Three years ago, I made the decision to not return to the private college I was attending. I was the unruly teenager who had made it my mission to attend school out of state. I worked hard in high school to be a well-rounded student, because I had been told that was my ticket to a prestigious university. College admissions proved to be incorrect in my case, and for plenty of my peers who also tried to be the perfect college applicant.
I believed there was no pathway to success that excluded an impressive education. I sobbed for hours when I realized Emerson College’s price tag was out of reach for my family. Simmons University, a women’s liberal arts college also located in Boston, gave me an excellent scholarship. Hours of scouring the web led me to believe that this school was my best option for success in the future, so I committed. At 18 years old, amassing over $10,000 in debt did not make sense to me, but I believed it would be worth it in the end.
My year at Simmons completely changed my mindset for a multitude of reasons. Being a student in Boston is an interesting experience; I expected an overwhelming sense of community due to the 35 colleges it is home to. I realized that the majority of my peers came from affluent backgrounds, and spent free time exploring the city and all the different ways to spend money in it (there is a lot).
I paid an exceptional amount in housing to live in a dorm building built nearly 100 years prior, and knew upcoming years I would still be dorming due to the cost of housing in the city. I spent the majority of my time feeling isolated from my peers, and longing to be back in Portland – a feeling I had never anticipated.
When the year came to a close, I still had no idea whether I would return or not the following semester. The primary reason was the reaction that leaving would entail. I feared disappointment from everyone around me. I lied to anyone who asked me how college was going, because I was embarrassed I didn’t enjoy the school I had been so confident in attending. With such a last minute decision, I had not had time to apply to transfer elsewhere.
I decided to attend Southern Maine Community College for one year. I intended to take classes part-time while working full time, and to apply to transfer to a four year college the following academic year. I worried what those around me would think of me attending a community college. Most media had fed me the idea that community college was synonymous with being a bad student – something I had never been.
After about two weeks at SMCC, my viewpoint had changed entirely. Both of the courses I was taking were taught by working professionals. The classes I was taking were more challenging and interesting than any of the classes I had taken in my year at Simmons.
I enrolled in a psychology and sociology class for the spring semester because SMCC gave me the option to explore different majors without debt looming over me. Two months in, the COVID-19 pandemic began, and I stopped thinking about transferring to a four year college. I was not willing to begin the debt journey again for an online college experience, and I actually enjoyed my part-time enrollment at SMCC. I had more money in my bank account than ever before, I loved my restaurant job, and I was happy taking college at my own pace while taking courses in different majors.
Many semesters later, I am finishing up my time at SMCC. I’m on a significantly different timeline than I had anticipated after graduating high school in 2018. I ended up sticking with the same major I had originally selected, communications with a focus in journalism, but have learned an immense amount in the meantime. The restaurant job I have loved for three years created a marketing position for me to put my new knowledge to use. My loan from Simmons is paid off, I just purchased a new car, I live on my own in an apartment, and best of all, I have absolutely no debt from SMCC.
Maine’s Community College System saw a 12% increase in enrollment this year, powered by the free tuition program that began this year for students whose high school experience was affected by the pandemic. With 31 states offering some form of free community college, there has never been a better time for high school seniors to apply.
I will forever be grateful for SMCC, and I will never stop advocating for my peers to attend community college. The stigma against it is entirely baseless and is the entire reason I never considered it as an option in the first round of college admissions. Community college may be your route to a four-year school, an opportunity to further your knowledge while working full time, or a plethora of different reasons to choose; whatever it is, it’s an excellent choice.
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