What I Learned from Community College (Besides the Obvious)

“I was very active in newspaper staff, held a club president position, performed in theater and graduated with honors.”

Even though this statement sounds like a very attractive line from a high school senior’s university application, I didn’t submit mine until recently. I received information about every four-year university in the Southern California area and even toured campuses, imagining what it would be like to roam their prestigious halls as a student. At the time, however, no one in my family had ever attended college and the constant tone in discussions of academics was discouraging because of the lack of money available.

Today, I know a four-year education was very much within my reach, had I applied for financial aid and scholarships. This hiccup in my academic career ended up being incredibly worthwhile because it lead to several important experiences:

In the beginning of my junior year, I had already made the decision to attend my local community college. My high school counselor informed me that I could enroll in classes which would count for my diploma and two-year degree.

I registered for an evening Spanish class, where I was exposed to the environment of a college classroom. The fast-paced, critical learning was both grueling and rewarding. Once I had finished, I felt more comfortable with college courses.

Room for Change
We’ve all heard about the student who changes their mind halfway through their bachelor’s degree. Changing your major can tack on years to your university career and ultimately derail your goals. All the while your student loans just keep growing like Jack’s magic beanstalk of debt.

I too faced this problem in community college, I became disillusioned with journalism after the LA Times began failing and the industry became more aggressive. I needed a chance to reevaluate my career goals. I simply didn’t enroll the next semester and began working full-time. This allowed me to get experience in the real world and come back when I was more certain about what I wanted from life.

Skill Building
Even though I had good grades in high school and college, my Achilles heel was mathematics. I told myself it just wasn’t for me and kept putting off taking the course. This was an incredibly bad idea. I ended up a year behind on my AA degree which required a great deal of math.

Luckily, I ended up hearing about the MESA (Math, Engineering and Science Achievement) program at my college. I went from failing grades in math and science to ‘A’s and ‘B’s with the help of peer groups and tutoring. They were also amazing when it came to career guidance. With their help, I attended conferences and found internships which helped me affirm my goals.

Furthermore, there were several programs which focused on trade learning that offered internships as part of their degree requirements. In a changing economy, knowing there are employment resources is extremely valuable.

I used to balk at being asked where I went to school because I felt cynical, however looking back after receiving my AA and transferring I realized how much the college helped me accomplish.

Community college isn’t for everyone, I encourage everyone with the ability to apply to a four-year to do their research. If you are ready to make that step: go for it!

When it comes to being successful, the only way you fail is if you give up entirely.