The new year is an exciting time and all, but it comes with its share of stress-inducers: taxes to be filed, resolutions to be broken, and for a lot of people, applying to and deciding on a college or university to attend. For these prospective students, a big question that haunts them is whether it would be worth it to start out at a community college now, knock out some credits for cheap, and transfer to a four-year institution later.

If you’re in this situation, you already know the feelings of confusion. Some people say community college is a no-brainer, others say it’ll ruin you for life. But maybe you don’t have the complete picture to make the best choice for yourself? At least not yet.

Is starting secondary education at a community college a good idea or not? The short answer is, like a lot of things in life, it can be good if you know what you’re doing and how to get the most out of it. The long answer is the rest of this article.

What’s Good About Community College

Community college is cheap. That’s its main attraction. It’s still probably going to run you thousands per semester, but seeing as many four-year schools can charge you several times more, it’s a steal nevertheless. If you follow through with your plan to transfer to a four-year school after getting your gen-ed classes out of the way, you will certainly save yourself thousands of dollars.

It’s also very convenient. Another thing community college sells itself on is how easy it is to build school around the rest of your life, especially if you need to balance it alongside a job or familial obligations. You can take classes at night. You can take two classes per semester. You can learn at your own pace.

Perhaps the most overlooked benefit is it buys you time. Are you unsure of which university to attend? Are you undecided on what your major should be? Do you need to boost your grades before you make the big leap (and maybe want to try to get a nice scholarship out of it)? By attending community college, you’re still furthering your education while exploring your options. This way, your educational career doesn’t have to come to a screeching halt while you make a very important decision.

If nothing else, even if your plans to go to a full-fledged university fall through, you can still get an associate degree from community college and that can still get you work. You could even use the job you get for saving up some money for the four-year school you want to attend. Overall, the biggest upside to attending community college is it gives you more options.

What’s Bad About Community College

To be straightforward, there’s one real downside to community college and it’s kind of a big one: you might not be able to transfer as easily as you thought.

Some four-year colleges won’t let you transfer unless you get your associate degree as proof you’re taking your education seriously. Other schools won’t accept you if you do have your two-year degree because it seems like you got that instead of your bachelor’s (or maybe they’re just bitter you didn’t start college with them in the first place?).

Some gen-ed classes don’t transfer credits, or you might find you didn’t take enough or the right gen-eds. Not to mention, community college curriculums can be notoriously limited, so you might not get a chance to learn all a subject has to offer.

It’s all very messy and that’s where we come back to the idea that community college can absolutely work, but it works best if you have a plan. If you elect to go to community college, do your research first. Talk to all the advisors and admissions counselors you can to see what you need to do.

Does your local two-year have a program to help you transition to a four-year? Are they affiliated with a state university that treats your community college like a feeder school? You’re kind of stuck with whatever community institution you’re districted to*, but surely there’s some path to make it work.

*Unless you’re willing and able to move just for community college, which you might be, but few are.

What Could Be Good or Bad About Community College Depending on How You Look at It

Among all the factors you should consider in making your decision about community college, most of them could be categorized as “the gray area between pros and cons.” You’re going to need to ruminate on whether these are things that will bug you or if you can deal with them. Let’s burn through a couple of them really quick:

They don’t turn anybody away, and that means it can be a less-than-studious learning environment. Many community college students are there only because their families insist on it; there’s a reason some people call community college “the 13th grade.”

But this refusal to say no also means it’s a great place for students who couldn’t get their grades good enough for a four-year school or older adults looking for a fresh start.

What makes community college a blessing for some can make it a strange environment for others. If your geometry course is comprised of some of your uninspired former high-school classmates and a random person or two in their 40s, will that effect your ability to concentrate? Take note that this hodgepodge means the rate of community college students who graduate in two years (let alone transfer to a four-year school) is actually extremely low. But remember, you’re not everybody else, you’re an individual in charge of your own fate.

The professors can be great or terrible. While the stereotype about university professors is they’re absentminded, awkward, and disinterested, the joke about community college instructors is they’re simply underqualified.

It’s true that many community professors are working their first college jobs, many of them fresh out of college themselves. But then there are some older ones who make you wonder if they wouldn’t or couldn’t get jobs at four-year schools.

Furthermore, many of the professors are working there part-time. The flexibility appeals to them, too. None of this means they’re all bad teachers, but you’ll probably get a few less-than-stellar ones, as you would at a university. Will it be more- or less-frequent than at a university? Maybe check out your local two-year on RateMyProfessors and decide.

The workload is lighter and the coursework is easier. At first, that sounds amazing, doesn’t it!? But in a world where so many people value hard work for hard work’s sake, taking the easy option could come across as lazy at best and academically cowardly at the worst. This could include universities who are under no obligation to let you in if they don’t think you can cut it. But then again, they still want your money, so maybe they won’t care? Do you risk it? Do you care what random people think?

But there’s more hidden downside in this! The point of all that university-sized workload is to ensure you have enough to know the material by the end. At community, it could be in one ear and out the other if you don’t hold yourself to commit it to memory. Are you willing to do the extra work?

It doesn’t feel like a community and it doesn’t feel like college. If you make new friends and participate in activities at your local college, good on you, but most students just go to class and go home. It’s not the classic college experience. It’s High School: The Gritty Sequel.

Do you even want the classic college experience: school spirit, dorm life, clubs and teams for everything you can think of? Will you feel out-of-place when you transfer in your junior year and everybody else seems to know each other already, just like you’re the new kid in middle school? Will you have trouble networking if you don’t get in on the ground floor? Are you going to college for your academics or your social life? Or both? You can choose both! But you need to decide how that weighs on your options.

So, Is It a Good Idea or Not?

There’s absolutely a stigma in society against going to community college and that’s why this article exists. However, there are also plenty of people who think it’s stupid to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a university education when you could get basically the same product for cheaper. Who should you want to please?

Yourself. You should do what you honestly think is best for you in this important life decision. Is starting at community college to transfer to a four-year school later a good, viable idea? Well, you tell me. Can you figure out a plan to make it work?