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What is a Junior College?

Tricia Christensen
Updated Feb 24, 2024
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A junior college, often also called a community college, is a school that may offer a diverse number of subjects, certification programs, and Associates in Arts (also called Associates of Arts) degrees. Essentially the school can function as the first two years of college study, with many students transferring to four-year colleges in their junior year.

Sometimes, a junior college offers certification programs, which may or may not be part of a four-year course of study. Many people get licensed for different specialties in medicine, like licensed vocational nursing (LVN) or radiology, which might be required to become an X-ray technician or a sonographer. Additionally, depending upon the school, specialty programs in auto mechanics, computer programming, business management, electrical work, or police or fire department work may be available.

Most public junior colleges are generally the least expensive way to either complete the first two years of education for college or to specialize in a particular field that does not require a four-year degree. The programs may be just as good, or better, than those offered by more expensive training schools. Colleges may also offer people weekend, evening, or online classes, which help students work while attending school.

Many of these schools do not base admission on grade performance in high school. This can make college an option for those who did not do well in the high school setting. Frequently, schools will require applicants to take English and mathematics placement testing, and they tend to offer remedial courses for students who need additional help passing certain classes that are requirements for graduation or certification.

When four-year universities examine applicants from junior colleges, they may not require SAT or ACT scores. Scholarships and admission may be based on college performance only, instead of high school transcripts, which can help the student who had a rough start in high school. Some students also agree to attend a junior college with guaranteed placement at a four-year university after completing the program.

For many, this type of college is a great place to start learning about different career options. Students may come from more diverse backgrounds and the median age of students may be much older than that of a traditional university. Many people begin new careers midway through life by studying here.

A junior college may also offer courses to some high school students who need to take additional classes to qualify for the more competitive universities. Students might take more advanced courses in languages or science, for example, to help them become more attractive applicants to Ivy League schools.

Further, many colleges offer summer programs for younger students, or community enrichment programs available to anyone 18 or older. Sometimes, a school will have a working relationship with a senior center in order to offer courses or lectures of interests to seniors.

Most instructors at this level have a master’s degree or equivalent experience in their field. In highly competitive job markets, a junior college may even require job candidates to hold a Ph.D. The emphasis is on instruction rather than publication, which is different from many four-year schools. This often creates a more intimate learning environment for students who have direct access to their teachers, rather than having to participate in seminars led by teaching assistants.

This model of instruction may be of particular benefit to students who still require the help and guidance of teachers. Smaller classrooms may also prove more helpful and less disorienting than large lecture style courses offered in many of the top universities. Many students will also attend this type of school because it is more economically sound to do so, especially for those who are unsure about their major. The junior college offers an opportunity to explore different majors before making a commitment to a single subject.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By John57 — On Jun 24, 2011

No matter where you live, the cost of education can be daunting. I live in California, and there are many good junior colleges in California to choose from where you can receive a good education at a reasonable price.

If you do your homework, there are many universities that have partnership programs with local junior or community colleges, and this is another great way to get your college education. By going this route, you no for certain that your credits will transfer with no problem.

By LisaLou — On Jun 21, 2011

When I attended college, I received an associates degree from a local junior college. Then I transferred to a state university to complete my bachelors degree. There are many junior colleges across the country and most of them also have athletic programs for those who are interested.

I played on our junior college volleyball team for the two years I was in school there. Because junior colleges are smaller than universities, the opportunity to be able to play is greater because there are not as many people trying out for the team.

I have many good memories from my time spent at the unior college, and had no trouble with my degree transferring.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia...
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