you want to work your way up to whatever possible.

Bottom line,

Don't worry... your mother is smart.

Also, be receptive to the fact things change as you age. Just in my own life from the age of 18-20 I changed immensely and evolved so much as a person.

Lastly, there has to be a reason you want to go to grad school. I have had friends in love with the idea of higher education and being "more educated" than the rest, only to find they couldn't write out 3 reasons why they wanted to go to graduate school.

Edited by musicforfun
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I also did 2 years of community college before transferring to a four-year. The biggest downside, at least for the field I am trying to break into (psychology), is that you only have two years to be a research assistant and gain experience that way, something vital for certain grad programs. It took me some time to find three great labs that had openings, so I was really only an RA for 1.5 years about. If I could do it all over, and I knew that I really wanted to get into grad school in psychology in advance (though, like others have said, it is pretty unlikely you will have that foresight just fresh out of high school, although some do) I would skip community college, if it was reasonable financially. So, I don't think grad schools will directly punish you for going to a CC, but, you may have less opportunities for research, which may or may not be important depending on your field. If research is important in your field, joining labs as a 1st or 2nd year will net you more experience and a higher chance at co-authored presentations and papers than entering as a 3rd year might.

I completely agree with this. I think it is really important to get research experience as soon as you can- I was able to start my freshman year and it gave me the chance to try working in several different types of labs. Moreover, as sesquipedale said, if you start early in your undergrad career in a lab and stick with it, you will have the time to develop some valuable technical skills that can make you an even more attractive candidate when you go to apply to grad school. Profs who are choosing between candidates how have similar 'numbers' (GPA GRE etc...) are likely to favor a candidate who won't need a long training period just to be 'caught up to speed' on research techniques.

Summer research programs are another reason to consider starting at a research university right away- these programs are something you generally apply for your sophomore or junior year and not only look great on grad apps, but can be really fun, and rewarding experiences (both in terms of intellectual and personal development). I am not sure how it works to apply for these programs from community colleges, but if you have already been working in a lab for a little while, I believe you have a much chance at getting one.

Again, it does come down to financial realities- it's never a good idea to put yourself massively in debt, so if money will be a major problem CC may be a great option. However, another thing to consider is that starting research experience early really gives you a leg up in finding scholarships/fellowships both during your undergrad career. It will also help you get in to more competitive graduate programs- programs which generally have more and better funding for students. So in short going to a CC for your first couple of years could potentially be penny wise but pound foolish: if you want to go to top grad programs, and you are aggressive about finding research and funding opportunities, starting your career at a research university could ultimately be the prudent choice.

tldr; starting research your freshman/sophomore year can be invaluable; bolstering your ability to get into grad school and secure funding during your undergrad and grad career.

*caveat- this was written from a more 'hard science' oriented perspective. It really depends on what type of field you think you might want to go in to.

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I completely agree with this. I think it is really important to get research experience as soon as you can- I was able to start my freshman year and it gave me the chance to try working in several different types of labs. Moreover, as sesquipedale said, if you start early in your undergrad career in a lab and stick with it, you will have the time to develop some valuable technical skills that can make you an even more attractive candidate when you go to apply to grad school. Profs who are choosing between candidates how have similar 'numbers' (GPA GRE etc...) are likely to favor a candidate who won't need a long training period just to be 'caught up to speed' on research techniques.

Summer research programs are another reason to consider starting at a research university right away- these programs are something you generally apply for your sophomore or junior year and not only look great on grad apps, but can be really fun, and rewarding experiences (both in terms of intellectual and personal development). I am not sure how it works to apply for these programs from community colleges, but if you have already been working in a lab for a little while, I believe you have a much chance at getting one.

Again, it does come down to financial realities- it's never a good idea to put yourself massively in debt, so if money will be a major problem CC may be a great option. However, another thing to consider is that starting research experience early really gives you a leg up in finding scholarships/fellowships both during your undergrad career. It will also help you get in to more competitive graduate programs- programs which generally have more and better funding for students. So in short going to a CC for your first couple of years could potentially be penny wise but pound foolish: if you want to go to top grad programs, and you are aggressive about finding research and funding opportunities, starting your career at a research university could ultimately be the prudent choice.

tldr; starting research your freshman/sophomore year can be invaluable; bolstering your ability to get into grad school and secure funding during your undergrad and grad career.

*caveat- this was written from a more 'hard science' oriented perspective. It really depends on what type of field you think you might want to go in to.

To respond to the hard science perspective, it swings both ways. I attended community college for my first two years.. basically worked a job, got straight A's in community college, but there was little beyond coursework in terms of intellectual enrichment. When I transferred to a UC, I quickly found a job as an undergraduate research assistant, did as well as I could in the coursework (3.8 ain't bad), and established a first-name basis with every professor I encountered (as in they knew my first name outside of the classroom context, and I referred to them as Professor). Interning over the Junior year Summer didn't hurt either.. Long story short, I ended up entering a program ranked #1ish in the field.

but what I mean to say, is that community college alumni such as myself, in the hard sciences (chemical physics) can be admitted to top programs. I didn't apologize in my application, in fact I didn't discuss anything in my application about my grades or whatever.. I just spoke about my research interests and how they meshed with that of several faculty.

I don't think my experience is THAT much of an outlier that one can state that community college students have a harder time entering top institutions.

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  • 9 months later...

I'm a high school senior who wants to eventually go to grad school and want to make sure I start off on the right foot. My mum thinks that starting off at a community college would be fine, but I think that they would probably not take me seriously. The reason for the community college is that my family does not have much money and she does not think that grad schools give out full rides. My boyfriends friend says that if you don't get a full ride to grad school that you are doing something wrong. Any advice?

I know a community college professor who went to a very poor and under-performing high school, went to community college, went to a state university for a B.S., and got an M.S. at Yale University. Getting a graduate degree at a top university is possible even if you started out from community college. :)

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I don't know what field you are hoping to go into, but grad programs in many fields do give full rides to all students, plus a stipend - they pay you to go there.

You can definitely get into a good grad program starting out at a community college, if you use your time there wisely.

However, I wouldn't discount four-year colleges just because of the money. You don't know what kind of financial aid they will offer until you apply and get accepted. Some of the most prestigious four-year colleges in the country offer extremely generous financial aid to low-income students (because they are rich schools and can afford to do that). For example, at MIT, more than a quarter of undergrads get a full ride, and at Harvard, anyone with a family income under $60k gets a full ride. There are also very good colleges like Berea in Kentucky, where everyone gets a full ride. If your family doesn't have much money, you won't be paying the sticker price at most expensive schools.

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