It’s that time of the year again, folks. Frantic high school seniors around the country are scrambling to fill out their college applications, making sure to present themselves in the most picture-perfect bundle possible. Although I’m several years removed from the process, in the fall of 2007, I too was eagerly penning personal essays and bragging about my extracurricular activities.
Trying to figure out where you’ll go to earn your undergraduate degree is an exciting and terrifying time. Chances are, many of your friends are discussing where they’re going to school, and how stoked they are to move away from home. While I thought I was destined to go to a prestigious four-year, ultimately, I would end up going to a community college in my hometown.
Initially, I was unsatisfied with this choice for several reasons. However, what made it the most difficult was the stigma that came along with attending community college. It implied that my education would be “lesser,” and many times people I knew would say things along the lines of, “What, why are you going there? You’re so smart!” For several months after making my decision, I felt embarrassed. It’s hard watching all of your close friends go off to school, and feeling like you’re missing out on something. At 24, I can now reflect on the whole process, and can highlight the reasons why going to community college was actually the perfect choice for me:
1. Affordability, duh
Forbes reports that the average cost of attending a public college (let’s not even think about private schools right now) will run you a whopping $8,893 per year. That number doesn’t include the projected $9,500 for room and board (all together, that’s a staggering $18,393 annually, or $73,572 for four years). The College Board reports that attending junior college will run you $2,713 in tuition and $7,259 for room and board (if you’re not living at home, of course) annually. That means you’ll be saving over $8,000 a year — that’s no small potatoes.
2. Sweet scheduling
I financed my own education, which means I worked an average of 25-30 hours per week while pursuing my undergraduate degree. Community college administrators know that a lot of their students work or have other financial obligations, so they offer classes from the early hours of the morning to well into the evening. The best scheduling benefit was definitely being able to take online classes. I typically took three of my five classes online, and was able to either work or visit with friends when I normally would have been in class.
3. Plenty of time for exploration
As The Rolling Stones famously crooned, “Time is on my side.” And it will be on yours if you attend a C.C. So many people I knew were unhappy with their colleges or major, and ended up either switching degree programs, or moving to a different school all together, meaning they had to go through an additional year or two of school. Sure, you can still decide to change your major at a junior college, but the decision wont cost you nearly as much as it would at a university.
4. Small class sizes
When you think of college, you might think of massive lecture halls where you can blend in with the crowd. While those classes are great for taking naps and playing Candy Crush, they’re not the most productive setting. Community colleges offer small class sizes, where you’ll have direct access to your professor. This is also a great resource if you ever need letters of recommendation down the road, because your teacher will actually know who you are, and not refer to you as, “That girl who wore the yellow hoodie and always came to class late.”
5. Avoid the naked roommate
I can’t tell you how many roommate horror stories I heard my freshman year of college. Sure, living with your parents is not ideal, but at least you’re accustomed to their quirks and know how to deal with them (plus, tons of free food). A part of you might be sad about not getting to live in a dorm, but the truth is, you’re not missing much. You’ll still meet a ton of people at your community college, and even more when you eventually transfer to a four-year (and you won’t have to wear sandals when you shower). I never envied my friends for their tales about roommates having loud sex two feet away, or having to bunk with someone socially inept who insists on tagging along to parties. You’ll have plenty of weird roommates in your life; you can put it off for two more years.
6. You can still move
You don’t have to live with your parents, and there are community colleges all over the country. This is great news if you’re looking for a fresh start and even better news if you plan on transferring out of state. Work toward establishing residency at your C.C., and your tuition won’t cost you nearly as much when you transfer. So yes, you can still live with terrible roommates and get crunk in a new town. Dreams do come true.
7. Financial aid, baby
As a senior in high school, I didn’t qualify for financial aid. When I started filling out applications to transfer, I felt like Scrooge McDuck diving into his pool of gold! Not really. But still, I was viewed more favorably by F.A.F.S.A. because I could prove I was funding my way through school and ended up gaining “Independent” status. I ended up getting both federal and state grants, and the only loans I had to take out were for a summer study abroad program (so worth it).
8. You’re 18, chill out
Right now it might feel like the world is ending. All of your friends are moving away, you’re stuck at home, and you feel kind of lame. Just keep in mind that this is a beginning, not an end. Not only do you get a little more time to think about what you really want out of your education, but also you can work harder to bolster your transcript and apply or reapply to your dream school.
In high school, everything feels ten times more dramatic than it actually is. It doesn’t matter where you go to school, it just matters that you earn your degree. As long as you work hard and learn something wherever you are, you’ll be just fine.