No, generally speaking, you can not get a master's degree at a community college. Normally, the highest degree you can get from a community college is a 2-year associate’s degree. Yet, many US students smartly use community college as a stepping stone to their bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
There are many reasons why community colleges have become popular for students who eventually want to get a higher education degree but the main reason is the great savings on tuition
In this article, we will share how to go about doing that, and eventually working your way up to a master’s degree.
Is it possible to get a master’s degree at a community college? Community colleges that offer master’s degrees are extremely rare. In fact, it is also rare for them to offer a bachelor’s program. However, 20% of those who earned a master’s degree in the US in 2016-2017 started out in community college. Additionally, 21.5% of doctoral-research degree earners in health and clinical sciences started out in community colleges. These students obtained their associate’s degree as a first step to finally earning a master’s degree at a university. They did this to save a lot of money in the process because community colleges offer that advantage.
Can you get a master’s degree at a community college?
On record, there is only one community college that does, but more on that later. Some states have in recent years passed laws that allow certain community colleges to offer bachelor’s programs though.
The reason for this is simply that community colleges were not introduced to compete with universities, instead, they served a separate function to provide short to medium term (2 months to 2 years courses) to get people to qualify for quick employment.
With time, however, community colleges are expanding their offerings as students demand more advanced programs at the subsidized tuitions that these colleges are known for.
Now, if you are researching for a college that offers a master’s program because you have already done your bachelor’s or are in the process of doing so, then community colleges won’t be much help to you.
However, if you have yet to start a bachelor’s program and are doing research for future options then you are in luck.
By getting an associate’s degree first at a community college you could save yourself a lot of money on your way to a master’s program.
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Three ways to get a Master’s Degree from a community college
Let’s start off by looking at the three ways you could use a community college to get a master’s degree.
1. Enroll in a community college that offers a master’s program
Unfortunately, this is very rare. While many community colleges have started a dialogue on the merits of offering programs beyond a 2-year associate’s degree, Red Rocks Community College is the first and so far, the only community college that does offer a master’s degree.
The MPAS (Master’s in Physician Assistant Studies) program is the only post-graduate program Red Rocks offers.
2. Enroll in a community college offering on-campus accredited degrees from other universities
This type of master’s degree is also not a very common offering. A handful of community colleges like Normandale Community College offer accredited bachelor’s degrees from other universities but on Normandale campus itself.
You can use this to work your way up to a master’s from another university. The reason to do a bachelor’s this way would obviously be to save money.
3. Enroll in a community college then transfer credits to a university
This is the most popular route to a master’s degree through community college. Students enroll in a community college and complete a 2-year associate’s degree at a subsidized cost.
They then transfer all the credits to a university that has an agreement with the college to go directly into the 3rd year of the bachelor’s program. Eventually, they work their way up to a master’s this way.
This might seem a bit complicated but it’s not and many US students are using this approach. Here is our dedicated guide on using community colleges to save money and still get a quality bachelor’s degree.
How does it help to start off in a community college?
Allowing students to pursue master’s and bachelor’s degrees at community colleges opens doors for many students looking to pursue their higher education with lesser financial constraints.
Research has shown that this has proven to successfully bring non-traditional students back in the fold of the education system giving them opportunities to enter the workforce with qualified degrees.
Community colleges are not just about saving on tuition, but there are also many other reasons like the flexibility in courses, subsidized daycare for student parents, etc.
Before we look at the benefits of community colleges, let’s quickly review how they are different than universities.
What is a community college vs. a university?
Besides the obvious fact that they focus primarily on short to medium-term education, community colleges are all public colleges that are subsidized and supported by both state and federal governments.
People think that because of this subsidized cost the quality of education is not up to par at these colleges. The truth is very different, however. Community colleges have been offering quality education for quite some time now.
These colleges also focus on education that can quickly fill the supply and demand gap in their local communities. So you will typically find courses on offer that are high in demand like nursing, information technology, radiology, etc.
The next obvious question that comes to mind is why even bother to go to community college if we are aiming to get a master’s degree from a university?
Well, as it turns out more and more American students are choosing to go to community college because of the many benefits they offer on the way to their master’s degree.
Did you know that of all the students who hold master’s degrees, more than half (52%) had previously attended a community college and a quarter of them had an associate’s degree from a community college, according to NCSES (National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics).
