What Are Junior Colleges and Why Should I Attend One?

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Junior colleges offer an excellent alternative to a traditional university. Explore what junior colleges are and their benefits to see if it’s a good option for you.

[Featured Image] A group of happy students are hanging out after class on the stairs of a junior college.

After graduating from high school or getting your general educational development (GED), you have several options for pursuing postsecondary education. While some people choose a four-year university, many others decide to attend a junior college or community college. According to the Community College Research Center (CCRC), 8.9 million students attended junior colleges during the 2020 to 2021 school year. That makes up about 41 percent of all undergraduates in the United States [1].

You'll discover many advantages of attending a junior college, ranging from easier admission requirements to more flexible schedules. The benefits make this an enticing opportunity for anyone who wants to continue their education but needs more time or is still deciding if they want to make a commitment to a university. Keep reading to learn more, including what junior colleges are like, the pros and cons of attending one, and how you can apply to start as soon as possible.   

What are junior colleges? 

Sometimes called a community college, a junior college is a school that provides postsecondary education. Students who attend them can earn two-year associate degrees, earn certificates, take courses with plans to transfer to a university to earn a bachelor's degree, and take vocational and technical classes. Attending a community college can prepare you to transfer to a four-year school or get you ready to go straight into a career. As of 2023, there were 1,038 community colleges in the United States, the majority of which are public institutions [2]. 

How do you get into a junior college?  

The requirements for getting into a junior college are more relaxed than they might be for a four-year university, which is one reason this is a popular option for students who may not have the grades or standardized test scores to get into the university of their choice. Admissions requirements will vary from school to school, but junior colleges typically have an open admissions policy, which means they accept almost anyone who applies. Once you submit your application, you may need to take placement tests to determine what level of coursework you should take in subject areas like math. You may also find that you need to meet specific requirements for more popular programs or to gain acceptance into certain degree or certificate programs. 

Who attends junior college?  

Almost anyone who has a high school diploma or GED and wants to continue their education can attend a junior college. Still, the advantages often appeal to particular types of students. They might include:  

  • Students who wish to earn an associate degree or certificate 

  • Students who want to eventually transfer to a four-year university 

  • Students who didn't have the grades to get into a four-year university 

  • Students who aren't sure about their majors or career choices

  • Students who can't afford a four-year university 

  • Students who are looking for educational options closer to home 

  • Students who are raising a family or working full time and need a flexible schedule

  • Students from other countries who want to understand life in the US or learn English

  • Students seeking technical or vocational training that is not available at a four-year school

  • Students who are already in the workforce and would like to change careers

  • Students pursuing specialized training for career advancement  

Reasons to attend junior college 

You'll discover numerous reasons you might want to attend a junior college instead of a four-year university. In the past, many learners viewed junior college as a backup plan or a way to prepare for university. Today, however, junior colleges provide a wide range of opportunities for students who want to prepare for or advance their careers. 

According to EducationUSA, "Community colleges often lead the United States in educating students in cutting-edge fields such as biomedical technology, biotechnology, robotics, laser optics, internet and computer technologies, and geographic information systems” [3].

Lower tuition costs 

One reason why many students choose junior college is affordability. According to Mount Wachusett Community College, the average price of community college is about one-third of the cost of attending a four-year university [4]. Of course, the actual price varies based on factors like the geographic location of the school, whether it’s a public or private school, and your status as an in-state or out-of-state learner. Not only is tuition cheaper, but you also won’t have to worry about overhead costs that may drive up your fees, like meal plans or on-campus housing. It's also possible to receive financial aid while attending a two-year school. 

Less competitive admissions requirements 

Another advantage of attending junior college is that you'll face less competitive admissions requirements. To get into a university, you typically need to meet a minimum high school GPA, a minimum score on a standardized test like the ACT or SAT, well-written essays, letters of recommendation, and proof of participation in extracurricular activities. To get into many junior colleges, you typically only need a high school diploma or GED, though these schools may have specific requirements for certain programs. This means that students who need to build their credentials to get into a university can often attend junior college instead.  

Geographical proximity to your home  

With over 1,000 community colleges located throughout the US, it's highly likely that you can find one close to home [2]. It also means these institutions offer accessibility for students who don't want to move away to attend a university. Perhaps you want to stay at home with your parents to save money, or maybe you're an older learner with a full-time job in a particular city, and you can't afford to quit or don't want to find another job. Junior colleges are typically accessible for students and offer an excellent option for those who wish to commute rather than live on campus.   


While four-year universities have fairly rigid schedules, a junior college typically offers more flexibility. You can often attend courses at night, online, full-time, part-time, or when it's convenient for you. This is ideal for students who also work full-time jobs, have dependent children, or have other commitments that could interfere with their college schedule. For many programs, you can work at your own pace. 

Credits transfer to a university 

Attending a junior college can be an excellent start to your education, even if you still want to attend a four-year university. For many high school graduates, the lifestyle changes associated with attending a university can be overwhelming. The smaller class sizes and proximity to home that come with a junior college can help you transition into your adult life a little easier. You can also use this time to improve your academic performance to eventually enter a university that will accept your junior college credits. 

Get into the workforce sooner

In some cases, you may want a job that doesn't require a bachelor's degree. Other careers, including paralegals, ultrasound technicians, medical assistants, preschool teachers, air traffic controllers, and HVAC technicians, may only require you to have an associate degree. If you're eager to get to work and start earning money in your chosen field, attending a junior college may make sense for you. Many junior college programs focus more on technical and career training compared to academic programs at universities.  

Are there any cons of attending a junior college? 

While you may find numerous reasons why you may want to attend a junior college, you'll also find a few disadvantages to making this choice. Some of these include: 

  • Lack of extracurricular activities, like sports teams and clubs

  • Less likely to have a meal plan or on-campus housing if that is necessary for you

  • Junior colleges typically have fewer resources for financial aid 

  • You won't get to experience campus life

  • Junior colleges may offer fewer courses and programs

  • Academic advising may be less accessible

  • Some job prospects may prefer a four-year degree or university experience

Getting started with Coursera

One way to prepare for a postsecondary education, whether you attend a junior college or a university, is to take college preparatory courses online. You'll find numerous options on Coursera. For example, you might consider courses like Academic Listening and Note-Taking, offered by the University of California, Irvine; U101: Understanding College and College Life, offered by the University of Washington; and Applying to US Universities from the University of Pennsylvania.

Article sources


Community College Research Center. "Community College FAQs, https://ccrc.tc.columbia.edu/community-college-faqs.html." Accessed March 24, 2024. 

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