How Community College Changed My Life

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.

Before my 2 years at BCC were complete, I still had one more requirement to fulfill, one that became a source of dread: Public Speaking 101. The homework on the first day of class was to prepare a 1-minute speech about our name to deliver in front of the class of 25 people the following week. I was terrified. For an entire week I stressed about it: in fact, the night before the speech, I was so nervous that I had a panic attack and almost dropped the course.

The day of the speech, I couldn’t eat anything and was shaking from head to toe as I entered the classroom. When the professor called my name, I made my way to the podium, notecards clutched in my sweaty hands, and began the longest minute of my life with the Romeo and Juliet quote: “What’s in a name?” When my speech was over, the professor shocked me by saying how she had never heard anyone quote Shakespeare in a name speech. I ended up getting an ‘A’ on that speech and every speech after it. I soon learned that not only was I good at public speaking, but I actually began to enjoy it! This one course made me realize that I wanted to become a broadcast journalist and report the news to millions of people on TV every night. Everything was finally fitting into place.

Public Speaking 101 helped me face one more unexpected challenge: when I graduated from BCC in May 2011, I became co-Valedictorian and delivered a commencement address to my graduating class. Standing up at the podium giving my speech to thousands of people, I couldn’t help but think how far I’d come in just two years.

By the time I graduated from BCC, I knew I was finally ready to move away from home and attend a 4-year college. At last, I knew what I wanted to major in and had the confidence I needed to succeed. After applying to every type of school (from safety to reach) and getting accepted to every school I applied to, I decided to accept a generous scholarship and transfer to The College of New Jersey, a 4-year college about two hours from home.

Even though I was a junior, in many ways transferring to a new college felt like being a freshman all over again. I had to navigate my way around a new school, make new friends, live away from home for the first time, and live with a roommate. But after making a home for myself at BCC, I knew I could do the same at TCNJ. Right off the bat, I joined journalism and theatre clubs like Her Campus TCNJ, [email protected], Lions TV, and All College Theatre and made friends who had similar interests. Since I got all my liberal learning requirements out of the way at BCC, I was able to focus on classes and internships for my journalism major. I became News Editor of Her Campus TCNJ, Webmaster of [email protected], a reporter for Lions TV, an actress/director/costume designer for numerous All College Theatre plays, and I look forward to founding a chapter of She’s the First at TCNJ this semester.

I look forward to graduating this May to pursue a career in broadcast journalism and eventually go on to grad school. Community college may not be for everyone, but for me it was a life-changing experience that has helped me discover who I am and the person I hope to become.