As any recent high school grad can attest, the first question everyone asks when you graduate from high school is, “Where are you going to college?” They ask you knowing that this decision is the first step of the rest of your life. But when I graduated from high school in 2009, I started to dread this question. “I’m going to Burlington County College” (my local community college) seemed to be the magic phrase that would wipe the smile right off their faces. Judging by these reactions, it’s clear that people have a lot of misconceptions about community college. I could practically see the questions forming on their lips:
Aren’t community colleges only for people who couldn’t get into a four-year school?
Not necessarily. Although it is true that community colleges don’t require a minimum GPA or SAT score to attend, community college is a cost-effective and convenient way to earn a degree. In high school, I always got A’s and B’s, took honors and AP courses, and scored well on the SATs. Had I wanted to attend a four-year college right out of high school, my application probably would have been competitive. But when it came time to apply to colleges my junior year of high school, I became overwhelmed with all the options and had a bit of a quarter-life crisis. Even after taking the SATs, researching schools, and visiting countless colleges, I just couldn’t bring myself to apply to anywhere. I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to major in and couldn’t justify spending thousands of dollars at a 4-year school until I had a plan and knew what I wanted to do. My parents were very supportive of my decision to attend BCC, and I often say it was the best decision I’ve ever made.
Since community college is cheaper, won’t you get a subpar education?
As with anything else, a high price tag doesn’t necessarily mean high quality. I found that nearly all of my professors held day jobs in their area of expertise and many taught the same courses at 4-year colleges. My professors were knowledgeable and experienced, and I found many of the courses challenging.
Won’t you miss out on the “college experience”?
I must admit that this is something I worried about a great deal the summer before college. When I was in high school, I was living in the moment and enjoying milestones like prom, my senior class trip, and graduation, but once all my friends and my boyfriend started shopping for their dorm rooms and finding out about their roommate assignments, I began to think I had made a terrible mistake. I felt like I was being deserted. All my friends were looking forward to their exciting lives at 4-year schools while I was dreading the start of community college. All summer, I worried that I wouldn’t make friends at BCC and that my high school friends would forget about me. When I helped my boyfriend move into his freshman dorm at the end of the summer, I thought his school looked like Hogwarts and was jealous that he’d be having the time of his life while I was stuck at home living in the room I grew up in. In that moment, I wished I had a time-turner so I could go back in time and apply to a 4-year college. But I’d made my decision, and now I had to live with it.
I soon learned that community college, just like any other college, is what you make of it. It would have been easy to drive to my classes, sit there miserable, and then drive right back home without talking to anyone, but I wanted the “college experience.” I strived to make the most of my time at BCC by talking to the other students in my classes, getting to know my professors, and getting involved on campus. I made tons of friends by joining clubs like the Creative Writing Guild and Lamplight Players (theatre club), attending student government meetings, and enjoying free campus events and concerts. When things between my high school boyfriend and me fizzled out, I started dating a guy I met in one of my classes. By my second year at community college I was secretary of the Creative Writing Guild, had been inducted into Phi Theta Kappa (the honor society for community colleges), had a new college boyfriend, and starred in BCC’s fall play. I felt like I made a home for myself at BCC.
At BCC I took a sampling of different courses, everything from fashion design to psychology, theatre to women’s studies. I had an amazing professor my first semester for English 101 who suggested I take her journalism class. Never having written for my high school newspaper, I was skeptical, but since she was so enthusiastic, I eventually obliged. That one course was all it took for me to realize that I wanted to become a journalist. I couldn’t wait to do my homework for that class each night, and when she brought guest speakers into our class to speak about their jobs in journalism, I hung onto their every word. I had always loved to write, but found that interviewing people and sharing their stories with others was even more rewarding than telling my own story. I was hooked; finally I knew what I wanted to major in.