Five Reasons International Students Should Attend a Community College

Five Reasons International Students Should Attend a Community College

October 28th, 2021

In 2017-2018, the U.S. welcomed 1,094,792 international students. Of these students, 8.6% chose to begin their studies at a community college, according to the Institute of International Education’s 2019 Open Doors report. While a community college may not be the first image that comes to mind when considering studying abroad, it is often the best route for many international students. Keep reading to find out why you should consider attending a community college.


Tuition at a community college is just a fraction of the cost of tuition at a university. For example, the University of Illinois—Chicago charges an international student rate of $25,858 per academic year. This cost does not include student fees, housing, health insurance, or books. If, however, you choose to attend a local Illinois Community College, for example, Elgin Community College (a one hour train or car ride from the university), you will only pay $11,960 per year. This is a savings of nearly $14,000! Imagine what you can do with all that extra money.

Same general education

Many international students worry that community colleges will not offer their academic program. This is a misunderstanding of the US higher education system. Bachelor’s degrees in the US are structured so that the first two years of study are filled with introductory courses from several subjects, often known as general education requirements or “gen eds.”  Students must complete these general education requirements before moving on to their concentration in a single subject, also known as a “major.” Once students complete these first two years, they can transfer to a university of their choice and complete the last two years of study in their major. 2 years at community college + 2 years at university = 4 year bachelor’s degree. Why do it this way? You’ll save money by taking the same general education courses at a much lower cost. In addition, you will graduate community college with an associate’s degree—another credential you can add to your résumé.

Smaller class sizes

It’s been shown by the National Council of Teachers of English that smaller class sizes increase student learning and performance. A class size of 20 or smaller results in more individualized attention, increased participation, and better communication. Despite this, many universities still hold classes in large lecture halls where 100 or more students are enrolled. At community colleges, large classes are rare or nonexistent. Average class sizes hover at around 20 students, and some classes may have as few at 10 students. Fewer students means easier access to your instructor and, ultimately, better grades in the course.

Flexible admission requirements

Many universities have such strict admissions requirements and/or such a high volume of applicants that very few students are admitted. For example, the University of Southern California had 64,352 applicants in 2018. Of those, only 13% (8,339 students) were admitted. In addition, international applicants needed a minimum score of 100 on the TOEFL IBT or 7.0 on the IELTS. In contrast, community colleges are open-access institutions, meaning that they admit every student who wants to enroll. Elgin Community College admitted all students who completed the application process. Students without TOEFL/IELTS scores and students not yet proficient in English were accepted to the college’s Intensive English Program. The program allows students to build their mastery of English before being pursuing college-level courses.

Additional OPT time

International students who begin studies at community colleges are permitted more OPT time than students who begin at universities. OPT (optional practical training) is temporary practical training directly related to your field of study. For example, a student studying nursing may choose to work in a hospital during their OPT time to gain experience. Eligible students can receive up to 12 months of OPT employment authorization upon completion of each educational level. Since students who begin at community colleges graduate after two years with an associate’s degree, they can claim 12 months of OPT. Then, after they complete their bachelor’s degree at a university, they can claim another 12 months of OPT. Who wouldn’t want extra experience and paid employment time?   

Written by

Rosanna D’Orazio

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