Community college
Community college - a springboard for university success? Source: Shutterstock

Here’s a dilemma: should you enrol in a community college, or opt for direct entry into a four-year university?

While community college has its appeals – chief among them, affordable tuition, academic flexibility and school-life balance – a new study has uncovered another factor that could tip the scale in favour of community colleges: it might improve students’ chances of securing a spot at a selective university. 

Researchers Justin Ortagus, Assistant Professor, University of Florida, and Xiaodan Hu, Assistant Professor, Northern Illinois University, found that students who transferred from a community college were 24 percent more likely to attend a selective university than students with similar background characteristics who started at a four-year institution. 

Ortagus and Hu specialise in the study of higher education; their study included 7,110 college students nationwide in the US.

In The Conversation, they note that selective universities generally admit students based on criteria related to past academic performance and test scores; they differ from open-admission institutions by admitting almost anyone who applies.

Students in the study who transferred from a community college to a four-year university were more likely to be minority, low-income and academically underprepared students with low high school GPAs.

“Based on the academic characteristics of these students, starting at a selective university out of high school was likely not an option. But community colleges can open the door to selective universities,” said the researchers.

Their study accounted for differences in students’ race, family income, academic preparation and other characteristics. 

Benefits of community college

Community college

There are pros and cons to attending community college. Source: Shutterstock

Ortagus and Hu highlighted practical reasons for enrolling in community colleges that can help to explain their findings, some of which include: 


The low price of community colleges help students save money, helping price-conscious students make progress towards their degree at a low price.

Course options

Community colleges offer more remedial course options than four-year universities, which can benefit students who are not prepared for college-level work.

Less reliance on grades for entry

High school grades and SAT scores may be less important for transfer students than students who are seeking admission directly out of high school.

There are caveats for some of those who attend community college-goers, the researchers note.

“Students who transfer from a community college to a four-year institution are 37 percent less likely to earn their bachelor’s degree than students who start at a four-year university. And when they do complete their bachelor’s degree, it takes them about three months longer to graduate,” they said.

Students who transfer from a community college to a four-year university may experience a wage penalty as they begin their career as some community college credits don’t always transfer to a four-year university, leading to delayed entry into the workforce. 

Liked this? Then you’ll love…

Quiz: Should you attend a community college?

Should international students consider applying to community college?