During those finals months of high school, everyone always asks where you’re going to college after the summer. There are high expectations and a competition starts to see who among your peers is going where, and there’s a sudden need to impress your classmates. You never want to be “that kid” who didn’t get into his dream school.
Well, that was me. I’ll never forget back in 2010 when I was waitlisted at the one and only school I applied for, and my second and only option was community college. I remember feeling completely inadequate and embarrassed when people asked me where I was going after high school. Senior Class President, captain of the varsity lacrosse team, 11th in the class etc.
Some common responses I heard were, “You’re too smart for that!” or “That’s the 13th grade.” At first, I was really upset and annoyed I had to go to community college and commute from home. In retrospect with only student teaching left of my undergraduate career, I’ve realized that going to community college for a year was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I’m pretty glad I was “that kid.” Here’s a list I’ve compiled of why community college is actually a great choice:
1. Saves you a ton of money.
First of all, one of the most obvious reasons to go to community college is the money. Typically, you save money by commuting from home (if your parents let you) and the classes are cheaper. Free room and board! Plus, there are plenty of scholarships available if your grades are good enough. I was named a Presidential Scholar, and received two years for free plus a semester stipend for books and supplies! I ended up only using one of my years and graduating early, but still it was pretty cool.
2. Smaller class sizes.
I remember arguing with one of my closest friends who graduated salutatorian and went to Cornell. We were discussing our classes, and I complained that 25 people in my Communications 101 class was annoying, when I only had 8 in my Physics with Calculus class. I distinctly remember she laughed in my face and told me she had at least 200 people in every one of her classes. What!? Smaller class sizes are extremely important when you’re transitioning from high school. They give you the ability to ask questions and have a personal connection with professors. Two professors I had for both my semesters at CC, and one of them I still maintain contact with on Facebook. A better ratio for a cheaper cost doesn’t sound too bad.
3. Gain the ability to work & make connections when you come home from breaks!
The summer before my first semester of college my parents pestered me to get a job – being 18 years old I had the ability to work in the restaurant industry. I feverishly went job searching until I found a job at a chain diner which I chose not to name. Let’s just say I got a job at a steakhouse as soon as I could in January of my freshman year.
During all my years of college, I developed such a great relationship with my managers. Therefore they give me shifts (as many or as little as I want) when I’m home for the holidays, longer breaks, etc. It’s nice because I could earn some extra money when I wanted to, and also had a secured position during the holy shit rush of every college student realizing they are poor and need a summer job.
4. Learn the value of a dollar.
I’ve worked since I was younger for my dad’s cleaning business, but the first time I learned the value of a dollar was at community college. After attempting to buy meals out at any chance I had and working non stop on the weekends, I quickly learned the cost of gas, books, dining out, etc. That definitely helped me prepare for my transition to a university, because I was better at budgeting my money and understanding needs versus wants. Compared to my other friends, I would say I had a better understanding of the world in relation to money.
5. Don’t know what you want to do yet? No problem!
Oh I have an idea: let’s try to figure out what we want to do for the next forty years when we’re 17 years old! I’m sorry… what?! Undoubtedly, no one really knows what they want to do when they are in high school. Or, if they do, they think they know until they start taking classes in the subject area and realize Crap… I really don’t want to do this. Luckily, community college gives great opportunity to try new classes outside of your comfort zone without having to pay an arm or a leg.
Switching majors can be easy, and quite frankly, it doesn’t really matter what you get your Associate’s in – it’s the individual classes that matter. I earned an Associate in Science by taking mathematics and physics classes, as well as some gen eds, and some Spanish classes. Now, I’m graduated with a Bachelors of Arts with a concentration in Spanish. Luckily, I learned early that I didn’t want to do math for the rest of my life and switched to Spanish without having to graduate late. Some people don’t have that luxury!
5. Getting a degree and going to a state school ensures they have to take your credits!
Ohhhh the dreaded transfer of credits. Everyone also winces in pain when they have to transfer credits from one institution to another. Well a pretty unknown secret is that public state schools have to take your community college classes for credit! In New York under the SUNY system, they had to take my credits, which was a relief when I transferred. Therefore, I didn’t have to take too many gen eds at Geneseo.
6. Schools will want you – scholarships, baby!
When I was at CC and taking math classes, I was with a great amount of engineering students who were in the process of applying to four year schools. Because community college shows your capability to handle harder and more rigorous curriculum, universities (public or private) are more likely to give you more scholarships for your academic achievement. A lot of them received such great scholarships, some even almost free rides, from universities across the Northeast. This can be really helpful if you need financial help! Who doesn’t like some extra cash?!
7. Acquire a whole new set of friends.
Oooooh, sometimes those breaks from college can be, well, AWKWARD. Those high school friends you don’t really talk to are around, and you decide to hang out with them anyway because you don’t want to be that kid who doesn’t have friends when they come home from school. Luckily, community college provides opportunity to develop new friendships, those of which you can have when you move on to another school. Trust me, it was nice when I came home for breaks and hung out with my friends from CC and work. I felt loved, and didn’t need to deal with the high school drama!
8. Learn from your friends’ mistakes.
Oooooh you missed home and transferred? College was too expensive? You didn’t like the majors available at that highly specific and snobby university? These are a few of the thoughts that went through my mind hearing stories from friends and colleagues about people who decided their dream schools weren’t too dreamy after all. I know it may sound sadistic, but going to community college leaves you time to sit back and do your own thing while people around you make the same mistakes you could have potentially made. Mistakes are on the path to learning, but you don’t always have to be the one who makes them.
9. Community College doesn’t define you – it’s just a beginning.
One my favorite responses when I told people I was a transfer student is, “What?! you went to community college?” Yes, I actually did. When I transferred to Geneseo, I had the ability to join many things and have a stereotypical college experience. I joined a local sorority, became a Resident Assistant, got another on campus job, and developed friendships to last a lifetime.
I didn’t let the label of “13th grade” stop me from furthering my education and following my dreams. Nowadays, I look back and smile at the people who ridiculed me because I look at the progress I’ve made for a fraction of the cost. Graduating with my Bachelor’s with less than $6,000.00 in student loans? Not too shabby.
Overall, the perception of community college is one that should be changed. Who came up with the negative stereotype of going to community college anyways? I mean, heck, I went to community college and am still paving a road to success. The fact of the matter is, do what feels right. Don’t rush off to a four-year university after high school. Community college can open doors you never saw in the first place, just like the doors that opened for me.