The question of whether to go to community college first or straight to university is a tug-of-war.
Any institution with the word “university” in it has been considered prestigious, and graduating would be the gateway to a successful career.
Students today are taking a step back to examine which choices are the most viable — financially, socially and mentally.
Between 2016 and 2018, I withdrew from three major universities in Texas — Baylor University, the University of Texas at San Antonio and Texas State University with zero credits.
Universities have considerably bigger campuses and it was daunting at first, especially to a doe-eyed freshman. Unable to transition with ease, my anxiety and lack of preparedness made me crash and burn repeatedly. And although extensive resources are offered, it was still difficult to navigate through so much information.
Community college should have been the first place to go after high school. The worries of moving far from home and being exposed to an unfamiliar environment wouldn’t transpire.
Yet, I didn’t see community college as a first option because I was compelled to quickly leave the nest and peer-pressured to be prematurely independent, as my friends went away and even out-of-state for college.
In spring 2019, I enrolled and finished my first semester at this college. The closeness to home and selection of courses helped. I was not distracted.
There is a stereotype that students who aren’t smart enough and didn’t get accepted or can’t afford to go to universities go to community college.
Compared to public and private universities, community college is a bang for your buck. At Baylor University, I completely ignored my tuition financially and thought that student loans would pay entirely for private school tuition. Big mistake.
One semester at a private college ($44,544) cost more than a two-year associate degree ($20,830). This college offers the same credit and curriculum en route to a bachelor’s degree at a huge discount for in-state students.
Nontraditional students are more common, from single parents sometimes balancing two jobs to full-time working students. Flexibility in schedules is needed to maintain balance in their lives while in college.
No matter the challenges, making time for schoolwork requires effort. Flexible options for scheduling community college courses include online, hybrid and flex classes. Students also can squeeze in three-week classes in Wintermester between fall and spring and Maymester between spring and summer.
Hybrid classes offer a classroom learning environment as well as online study. Online classes save me a 40-minute commute for every class meeting, and I can attend class wherever I want if I have access to the internet and a computer.
Located at the heart of the seventh largest city in the United States, this college organizes plenty of cultural events and activities to engage in so I don’t feel I am missing a college student life experience.
Student organizations and recreational sports teams are available, including the men’s and women’s boxing club and the college speech team. Students can find their niche and a sense of belonging at community college as easily as at a university. After all, “community” is in the name.
Faculty is no less qualified than those at universities. They are helpful in recommending students for internships and scholarships. Messaging faculty members through Canvas and sending emails in Outlook generates instant responses and help that students seek.
I am thankful for being able to get a quality education, not at a “lower” level than a university, but at a “local” level.
I’d rather save money, time and resources here getting an associate degree than spending my first two years of college at a university.
This is a lesson I wish I had learned earlier.
Jiawen Chen is a journalism sophomore.