The crushing burden of student debt
There has been a lot of talks recently in the media about how the student loan system is crushing students. Many take decades to pay off these loans unable to live life normally.
At the time of signing documents, the bank draws you a plan that shows you will settle your debt in 10 years in easy installments. The reality, however, is that the average student takes 21 years to pay it off completely.
Community college offers the best solution to this debt burden problem as they cost a tenth of what normal universities cost. You can save this money for the first two years of your higher education by getting an associate’s degree.
We also have a great article that has a full list of benefits that you should go through.
The average university tuition in America will set you back $32,410. Now compare that with the average tuitiopn fee at a community college which is only $3,440.
Related: Here is a great article on free community colleges.
Admissions are easier
As we discussed earlier, it is far easier to get into a community college than it is to get into a university. Everything from the admission pre-requisites to the admission process itself is simple.
The aim of a community college is to help people get an education in their communities and they in fact try to encourage people to signup and start studying. Most community colleges require you to have a minimum GPA of only 2.0 or 2.5 to get admission!
Many students who don’t score well in high school or their SATs can use community college as a second chance by getting admission and improving their grades.
Universities appreciate when someone has worked hard and shown that they can turn themselves around.
Community colleges don’t just give you savings on tuition. The one major difference is that they have a very flexible approach to education.
Since they have the mandate to give access to education to those who are normally denied of it for any reason, they have adapted themselves to become flexible. This means that non-traditional students like people with full-time jobs can take evening classes.
Around 60% of students studying at community colleges are part-time students. Students who are parents might have daycare facilities on campus and there is a marked difference in the pressure students are put under at community colleges compared to private universities.
Smaller class sizes more conducive to learning
Many students find the large classes in a typical 4-year university overwhelming. The average community college has 25 to 35 students compared to a university class which may have anywhere from 150 to 300.
This is simply not conducive to learning for students who require more engagement with their teachers.
Non-traditional students such as those mentioned above have their plates full of real-life issues and when they step into the college they need special one-on-one attention from their teachers. This is why they prefer the small classes offered at community colleges
So, not only are the classes designed to increase student-teacher engagement, but community college instructors are more sympathetic to their struggles as well.
Will a university accept my community college credits?
Now assuming you agree with most American students and feel saving money at the start of the higher education ladder is a smart thing to do, you will start planning the whole journey to your master’s.
You might ask if all universities will accept my credits from a community college. The truth is some will, while others will accept partial credits. The trick is to find a community college that has an agreement with a university.
When this happens, the university - because they are aligned with the course work at the community college - will directly transfer all two years worth of credits directly to the bachelor’s program. Now, this sets you up nicely on that journey to your master’s degree.
You have to get in touch with the student counselors at both the community college and the university you are planning to go to.
This can work both ways. You can find a university first where you would like to do your bachelor’s and master’s from and see which community college they will accept transfers from. Alternatively, you can look for a community college that has Articulation Agreements with good universities.
The latter strategy is recommended because it is simpler to work with.
What is an articulation agreement?
Many community colleges have something called an articulation agreement with universities that offer bachelor’s and master’s programs. These written agreements guarantee any student studying at the community college a guaranteed transfer of credits when they move on to the university.
This guarantee takes place because both the college and university sit together beforehand and agree on the course material, teaching standards etc. However, you have to get in touch with the student counselors as articulation agreements are very specific.
For example, a university offering credits for a business program might not accept just any elective credits but only those specific to the program. So don’t show up with 3 credit hours in music and expect that to get transferred!
While it is extremely rare for a community college to offer a master’s program, many students use it as a first step towards it. While you are about to start your journey to higher education, use community college to get an associate’s degree first.
Doing this could save a lot of money as tuition at community colleges cost a lot less. These savings will help you convert your associate’s degree to a bachelor’s degree from a good university eventually leading to better chances to get admitted into a good master’s degree program.
We wish you the best of luck with your higher education goal and hope this article has been of some use.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Can you go to community college for master's?
Community colleges offer only 2-year associate’s degrees. You can, however, convert these to a bachelor’s degree and get admitted into a good master’s program.
What degree do you get in community college?
Yes. You can get a 2-year Associate’s Degree at a community college. Sometimes these colleges can also offer a bachelor’s program but this is not very common.
What is the highest degree in a community college?
The highest degree available at a community college is usually an associate's degree, which takes full-time students about two years to complete.