Blog 🍎 School 6th July 2023

A Brief Guide to Community Colleges in the USA

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Rebecca Hambery Schools Content Writer

Studying in the USA opens doors to fantastic career opportunities for international students. But, with the rising education costs, jumping straight into a four-year university isn’t the best option for everyone. That’s where community colleges can help! 

In the USA, a community college is typically attended after high school and before studying for your bachelor’. Community colleges specialise in granting students a 2-year associate degree. Tuition is much cheaper at these institutions, with fewer constraints on who they accept, making it an increasingly popular option for international students.

For instance, international students at community colleges currently make up seven percent of all international students studying in the United States.

Community colleges are a great alternative offering a variety of benefits for students. For example, most community colleges provide an option to transfer to a 4-year university afterwards to complete the degree. 

Many international students have also saved money on their bachelor’s degree by attending a community college for the first two years. Community colleges can occasionally double as technical or vocational schools for more specific certifications depending on the route a student wants to take.  

It’s important for students to know all of their options when looking at educational opportunities abroad, which is why we’ve created this quick guide to introduce community colleges. We’ll tell you everything you need to know about popular degrees, qualifications, entry requirements, and more!

How do community colleges benefit international students?

There are a number of reasons why community college might be a more attractive option than the standard four-year Bachelor’s degree route. We

Why is community college an affordable option?

In the USA, every 4-year institution starts with two years of general education. Students study a range of main subjects, such as Maths or History, regardless of what they want the focus of their degree to be. The average cost for tuition at a community college is half of a public university, making it an excellent first option for students whose degrees require general education classes. Many students attend community colleges for their general education subjects to save money before continuing to their bachelor’s.    

Associate of Arts (AA) and Associate of Science (AS) are the most common degrees students receive from community colleges that take into account the transfer process. An Associate of Arts is ideal for students who wish to focus on business, humanities, arts, or social sciences. 

In comparison, an Associate of Science focuses more on maths and science courses. Community colleges use an accreditation system to ensure the credits transfer well to a four-year program. Which degree a student decides to pursue ultimately depends on what they want to study when furthering their education. 

Smaller class sizes

We understand that every student has a different learning style, so the smaller class sizes offered by community colleges can be ideal for students who need additional support. The average class size is twenty people compared to universities which average around one hundred students per lecture hall. 

Moving to a new country can be an overwhelming experience, especially if English is a student’s second language. Smaller classes can allow for a manageable transition period.  

Added flexibility

A huge benefit of attending a community college is the comprehensive range of online, night and weekend classes which allows students to set a more flexible study schedule. Since community colleges have fewer students, they can provide more personalised programs, for example, if the student has a part-time job or requires support from professors.  

Open access admission

Community colleges in the USA have open access admission, meaning they have different standards for who they accept as opposed to most universities. Open admission works so that students only need to meet the age requirement of 18 years old and submit all the correct paperwork to get accepted. 

The requirements to get accepted to a community college are less rigid than if the student applied directly to a university. Most community colleges require students to send their high school transcript – translated into English if applicable. Applicants might also need to complete an English language proficiency test. We’ll talk more about the entry requirements for international students further down!

What qualifications do community colleges provide? 

Community colleges provide many paths for students, with the most popular being an associate’s degree program. Additionally, many offer technical courses such as cosmetology, dental hygiene, and paramedic training.

Associates degree

In the USA, an associate’s degree is a two-year degree that is received through a community college. Associate degree credits can also transfer towards a bachelor’s degree. The Open Doors data indicated that 75 percent of international students at community colleges planned to transfer or continue their studies after graduation.

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Most community colleges have articulation agreements with local universities to encourage students to continue their education. These agreements help create a smooth transition by providing transfer guides so students’ credits will move over correctly and apply towards a bachelor’s degree.


Along with associate degrees, community colleges offer certifications which focus on a more specific area of study and take less time to complete. Accounting or marketing are great examples of careers where you can use these certifications.

CCB Degrees

An excellent option for international students who crave a close-knit environment while they study is a community college baccalaureate (CCB). In 2019, more than 20,000 students earned their bachelor’s degree from community colleges, according to the American Association of Community Colleges. Some students prefer a CCB for the more flexible scheduling and their concentration on career readiness. A CCB is only available in some states and only provides a few majors, so it’ll be essential to research what students need thoroughly.

What paperwork is required for community college enrolment?


To study at a community college in the USA, students need to apply for an F student visa after being accepted to their school of choice. An F1 student visa requires students to keep up with the minimum course load required for full-time students. Additionally, it allows international students to work part-time (on campus) for up to twenty hours a week. It also leaves room for optional practical training (OPT) for one year after graduation.  

Less popular student visa options are an M student visa, for non-academic or vocational studies, and a J exchange student visa, used when the student participates in a foreign exchange program.

Entrance exams

Community colleges are more relaxed than universities when it comes to admission standards. The first thing a student will need to do is submit their high school transcript, or equivalent, translated into English. Most community colleges in the USA don’t require SAT/ACT scores; instead, they have students pass admissions tests, sometimes called placement tests, which check Maths and English abilities. Doing poorly on these tests doesn’t mean you won’t be accepted. The school might require students who perform lower to do extra classes to catch up.

English language tests

Some community colleges ask international students to take the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). The TOEFL uses timed sections that test students in reading, listening, speaking, and writing. Any score above 100 qualifies the student as proficient.  

Another test used is the International English Language Testing System (IELTS). The IELTS uses the same four subjects as the TOEFL and ranks students’ English on a scale of 1-9, with 9 being expert language proficiency. Which test a student is asked to take depends on which school they’ve applied to.

Frequently asked questions about community colleges

Your students will likely have a lot of questions about the opportunities offered by community colleges. We cover some of the most frequently asked ones below.

Do community colleges provide housing?

Unlike universities, community colleges have a limited budget or don’t provide housing. Students will have to factor in finding somewhere near the school to live when researching schools to apply to. It may come down to finding an apartment near the college, where academic advisors can help as they’ll know the location well.  

Is financial aid available to international students?

Although tuition is lower at community colleges, many offer their students financial assistance. Many community colleges have programs for students who need extra help, such as scholarships and grant programs. We recommend contacting academic advisors who work for the school and are knowledgeable about financial aid offers.  

Is culture important to factor into students’ research?

Different parts of the USA vary greatly in culture and climate, so students need to factor this into their decision-making process. When considering a community college, it’s encouraged to research the city and also see what programmes the school offers specifically for international students. 

To learn more about how BridgeU can help your students explore the full range of US university options, book a free demo below.

Book a demo

Book a free demo to learn more about how BridgeU can help your students explore a wider range of liberal arts institutions.