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Career Advancement: Community College vs. Grad School

This post is a contribution from our friends at Admit.me.

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I was recently asked about community college versus traditional graduate school in terms of career advancement and I thought I would share with you some of my thoughts. Keep in mind, this is not an assessment of community college degrees versus a traditional bachelor’s degree (totally different) – this is more in the area of career advancement. I’m going to take the approach from the perspective of the community college.

Community College Positives

  • Lower cost of attendance – leads to less money in student loans / lower debt burden
  • Often more convenient – no opportunity cost of moving and allows the applicant to continue working
  • Similar content instruction to that of a traditional graduate program

Community College Negatives

  • Community college is becoming the “new norm”, so differentiation is becoming a challenge. We’re hearing that candidates pursuing this route as a way to change careers can be difficult; it seems to be more effective in gaining a new skill or potentially adding to an educational credential for an increase in salary.
  • Not all programs are created equal. Accreditation of the college and what skills employers are seeking are key factors in determining if community college is right for the candidate. Even if the school is cheaper, if employers don’t recognize the degree as valuable, the investment is worthless. We heard from a candidate who went to a nursing program and couldn’t get the job she wanted because the school didn’t meet the requirements of the jobs she was seeking.
  • Sometimes community college degrees fall in the middle: traditional graduate degrees hold the pedigree and cache and demand the higher paying jobs while trade/vocational schools can be more effective because employers often value the hands-on/specialized training.

My General Tips:

  • Start with the end in mind. What are you looking to accomplish in the long term? Find other people who have the job you want (try LinkedIn or job postings) and see what types of education they have. That will provide a general compass for how you want to think about your education.
  • The assessment for college should be in terms of return on investment, not just cost. Cost is only one side of the equation, so you need to determine what the potential return is on the time and money invested, so you can determine if trade school, community college or graduate school is the right move for you.
  • Have a strategy – a career is a chess game (we all know the elephant in the room – checkers). We see too many candidates who don’t think several steps ahead and pursue educational opportunities that aren’t beneficial to their brand. Every person has a brand, so each candidate should think about how each choice in education makes a statement about their brand!
  • Seek traditional graduate programs that are offering competitive online certificates and degrees that may compete on cost with community colleges: can be a win-win because it provides the cache of a traditional graduate program at a lower cost and the convenience of an online program.
  • At the end of the day, the educational foundation that you have doesn’t make you – it helps to position you for success. If you don’t think you made the right choice, don’t let it define you. Make the best of your situation and wear it with pride!

Kofi Kankam is the CEO & Co-Founder of www.admitadvantage.com, a leading admissions consultancy, and www.admit.me, a free admissions social network with the goal of leveling the admissions playing field. Kofi earned a Bachelor of Arts in Biology (focus on neurobiology) from Harvard College, a Master of Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and his MBA from The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.

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