Whether you’re making your way to a cost-effective bachelor’s degree or simply hoping to finish school as quickly as humanly possible, community college is a solid academic option.
If you do go on to get your four-year degree, you’ll have potentially saved tons of cash on those first two years of tuition — and board, if your community college is close enough to mom’s house. (Thanks, Mom!)
Since the latter school’s name will grace both your degree and resume, no one will be the wiser. Heck, if you really play your cards right, you might even get paid to transfer.
Even if you stick with the A.A., you’ll still have tons of career options. There are lots of high-paying jobs that don’t require a four-year program, and you’ll be even better positioned for jobs that don’t require a degree at all.
But as it turns out, not all community colleges are created equal.
Which is the Best Community College?
Salary research company PayScale recently put together its annual college salary report for the 2016-2017 academic year, ranking more than 1,000 U.S. schools by their alumni’s earnings.
The survey includes both early and mid-career employees (those whose careers have lasted five years or fewer, or 10 years or more, respectively).
In the case of community colleges, for instance, the lowest-ranked school — Gaston College in Dallas, North Carolina — has mid-career employees earning just $38,800 on average. That’s less than the early career salary at the top school. Yikes!
Obviously, part of the savings of community college is living close to, or even at, home, and moving out of state might counterbalance some of the extra earnings you could stand to see from these programs.
But if you’re in California, New York or Texas, have a look at these 10 community colleges, whose graduates have had the best earnings over the course of their careers.
1. Bakersfield College; Bakersfield, California
Early career pay: $39,200
Mid-career pay: $71,500
2. CUNY – Queensborough Community College; Bayside, New York
Early career pay: $40,000
Mid-career pay: $70,100
3. Gloucester County College (now Rowan College at Gloucester County); Sewell, New Jersey
Early career pay: $30,400
Mid-career pay: $67,100
4. Moorpark College; Moorpark, California
Early career pay: $36,600
Mid-career pay: $66,900
5. De Anza College; Cupertino, California
Early career pay: $46,800
Mid-career pay: $66,600
6. San Jacinto College; Pasadena, Texas
Early career pay: $41,000
Mid-career pay: $66,300
7. El Centro College; Dallas, Texas
Early career pay: $44,300
Mid-career pay: $66,200
8. City College of San Francisco; San Francisco, California
Early career pay: $41,500
Mid-career pay: $65,700
9. Bergen Community College; Paramus, New Jersey
Early career pay: $38,400
Mid-career pay: $65,600
10. Orange Coast College; Costa Mesa, California
Early career pay: $38,700
Mid-career pay: $65,200
Where Will You Go to College?
Obviously, making education and career decisions isn’t as simple as choosing a school on the highest-earning list and hoping for the best.
But if you’re on the hunt for the perfect program, it’s worth having a look at PayScale’s data. In the face of such a monumental decision — and plethora of options — every data point helps.
In fact, while you’re at it, check out this quiz. Not only will it help you choose a college, but it’ll also let you know exactly how financially ready you are to take the plunge into academia.
Happy hunting. And don’t forget: No matter where you go to school, it’s your effort, and penny-hoarding savvy, that determines your salary.
Your Turn: Will you attend community college before transferring to a four-year school, or are you planning on attending a two-year program?
Jamie Cattanach is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. Her writing has also been featured at The Write Life, Word Riot, Nashville Review and elsewhere. Find @JamieCattanach on Twitter to wave hello.