For International Students, a Guide to U.S. Community Colleges
As we’ve recently mentioned on The Choice, it is not too late to apply to a college or university in the United States for the fall semester. At least 375 colleges and universities reported that they still have space next fall for freshmen and transfer applicants, according to the 2012 Space Availability Survey from the National Association for College Admission Counseling.
The list of colleges does not include community colleges, however, so we’ve decided to tell our international readers a bit more about them in this week’s installment of The Choice on India Ink. At a community college, also known as a junior college, students may earn a two-year associate’s degree, and apply those credits toward a bachelor’s degree at a four-year college or university. If all the student’s credits from community college are accepted, the student will need only two years at the four-year college to earn a bachelor’s degree.
In the United States, an increasing number of American students are using community colleges as a pathway to earn bachelor’s degrees at prestigious universities like the University of Pennsylvania and New York University.
There are about 90,000 international students enrolled in community colleges in the United States, said Norma Kent, a spokeswoman of the American Association of Community Colleges. At the Houston Community College system in Texas, nearly 10 percent of its 75,000 students are international students, said Daniel Arguijo Jr., a spokesman.
There are several reasons international students may choose to attend a community college. They are often much more affordable than four-year colleges; Mr. Arguijo estimates that a student may pay $1,200 a semester for tuition, books and related education expenses at Houston Community College. Additionally, community colleges often have open-door, open-access policies that admit a vast majority of its applicants, Ms. Kent said. Community colleges across the country also have relationships with neighboring four-year colleges, some of which guarantee admission to community college graduates.
Here are some things international students might consider before deciding to attend a community college:
Determine your long-term academic goals. If you plan to transfer to a four-year college, it may be wise to research the community colleges that often feed into the four-year college or university. Santa Monica College, for example, boasts that it is a leader in transfers to the University of California (including U.C.L.A.) and California State University systems.
If your goal is to become certified in a field, or get a two-year associate’s degree instead of a bachelor’s degree, a community college education in the United States may make you more competitive at home, Mr. Arguijo said.
Make sure the community college is accredited and that your credits will transfer. A school that is accredited is recognized as having met a certain degree of quality education. Courses taken at accredited colleges are also more likely to be transferable to other colleges and universities, which is important if the community college intends to earn a bachelor’s degree elsewhere.
Houston Community College is a top feeder school for the University of Texas, Texas A&M and the University of Houston, Mr. Arguijo said.
“By the time they leave us, they’re two years ahead,” Mr. Arguijo said. “All of our classes, in most cases, all of them will transfer to a major university.”
The United States Department of Education keeps a list of accredited colleges and universities in the country.
Determine your level of proficiency in English. International students are sometimes attracted to community colleges because their Toefl score requirements are not as high as four-year colleges and universities, Ms. Kent said. What’s more, many community colleges with large populations of international students offer English proficiency programs that will strengthen students’ skills when they apply to four-year colleges, Mr. Arguijo said.
Get a sense of the culture. It’s important to remember, Ms. Kent said, that different parts of the United States have different climates and cultures. Research the city and surrounding areas of your prospective community college, and determine whether the school has special programs for international students.
The following community colleges, she said, have some of the highest populations of international students in the country:
Houston Community College (Tex.)
Santa Monica College (Calif.)
Lone Star College (Tex.)
De Anza College (Calif.)
Montgomery College (Md.)
Green River Community College (Wash.)
Determine your housing needs. There are about 200 community colleges with residential buildings on campus, Ms. Kent said. However, there are many community colleges that don’t have dorms or any residential buildings. Students may have to look for their own apartments near the community college, or ask the college for recommendations.
Community colleges may be a foreign concept to many international students, but that may eventually change. Aside from the international students who are attending community colleges in the United States, other countries, like Qatar, are meeting with U.S. educators to replicate the community-college model, Ms. Kent said.
“Around the world,” Ms. Kent said, “the need is the same as the reason why so many students are attending community colleges here.”
We’d like to hear from you. If you have thoughts about the community college experience for international students, please share them in the comment box below.