Photographer: Pedro Lastra | Source: Unsplash

With the number of applicants rising every year, college admissions can be extremely competitive. A traditional university, however, is not the only route to a college education. If your GPA and test scores leave you concerned about applying to conventional programs, you might consider attending a city college.

City colleges (also known as community colleges) provide two-year continuing education programs that are open and accessible to all. Many students choose to attend city colleges before transferring into four-year degree programs. In this article, I will outline the pros and cons of beginning your higher education at a city college. For more guidance on selecting a college and the college application process in general, sign up for a monthly plan to work with an admissions coach 1-on-1.

1. Academics and Admissions


If your grades or test scores might limit your ability to gain admission into a four-year program, a city college can be a wonderful choice. Succeeding at a CC (city college) shows universities that you have what it takes to succeed in college-level courses. It also demonstrates to admissions officers that you have overcome any setbacks you may have faced in high school.

City colleges try to make transferring as seamless as possible. Most academic counselors at CCs know everything about the transferring process. They can be a great resource as you fill out your applications.

Many CCs also partner with nearby universities to facilitate transfer applications. For example, the University of California (UC) system guarantees admission to every California CC student who fulfills certain requirements. Six UC schools also feature a Transfer Admission Guarantee, or TAG. TAG works similarly to Early Action — you can apply to one school before September 30th but still apply to other universities during the regular application cycle. Check out whether your local CCs have similar programs.


Many CCs function as stepping stones into traditional universities. Accordingly, city college courses tend to be easier. This might make it hard to adapt to the more rigorous academics of a four-year university. However, there are many academic resources available at both CCs and four-year universities. Don’t be afraid to seek them out.

Regarding transfer applications, pay close attention to which of your credits will count at your top four-year universities. Every school has different requirements, and a course that counts at one university may not count at another. While your city college counselors can help you choose your courses, you should ALWAYS do your own research. Additionally, depending on your desired major, you may need to take particular classes at your CC. You don’t want to start your transfer application only to find out that your credits are not accepted at your dream school.

Photographer: Tra Nguyen | Source: Unsplash

2. Cost


City Colleges are considerably cheaper than four-year universities. As a comparison, the yearly in-state tuition for UC Berkeley currently is $14,254, not counting room and board. The yearly tuition for Berkeley City College, on the other hand, is only $1,254 for in-state students. Many CC students also live at home, which often cuts costs. Given these numbers, if you’re smart about your credits, you can save thousands by starting school at a city college.


One of the reasons that four-year universities charge more for tuition is because they often attract better faculty. Unlike some higher level university courses, city college courses mostly provide a foundation in any given subject. However, you may have smaller class sizes at a CC as compared to a large public university. This can help make your experience more individualized.

Overall, don’t let cost be the only thing barring you from applying to a four-year university. Most schools offer financial aid, and there are also plenty of external scholarships to which you can apply. For more guidance on financial aid and saving up for specific universities, visit the financial aid guides on our blog.

3. Experience


City colleges cater to a wide array of non-traditional students, including older students or working professionals seeking to transition into another career. At a CC, you will find yourself interacting with a very diverse student pool. Many CCs also offer evening classes, which can allow you to work a day job.


You will definitely miss out on much of the typical college experience. Though some city colleges have clubs or student organizations, they tend to be smaller than those at four-year universities. Entering a university as a freshmen gives you time to explore many academic and extracurricular opportunities. Unfortunately, when you enter as a transfer student, you will likely spend most of your time fulfilling course requirements. This gives you less time to join new clubs or take classes outside of your field. It’s not impossible to do these things, of course — you just need to be extra careful when you plan your schedule or consider taking an extra semester.

Photographer: Element5 Digital | Source: Unsplash

Final Thoughts

City colleges are not for everyone. However, a city college can be a great option if you have low grades or test scores, especially since CCs often allow you to transfer into fantastic universities.

Whether to attend a city college is not a decision to be taken lightly. However, as long as you remain motivated, you can transfer seamlessly from your city college to a four-year program.

This informational essay was written by Angela Gao, a UC Berkeley graduate. If you want to get help building your college list from Admissions Experts, register with today.