By Claire O’Meara
We’ve all heard it: the condescending tone of “Oh, you’re going to community college.” Or the occasional whisper, “I thought she was smarter than that.” I heard it so much that I started to believe I wasn’t smart.
I graduated in 2016 with a 3.45 GPA from a competitive high school in an upscale suburb of Detroit. While I had my heart set on the traditional four year college experience, I didn’t know what course of study I wanted to pursue. And I didn’t have unlimited funds to spend on college, unlike many of my classmates.
My parents encouraged me to look at our local community college. I did. And I’m telling you: it’s time to talk about overcoming the stigma of going to a community college.
After touring Schoolcraft Community College the summer before my senior year, I decided it was the best option for me. However, I was still plagued with the feeling that attending a community college was not a “real college” experience and that it was just an extension of high school. I could not bring myself to tell anybody at school about my decision to attend Schoolcraft except a few of my really close friends. On the last day of school, while everybody sported spirit wear from their selected university, I wore another school’s shirt because I did not want to be judged for my decision to attend a community college.
A couple of months later, it was painful to say goodbye to my friends as they packed up and headed to their four-year university. Feeling left behind and alone, I resented having to attend community college while all of my friends were “living it up” on college campuses across the country.
One year later, I am a different person with a different perspective of community colleges. Here are a few life lessons since that day:
- Be true to yourself. It really doesn’t matter what anybody thinks about me, as long as I’m doing “me.” That’s what is going to get me to where I want to be.
- Understand the value of education. Community colleges cost about ONE THIRD of the price of traditional four-year university programs. While those classmates who expressed negative opinions about community college were taking out loans or spending their parents’ money, I was able to work, earn scholarships and manage my money so that I didn’t have to take out loans. Studies show that one-third of my classmates who attended a four-year university will drop out after their freshman year.
- Take advantage of opportunities to get involved. Just like anything in life, you have to put yourself out there. I applied for and was selected to serve as a student ambassador for the college where I lead tours, assist at orientations and work campus events. This has allowed me to stay active in campus life, meet new people, network, work on public speaking skills, and expand my résumé, all while having fun and building my self-confidence.
- Get connected with other students. Since 40 percent of undergrads are enrolled in a community college, you are not alone. University Bound is a program where community colleges partner with another university to ensure that participants are supported and prepared to move on to a four-year university. Having a peer mentor through University Bound helped me make the transition and have a successful freshman year at Schoolcraft. This year, I get to return the favor and be a mentor to an incoming freshman.
Attending community college wound up to be my first and best decision in my path to a bachelor’s degree and a career. My first year at Schoolcraft helped me to understand the person I am—my strengths, weaknesses, passions, interests and aspirations. After meeting with Aaron Greene at College Liftoff, I feel confident about my future career path and the higher education decisions I need to make to get there.
When I left high school, I felt nothing but very average. I now know that I am so much more than that. I am excited to complete my education without the burden of debt that my four-year counterparts will have hovering over them and pursue a career that will enable me to make a difference.