When I was in high school, I watched as many of my friends got excited about applying to colleges, anxiously waited for their acceptance letters, and agonized over their decision about which four-year university they were going to attend. I was not a part of any of that process, because I knew I was going to community college.
I hear a lot of things about community college: that it's not a good option for most students, that it's a place where people who aren't sure what they want to do should go, and that it's somewhere for people who were not successful in high school. As someone who maintained a 3.9 GPA or higher during high school, was extremely driven, and knew what career she was pursuing, none of these things applied to me or to many of the classmates I met at community college. While many of the people I knew had unique circumstances, there were also plenty of us who were on the path to success but just wanted a different option.
While there are many paths to finishing school — and everyone has to decide what's best for them — community college should never been seen as less than.
Despite having good grades, no one sat me down and talked to me about college and what my options might have been. Neither of my parents attended four-year universities, and neither did most of my family members. I didn't have anyone pushing me to apply to a four-year college. I likely would have qualified for scholarships and financial aid; however, no one talked to me about my choices. Additionally, my parents felt like a community college was a good option for me, both financially and in terms of what I was looking to accomplish. I felt some jealousy and envy when my friends went away to school, and part of me wished I had pursued going away, but in the end, community college was a great place for me.
First, I was able to start my college career immediately after I graduated from high school. I walked the stage to graduate on a Friday evening, and the following Monday, I started two college classes. This meant that I got several units out of the way with very little time wasted. I was already "in the groove" with school by the end of Summer, while most my friends hadn't even had orientation yet. I took classes I didn't want to spend an entire semester on (and that I knew I could tackle fairly easily), so when the Fall semester started, I was already ahead of the game. By Winter semester, I had a higher priority of registration because I was a sophomore, units-wise. I also had to work full-time during college, and I appreciated the fact that many of my fellow students and professors understood and accommodated schedules, time, and assignments.
Secondly, I had amazing professors in community college. I majored in English, and many of my professors were working writers who were passionate about what they were doing. My classes were on the small side, and it allowed me to form really strong relationships with my professors and get good feedback on a regular basis. For classes I thrived in, it was great to get to chat about how to improve, and for classes that I struggled in, it was nice to feel like my professors were not too overwhelmed to help me be successful. Having professors who really knew me opened up opportunities like being able to edit the literary magazine, organize student poetry readings, and be active in the writing scene on campus. My professors steered me toward opportunities and wrote me glowing letters of recommendation because they had the time to get to know me.
I also had a chance to stay connected to my family, the person I was dating, and my friends. I was diagnosed with severe anxiety and depression during my first year of college, and also lost a close friend in a car accident. While I occasionally felt sad about not getting to have the traditional college experience, when I was really struggling emotionally, I was so glad that I was close to home where I could see my doctor, have the support of my family, and be close to my long-term partner. I don't know if I would have been able to handle my mental health diagnosis in a brand-new place, and I'm grateful that I had familiar people and comforts to turn to.
Finally, community college made transferring to a four-year college a snap. I got all of my units done quickly, and I was able to graduate a semester early. It saved me an extraordinary amount of money and time, and I was well-prepared for my upper division classes when I arrived. My community college had a transfer agreement with the university I wanted to attend, so I automatically got in and got to register for my classes with the same priority as other upperclassmen. I also had no student loan debt for my bachelor's degree, which was so crucial.
Going away to a four-year university is a great option for some, but I feel strongly that the stigma around community college should be dropped. I'm so thankful that I got to get a jump on finishing college, stay close to my family, form relationships with professors, and stay out of debt. I got a great education and was fully prepared for my upper division work. While there are many paths to finishing school — and everyone has to decide what's best for them — community college should never been seen as less than. I'm so glad I did, and I know so many others are, too.