08/16/2013 06:37 pm ET Updated Oct 16, 2013

Should Your Child Consider a Two-Year College?

For today's parents and students, the decision about which college to attend can be an excruciating one. Many factors need to be taken into consideration, but the underlying guideline is that you want your child to have the best opportunity for success in life. You must grapple with size of college, geographic location, your child's academic capabilities and ability to adjust to the college environment, fields of endeavor, college reputation, and the financial impact on your student and your family.

That's why many families are finding that starting out at a two-year institution can make a lot of sense. Students who know for sure that they want to pursue a certain career path can quickly immerse themselves in their chosen field at a two-year institution. This can apply to areas of study such as the hotel and food service industry, auto mechanics, criminal justice, medical office assistants, and other occupations which may require more hands-on study.

Students who struggled academically in high school can use the time at a two-year institution to make the transition to a four-year college easier. They can improve on their study habits, take cost-effective courses to improve math and language skills, and learn how to schedule their time more efficiently so they will have a better chance of success at a four-year institution.

Some students are not emotionally prepared to make the leap to living on their own, and can use the additional time to immerse themselves in the academic environment and build up their self-confidence. Many two-year colleges that are closer to home offer opportunities to live in a dorm, but give the student the assurance of knowing they can go home over a weekend if needed.

For some families the two-year path is a strictly financial choice. Many find that it is cost-effective to take more of the core classes at a local community college and then transfer those credits to a four-year institution. Additional funds can be put aside for tuition during this time. It is still helpful to have an idea of what four-year college your child plans on attending, so you can ascertain which credits will be transferable.

What About the Long-Term Goal?

Until recently there has been some concern that students who attend a two-year institution have trouble making the adjustment to a four-year school. A recent study by the National Student Clearinghouse alleviates all of those concerns and demonstrates the value of these two-year institutions in providing students with access to bachelor's degrees. The Clearinghouse collected data from more than 3,500 colleges to determine the likelihood of attaining a bachelor's degree after attending a two-year institution.

Their analysis showed that over 60 percent of the students who transferred from a two-year college did indeed go on to receive a four-year degree. The completion rate is higher for those who attained a degree at the two-year college level and also for those who attend a public four-year institution instead of a private one, and also for those who attend full-time instead of part-time. Another 8 percent remained in college and were still working on a four-year degree six years after transfer. The best chance for success is to begin attending the four-year school within a year of leaving the two-year institution.

The report shows that there can be many paths to college success. Families who are confused by the available options may benefit from meeting with a professional college financial aid advisor who can help sort out the financial, emotion, and academic benefits of starting the college process at a two-year school.