How to use community college as a stepping stone, by Suze Orman

June 15, 2021

By Suze Orman

How to use community college as a stepping stone, by Suze Orman

Suze Orman speaks at a college commencement ceremony.

You know I am a big believer in the value of a college education, with one catch: The cost of obtaining a degree must be affordable for the student. Yes, the student. Parents are to focus on saving for retirement; I can’t endorse parents paying and borrowing for college if it means not saving enough for their retirement. 

The worst thing a student can do is borrow too much. What’s too much? College financing expert Mark Kantrowitz advises students to limit their total borrowing to no more than what they think they will earn in their first year of work. Limiting your borrowing to that amount gives you an excellent shot at paying off your loans in the standard 10-year period. So, if entry-level jobs for a given career pay $40,000, then you would want to limit your borrowing to no more than $40,000.

That can be the cost of just one year at some private universities. And it may not cover a full four years at an in-state school.

That’s where community college can be a smart option. You may, in fact, find that a 2-year associate’s degree at a community college is all the additional education you need for your desired career. Not everyone needs a 4-year degree.

But if you are pursuing a career where a 4-year degree is required, starting at a community college and then transferring to an in-state school can save you tens of thousands of dollars, as the cost of community college is about 1/3 the cost of an in-state four-year school.

To make this move pay off, you need to be smart and strategic. Here are some tips:

1. Focus on a Major as soon as possible

Okay, not everyone knows what career they want to pursue at 18. But the sooner you can make a decision, the better. That’s because you want to focus your community college courses on the required classes that will enable you to transfer to a 4-year public school as a junior. Sure, most community college credits are transferable, but that does not mean they will be accepted for a given major. So, you may need to make up some classes after you transfer before you can begin as a bona fide junior. That’s going to cost you time and money.

2. Start talking to the 4-Year school now, not in two years

Once you know what you’re likely to major in, check in with that department at the 4-year state school you hope to eventually transfer to. Ask them what specific course work/skills you will need to obtain at your community college to have the most seamless transfer in two years.

3. Work with your community college’s transfer office

Once you know what your required courses are to have the smoothest transfer in two years, the transfer office at your community college can help you map out a plan for how to get those courses completed within two years. By leaning on this valuable resource sooner than later, you will hopefully be able to avoid the costly frustration of needing an extra semester or two to complete the required coursework that will enable you to transfer.


Listen to Suze's FREE weekly podcastSuze Orman Women and Money Podcast

Join Suze on the Women & Money podcast (and everyone smart enough to listen) as she answers your questions and shares invaluable money lessons every Thursday and Sunday. Subscribe for free on your favorite podcast streaming app today, and don't forget to submit a rating and share the podcast with family and friends.

Listen for free

Sign up for our newsletter

Get even more personal finance info, tips and tricks delivered right to your inbox each month.