Pros & Cons of Community College: What to Know Before You Go

By Candice Sunseri

What do filmmaker George Lucas, NFL quarterback Aaron Rodgers, and author Amy Tan have in common? They all started their education at a California Community College (CCC). In California, transfers at the state universities are commonplace, making community college a great option. In fact, many times when I tell people that I work with high school students to help them find 4-year colleges that meet their academic, social, and financial needs, I’m asked, “Why would anyone go straight to a four-year university when they can save money at a community college and get the same degree?” Good question!


From a financial standpoint, community college makes sense. If a student or family needs to borrow a large amount of money to finance a student’s education at a four-year university, then community college is probably the best answer for them. For middle-class families, community college is an affordable bargain with low tuition and no extra housing expenses. 

The CCC system requires students to have 60 units before they transfer to a California state college. For most students, this takes between two and three years. But for students who are working or who are in majors that require more prerequisites, it could take 3-4 years to get to 60 units. So while students save money, the community college choice can cost a student time. 


Nowhere on the college diploma will it say, “Transfer.” It is the same degree, true. But it’s not the same experience. Transfer students have less time to meet and find their social group at their university, get involved in clubs, and live away from home. They may be limited in their campus leadership opportunities since they are new to the scene. They are less likely to live on campus, which lessens the pool of students they will be meeting and the opportunities to network. All of that on-campus experience costs money, of course, and only the student and family can determine if that cost is worthwhile. 

TIP: For CCC students who are looking for that traditional, on-campus experience, know that you can transfer out-of-state (sometimes with an academic scholarship) with just 30 units (or sometimes less). Also, look for campuses like UC Davis where transfers live together in apartment-style university housing, allowing them to meet and support one another. 


Before you enroll in a CCC, visit the career center on campus and find out what they offer in terms of career testing and exploration. The sooner you can figure out what you want to study, the more likely you are to successfully transfer. Students can take the “exploratory” path, but know that this can cost a student another year as they try different subjects. Also, the breadth of courses offered at a CCC is fewer than offered at a large state university. Moorpark College, a community college in Southern California, offers about 70 degree and certificate programs. But just down the freeway, Cal State Northridge offers over 130, and Arizona State University offers more than 350 majors, so if students are looking to explore, they may find themselves limited by what’s offered at a community college.

TIP: Spend the summer before community college exploring careers, shadowing professionals in the careers that interest you, and taking interest inventories at sites like and The sooner you can decide on a major, the more likely you are to get out in two years with the correct coursework to transfer. Admit You to College offers a Career/Major package that can get you started on this vital step!


Sure, it seems like it should be a breeze to go from a CCC to a Cal State or UC. The system was designed for a seamless transfer, right? Not really. It’s a confusing process with “guarantees” that aren’t always guaranteed. The Cal State system has different requirements from the UC system and out-of-state colleges may not take your community college credit at all. A student I worked with a couple years ago transferred to the excellent Terry School of Business at the University of Georgia. They refused to accept her CCC accounting courses, because they only recognize accounting coursework from colleges accredited by The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB). So, there are always little surprises like that to look out for!  There are also different requirements between the CSUs and the UCs. If you want to apply to both, you have to figure out how to take all the courses for both pathways. 


If you want to use the Transfer Admission Guarantee (TAG) program to go to a UC, you must meet the minimum GPA requirement and you can choose only one campus (but not UCLA, UCSD or Berkeley; they don’t participate). You have to file your TAG paperwork in September of the year before you transfer. Then, you still have to complete and submit the UC application in November and wait until as late as April for them to confirm your acceptance. TAG also can’t be used for certain high-demand majors like Business, Computer Science or Engineering on some campuses, so check carefully that you can get into the major you want with TAG before you commit two years to trying to transfer. More TAG information can be found here:

The course prerequisites can also vary by campus. For another business student, we looked at the requirements at four CSU campuses he was interested in. He had taken Statistics at Moorpark College as part of his A.A. in business, but all of the CSUs also required calculus for their degree. Three required the equivalent of Math 25 and one required Math 16. Now what? Drop the campus that required the odd class or re-take math at that campus if he decided to go there? The Associate Degree for Transfer (ADT) program ( applies to students who get an associate’s degree in the same subject, excusing them from all lower division courses so they go directly to the junior year curriculum. But when we called the four campuses, there were differing answers about whether they would exempt him from the calculus requirement, even though that wasn’t required for his A.A. It’s not always easy to figure out how to meet all the different requirements. It’s best to go straight to the source and call each campus to confirm what courses they require if something isn’t clear on the website.

The ADT guarantees admissions into a Cal State, but not necessarily the Cal State of a student’s choice. For students who aren’t interested in a campus hundreds of miles away, that isn’t much of a guarantee. 63,000 qualified transfer students were denied admissions to their top choice Cal State in the five years leading up to 2020 because those campuses were full. In some cases, students end up with the same choices they would have had directly out of high school. 

TIP: Look up the department websites for every college you intend to apply to for transfer and see what coursework they require. If a couple colleges require courses you aren’t planning to take, consider eliminating them from your list. Don’t waste time taking extra classes for a college you may not even get into. Apply to multiple colleges and be prepared to go to any of them if you are accepted. If you can’t see yourself there, don’t bother applying. You may want to try for a couple out-of-state colleges as back-ups. 


In the end, neither of the business students in these examples got their A.A. In both cases, they had been advised to take classes that they thought counted toward the requirements, but in the end did not. The advising at a CCC is similar to what you get at a public high school. Advisors have too many students to get to know them personally and students find it difficult to get appointments and build a relationship with an academic advisor. While both of my students were disappointed, they were lucky because an A.A. is NOT a requirement for transfer. 43% of transfers to the Cal States don’t have an A.A. If a student has 60 units and has taken the “Golden Four” course requirements (English composition, oral communication, quantitative analysis and critical thinking), they are eligible to transfer to a Cal State. UCs may have course prerequisite requirements for certain majors, but as long as those are complete and the student has 60 units, they are eligible to transfer with or without an A.A., and students with the degree have no advantage.

TIP: See an academic advisor each semester and if you find a good advisor, do everything in your power to keep working with them. Talk to other students and see what they were told to take. If it’s something different than what you heard, talk to another advisor to confirm the advice you were given. You are in charge of your education and you need to stay on top of your course plan. Double check everything! Mistakes in your schedule cost time and money.


Every year, we work with many top students who happily choose colleges other than the UCs without regret! Sometimes they don’t have the rigorous AP coursework the UCs are looking for. Sometimes they want more hands-on learning (which the UCs are not big on). Whether they want a big-time sports scene, smaller classes, a less cut-throat academic environment, courses taught by professors not grad students, or just a chance to live in a new place, private and out-of-state colleges can be as affordable as the UCs and offer students the exact experience they desire for their whole four years. Schedule a free consultation with Admit You to College at to learn more about how we can match your junior to a list of 4-year colleges that meet their academic, social and financial needs. And if you student does decide to go to community college, contact us when they are ready to transfer and we can help!

Candice Sunseri is an independent college consultant who lives in Ventura County, California. She’s had previous careers as a book and a magazine editor, high school librarian, and mom, all of which have contributed to her skill set as she helps guide students through college essays and applications.