The ins and outs of a college 2+2 program

Save on your bachelor's degree by going to community college first.

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You don’t have to start out at a four-year school to earn a four-year degree. Many community colleges partner with four-year universities to offer a less expensive alternative to the traditional college experience — that’s also easier to get into. But these programs aren’t ideal if you’re looking forward to campus life. And the areas of study are often limited.

What’s a college 2+2 program?

A college 2+2 program is offered through a partnership between a community college and a four-year school. You spend two years earning an associate’s degree at a community college and another two years at a university finishing the requirements for a bachelor’s degree.

It’s generally cheaper than your typical undergraduate degree, since community colleges tend to cost less. It’s also easier to get into and boost your GPA.

It could be particularly useful for international students who want to strengthen their language skills before attending a larger university. Students who are working a full-time job might also find more flexible hours through this program, since community colleges tend to offer more night courses.

There are a few types of college 2+2 programs to choose from depending on what you’re interested in studying and whether you want to attend class in person or online.

Single-major 2+2 programs

Single-major programs only cover one area of study, like education or engineering. These are typically offered through a particular school in a four-year college program, rather than the whole college.

Here are four single-major programs for earning a bachelor’s degree:

University of Northern Iowa

  • Major: Education
  • Tuition for first two years: $7,680 per year with two 12-credit semesters

The University of Northern Iowa (UNI) allows you to earn an Associate of Arts (AA) degree at the Des Moines Area Community College in Ankeny or Carroll. After, you can finish the remaining two years at the UNI School of Continuing Education. Many courses have an online component, though you’ll meet at least once a week in person.

North Carolina State University

  • Major: Engineering
  • Tuition for first two years: $16,890 per year for in-state students, $34,238 per year for out-of-state students

This program allows engineering undergraduates to complete the first two years of their program at UNC Asheville before transferring to North Carolina State. It’s not your traditional 2+2 program since UNC Asheville is a small liberal arts college — it’s designed to help students from the Asheville area stay near their families while adjusting to college life. You get to skip the degree requirements for regular UNC Asheville students and follow the North Carolina State engineering curriculum instead.

Middle Tennessee State University

  • Majors: Elementary education, agribusiness, police science
  • Tuition for first two years: Varies by program

This university pairs up with Columbia State Community College, Motlow State Community College and Nashville State Community College to offer a variety of single-major 2+2 programs. You earn an Associate of Science (AS) in your field at the community college by following a preset 2+2 curriculum designed to prepare you for the remaining two years at Middle Tennessee State.

Michigan State University

  • Major: Engineering
  • Tuition for first two years: Free

The Lansing School District has teamed up with Lansing Community College and Michigan State University to offer high school students a pathway into the university’s engineering program. Unlike other programs, this one starts your junior year of high school. Students are required to maintain a 3.0 GPA and attend at least 90% of courses and required events. After, you’re guaranteed admission to the 2+2 program with a full-tuition scholarship for up to six years.

Multi-major 2+2 programs

Multi-major programs allow more flexibility — you don’t have to pick your major right away as long as you complete the prerequisites required to transfer to the four-year university. Some community colleges partner with several four-year universities — you often don’t need to choose the school until after you’ve attended the program.

Here are two multi-major programs that offer more flexibility than their single-major counterparts:

Onondaga Community College

  • Majors: Vary
  • Tuition for first two years: $6,804 per year for in-state students, $11,614 per year for out-of-state students

The majority of students that attend this New York community college end up transferring to a four-year university after completing an associate degree. It has transfer agreements with most State University of New York schools, as well as several private colleges across the country.

Through its dual admission program, students are guaranteed a seat at Keuka College’s Nursing BSN Program, Le Moyne College, SUNY Oswego, SUNY Morrisville, SUNY Potsdam and St. John Fisher College. Otherwise, you’ll have to apply for admission to any other schools you’re interested in transferring to.

