Guest Contributor: Cailyn Heintzelman
Choosing to go to a community college after high school instead of a four-year university was not an easy choice for me to make and caused me a lot of anxiety.
With so many of my friends headed off to school I felt a little left behind, like I was somehow missing out on the fun or that people might think I could not get into a good university. After all, community college was not something that my high school openly encouraged. But for me it was the right choice. I saw it as much more than just a place to get my parents off my back about taking my next steps—it solved almost all of my fears about going to college.
There were multiple factors in place that did not make going to a four-year university straight out of high school reasonable for me. First, was my poor ACT test score. While I had been on honor roll every year, I was not a strong test taker and therefore my ACT was less than satisfactory.
Second was the issue of my learning disabilities. While I refused to allow my disabilities to get the best of me, I was unsure of how I would perform in a college setting that offered limited help. Third, was the fact that I had no idea what I wanted do and in turn had no idea what school would even be best for me. And finally, because of my low test score and my family’s financial situation, getting a scholarship was going to be very difficult. Lack of scholarships paired with overwhelming anxiety about debt meant I needed to find a more cost efficient road to college.
Data suggest that approximately 30% of college freshmen drop out after their first year (CollegeAtlas.org, 2017).*
So I went to the community college in my district. I did not know anyone and almost no one from my high school was there. I took my intro classes, kept to myself, and made frequent visits to my best friend in college.
After the first semester I got my grades back and had received all As, better than any of my friends at a university who had to take the same exact classes. With my good grades I was no longer concerned about how my disabilities would fare in college. At the start of my second semester at community college I went to class on the first day and saw roughly ten people from my high school who had come back from a university. When I talked to these students about why they had come back the response was generally the same: College was too much fun, they did not have a good enough support system, or they did not invest enough time in classes.
At this point I had already begun to see how beneficial community college was, but seeing all of those students come back was confirmation that I had made the right choice. By the end of my second semester, I had again received all As.
Studies show that more than 75% of students required to take remedial classes never graduate (CollegeAtlas.org, 2017).*
By my third and fourth semesters I was almost completely finished with my general education requirements and I had finally decided on my major. This lead me to meet a particularly fascinating professor. With small class sizes of no larger than 40 students, it was easy for me to get to know this professor on a more personal basis and she became a sort of mentor for me. She invited me to all kinds of special opportunities and, knowing that I wanted to transfer to a four-year university, she pushed me to strengthen my writing and challenged me to research controversial topics. With her help and motivation I had completed all of my general education courses, something every college student must do, with flying colors and was asked to join Phi Theta Kappa, the international honors society of two-year colleges.
As a part of an honor society, I was more confident in applying to colleges and it allowed me to qualify for academic scholarships, which greatly reduced my anxiety about the finances of college. Also, since I had finished my two-year degree, my ACT test score was no longer required during the application process. Therefore, all that colleges saw when I applied was that I had received good grades in both high school and community college. With the new added confidence I was able to apply to colleges I never dreamed of applying to right out of high school. In the end, with my grades and being a part of Phi Theta Kappa I was accepted into every school I applied to with the exception of one.
Going to community college made picking the school I wanted to go to very easy. Since I had figured out what I wanted to major in I only applied to schools with those programs, and from there picked the best school for me. I chose a school that had a more academic focus rather than a social focus because I knew enough about my learning style to know that a “party” school was not the right fit for me. I also chose a private school with a lower population so that I could continue to be in smaller class sizes that offer more personal attention. Because I was old enough to know what was the best fit for me, and was motivated to prove that community college had not set me back, I was able to thrive at the university and was eventually asked to join Phi Alpha Theta, a national history honors society. Now I am expected to graduate magna cum laude in May 2017 with half the debt of many of my peers.
I knew that in going to a four-year university I would have been too stressed about debt, too distracted to focus and would ultimately be setting myself up for failure. Going to a community college, I believe, set me up for success.
*“Statistics of College Dropouts.” CollegeAtlas.org, March 13, 2017
This essay seems to convey a very thoughtful, self-reflective process by a young woman as she transitions from late adolescence into early adulthood. Your impressions?
Cailyn Heintzelman is a recent graduate of Loyola University Chicago with a degree in history and a focus on human rights. Outside of school her interests include rooting for the Chicago Blackhawks, spending time with her cat, and going to concerts.