What International Students Should Know About Community College Admissions

Anayat Durrani

While cost was a motivating factor, Greg Zdanowski from Poland says his final decision to attend a community college came after lackluster meetings with two U.S. universities. He felt more welcomed at Harper College, a community college in Illinois, where he says the admissions process for him was incredibly smooth.

"I remember my first meeting with the admission office, where people actually had time and knowledge to answer all my questions. There was no hesitation or stress involved," says Zdanowski, who earned an Associate of Science with a biology/chemistry major in May 2019 from the school.

Community colleges are two-year schools that are a popular option for international students. Almost all offer open-access admission, which means nearly all qualifying students can attend. According to data from the Institute of International Education, around 94,562 international students studied at U.S. community colleges in the 2017--2018 academic year.

"Students should consider community colleges for many reasons -- they can save a lot of money attending a community college, they can transfer to a university and experience a different location in the United States, they can adjust to a new environment with smaller classes," says Martha M. Parham, senior vice president of public relations at the American Association of Community Colleges.

Here are some things for international students to know about community college admissions.

Transcript and grades. Prospective international students are typically required to send a transcript from the high school they graduated from, and it must be translated into English if it's in another language.

"International students applying to Pasadena City College must submit official transcripts from the last school attended," says Olivia Loo, director of international students at the two-year school in California. Loo says if students are currently enrolled in secondary school or at a college or university, then they must send those transcripts.

Some community colleges, like San Diego City College in California and Itasca Community College in Minnesota, require international applicants to graduate from high school with a 2.0 GPA. However, others like Gateway Community College in Connecticut, Northeast Mississippi Community College and Pueblo Community College in Colorado, do not specify a high school GPA.

"Since community colleges are open-access admission, it can be easier to gain admission than if first applying to a university," says Jill A. Izumikawa, coordinator of international student services at Harper College.

English requirements vary. English language proficiency requirements for international students at community colleges can vary.

At San Diego City College, for example, an official TOEFL test score is required, but Delaware County Community College in Pennsylvania does not require students to submit the TOEFL or IELTS.

While Westchester Community College in New York does not require the TOEFL, it does require applicants to prove their English proficiency to be accepted directly into a degree program, and students will have to take entrance exams in reading, writing and math to determine which college courses they can take. At Richland Community College in Illinois and Pasadena City College, English proficiency test scores are not required if students attended a high school where English was the language of instruction.

"There are multiple ways of meeting English proficiency to allow our students the flexibility of applying," Loo says.

She says applicants to Pasadena City College can satisfy proficiency by meeting minimum standards for exams such as the TOEFL, IELTS, STEP Eiken or iTEP; obtain instruction primarily in English for at least three years or attend a U.S. high school for at least one year with enrollment in English classes; complete the highest level of English at a U.S.-accredited English as a second language program; or complete specific levels of English at one of the college's partner ESL schools.

Application fee and tuition costs. While U.S. community colleges can offer affordable tuition in comparison with four-year universities, international students should keep in mind that application fees and tuition can vary.

Some two-year schools like Richland Community College and San Jose City College in California have no application fee. But others charge international students application fees, which can range from $30 at Rockland Community College in New York to $100 at Austin Community College in Texas and $300 at Salem Community College in New Jersey.

At Harper College, Izumikawa says international students pay the same application fee as U.S. students, $25.

Just like with application fees, tuition can vary at community colleges. For example, at Edison State Community College in Ohio, international student tuition and fees for a full year amount to $8,608. At Austin Community College, international student tuition and fees for 12 credit hours amounts to $5,208, and at Rockland Community College international student tuition and fees are $10,500.

Overall, community colleges are less costly than four-year universities in the U.S., Parham says. According to the nonprofit College Board, the average tuition and fees for community college for 2018-2019 was $3,660, compared with $26,290 for a four-year university for out-of-state students.

Affordability is a major factor bringing many international students to community colleges. Loo says international students represent about 70 different nationalities at Pasadena City College and they make up one of the most active student groups on campus. She says last year alone, the president of the Associated Students, an elected body that represents all students at the school, came from Korea, "and several members of the student board were also international students."

No longer a student at Harper College, Zdanowski now assists students in the school's Emergency Medical Technician program. Having worked as an EMT in Europe, he provides lab help for Harper College EMT students at Northwest Community Hospital. He will start school in the fall as a premed transfer student at Aurora University in Illinois.

"I'm a strong believer in the community college system due to their versatility and a wide range of possibilities they offer," Zdanowski says.

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