Towson University

  • Majors: Vary
  • Tuition for first two years: Vary by community college

This university has 2+2 agreements with several community colleges across Maryland for a wide range of majors — from chemistry to theater. You need to complete at least 30 credits before you can switch over to Towson, which accepts applications on a rolling basis. If you don’t see a community college you’re interested in on Towson’s website, reach out to find out if your credits can transfer.

Online 2+2 programs

Sometimes you don’t even need to leave the house to complete the first leg of your 2+2 program. Many universities such as Kansas State partner with community colleges that offer online degrees to complete an associate degree before moving to the university for the last two years of a bachelor’s program.

Online programs tend to be the most flexible — you can complete your courses in your own time, even if you’re taking care of family or traveling. However, with some schools, you might need to come in to take the final exam.

How do I apply for a 2+2 program?

Though the application process will vary by program, you can generally expect to go through the following steps:

  1. Research schools and programs. Most programs are limited by academic major, even if it’s a multi-major program. Search for programs by area of study and location.
  2. Reach out to both schools. Tell both admissions offices that you’re interested in the 2+2 program. Ask about the prerequisites, the application process and how transferring to the bachelor’s program works.
  3. Apply to the community college. Follow the instructions to apply to the community college by the deadline, if there is one. Some schools might allow you to complete the application entirely online, while others might ask you to visit the school’s admissions office in person.
  4. Sign up for the required courses. Some 2+2 programs might require you to take courses outside of the regular associate degree program offered at your community college. Make sure you register for all required courses during the first two years of the program to ensure you’re all set to transfer.

How does transferring work?

The transferring process varies depending on the program. Typically, you need to complete an application and send your transcripts to the new school. Talk to the new school’s office of admissions to learn more about how to transfer your credits.

Why consider a 2+2 program?

From flexible schedules to lower tuition costs, here are a few perks of attending a 2+2 program:

  • Less debt. Community colleges typically cost a lot less per credit hour than a four-year program. Even if you don’t get a scholarship for the first two years, you’ll likely still save on student loans.
  • Improve your GPA. If your high school grades were less than stellar, attending a community college first gives you a chance to increase your GPA. This could make you eligible for merit-based financial aid when you’re ready to transfer schools.
  • More forgiving language requirements. These programs tend to have lower TOEFL requirements than larger four-year schools, making it particularly helpful for international students new to the country.
  • Flexible schedule. Many 2+2 programs are designed for students with a full-time job, meaning it could be easier to fit classes around your work schedule. You can also live at home for the first two years if you want time to ease into college life.

What are the drawbacks of a 2+2 program?

From limited majors to fewer financial aid options, consider these potential drawbacks before applying to a 2+2 program:

  • Fewer financial aid options. Community colleges sometimes don’t have the budget to offer as many scholarships and grants as four-year institutions. And transfer students often don’t have as many options as those who started as first-year students.
  • Limited majors. You might have trouble finding a 2+2 program in your area of interest. Generally, you’ll have more options if you’re interested in a STEM degree.
  • Less flexibility with courses. If you want to go to college to explore different subjects, this option might not be the best choice. Generally, only courses that are directly related to your major will count toward the degree.
  • Miss out on the college experience. Community colleges don’t offer the same experience you’d have living on campus at a four-year institution.

5 more ways to save on college costs

Aside from attending a 2+2 program, here are a few more ways to cut down on college costs:

  1. Outside scholarships and grants. Many organizations offer funding beyond what you can get through your school or the federal government.
  2. Stay in your home state. State residents are typically eligible for more scholarships and grants than out-of-state students — not to mention reduced tuition at public universities.
  3. Sign up for work-study. The Federal Work-Study Program allows you to work a campus job to cover part of your tuition.
  4. Interest-free student loans. Several foundations and nonprofits offer student loans with no interest or fees to applicants with exceptional need or merit.
  5. Live at home. You’ll save on room and board by staying in your parent’s house, even for a year.

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Bottom line

A 2+2 program can be a great way to save and ease into college life — especially if you want to improve your grades or language skills before attending a four-year program. But you won’t get the traditional college experience, and you might not be eligible for as many scholarships and grants when you enter the second leg of the program.

You can read more about your options to pay for school with our guide to student loans.

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