"Pass!" yelled the professor to the class. We all handed our tattered, pen-soaked rough drafts to the person next to us. The sound of swishing paper, pages turning, drafts wrinkling, gradually subsided and everyone read quietly and thoughtfully made notes on their neighbors' composition. "Alright, talk to your neighbor!" ordered the professor. Sliding around in our plastic desk chairs, we met our neighbors and began sharing our thoughts on their work.
In this small, intimate class were students from Cuba, Ukraine, Japan, and the Middle East. The majority of the students had different religions, grew up in countries with drastically different political systems and cultures. We had the opportunity to have our papers read and understood through the lenses of a variety of people. Speaking on my behalf, this not only opened my eyes to global perspectives but in turn made me a better writer and thinker.
This was just a sliver of my community college experience. I decided to attend Highline Community College right after high school to save money and because admission was easier. But it became less about money and more about the experience.
At a community college, you are more likely to share a classroom with people that are diverse in age, experience, socio-economic background, and culture. The class sizes are small and most professors do not choose to teach there in order to work on their research, but because they are passionate about teaching. They are available for one-on-one meetings and help. Community Colleges offer two-year transfer degrees, two-year degrees, certifications, and further training. As reported by Elizabeth Olson for the New York Times, the U.S. government is pouring 100s of millions of dollars into green jobs and community colleges are jumping on the bandwagon.
"Some community colleges already are offering two-year degrees in environmental management and certificates for managers who want to add green qualifications — which means learning more about the environmental aspects of a particular field — to their résumés. These colleges are offering some courses and training on campus as well as online."
When I attended, I was working towards my transfer degree. This allowed me to get many of my pre-requisite classes out of the way, so when I attended Seattle University I essentially only had to take the classes to fulfill the requirements for my major (bachelor's degree). Attending community college saved me tens of thousands of dollars in tuition money and allowed me to improve my GPA before applying to a four-year institution.
Obviously, I'm a big fan of community colleges and it worked for me, but depending on what type of person you are and what kind of education you are looking for, a community college may not be for you. Because the majority of students do not live on campus and community colleges are much smaller than four-year institutions, you may not have the same "college experience" as you would at a four-year institution. This may appeal to you, or it may not. The same prestige that is attached to certain four-year institutions is not necessarily attached to community colleges, as well. These things did not matter to me.
I viewed community college as a stepping stone and it worked out well for me. The important thing to consider is that everyone seeking education is different and has a diverse set of needs and goals. Community college may fit perfectly into yours and it is an option with many benefits. Matt Impink, a recent graduate from Pennsylvania State University, stated in an blog for the Washington Post:
"I loved my experience at Penn and doubt I would trade that in for any amount of savings, but I think I made a very important decision without considering other worthwhile options. Too many students turn their noses up at community colleges because their lack of "prestige" like I did. That is simply uninformed and somewhat elitist."
If you do decide to attend a community college and intend on transferring to a four-year institution, there is one giant piece of advice I would like to give you. And that is concerning advising. You must be very careful. Transferring can be difficult and you want to make absolutely sure that the classes you are working so hard on and paying for, transfer. It is good to have a plan and know what four-year school you want to transfer to, because all universities transfer classes a little bit differently. Meet with your advisor every quarter before you register, and if you have questions don't be afraid to ask them.
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