Flashback to your senior year of high school: You’re so excited about getting your acceptance letters to universities from all across the nation. Sure, you got a few rejection letters, but you’re smart. You knew you got into a few good schools. Community college was a last resort–only an option if you didn’t get into a single school. Going to a community college meant you were too dumb to get into a regular, four-year university. At least, that’s what it felt like at my high school.
UMD was the only school I applied to in Maryland. The next closest school was George Mason University, in Fairfax, Virginia. The rest were mostly in New York and Connecticut. Looking back, I don’t know what possessed me to apply to so many out-of-state schools. Tuition didn’t even occur to me; I just wanted to come home to a mailbox stuffed with acceptance letters.
They came in one by one: big packages meant you got in, one small letter meant you didn’t. I got into most of the schools I applied to–I think. I honestly don’t remember. It’s so irrelevant now, and it was such a waste of time and money.
UMD sent me a rejection email and my stomach fell to the floor. I never knew how much I wanted to go there until that rejection letter landed in my inbox. A majority of the people I knew got good news and were all raving about their acceptances to UMD. I remember skipping school the next day because I didn’t want to deal with everyone else’s excitement.
Regrets and questions clouded my mind. Maybe, I should have written a better admissions essay. Maybe, I should have studied harder for the SAT’s and ACT’s. Maybe I should have done better in my classes and maintained a higher GPA. I couldn’t understand why I didn’t get accepted. It might have been all of those reasons or none of them.
Now that UMD was no longer in the picture, I had to weigh my other options. With GMU being the next best choice, I decided to go there. I was so excited until I realized how much dough I had to shell out: around $27,000 for just tuition alone. I could take the local metro to GMU, yet I still had to pay out-of-state tuition. That made no sense–to me at least.
But I had to do it. I just was not going to the local community college. If all of my friends were going to four-year universities, then so was I. In my mind, community colleges were for people who slacked off in high school, but realized they needed more than just a high school diploma to survive in the real world. Even my high school principal once said that going to community college basically meant going to the 13th grade. No thanks.
I sound like such a stuck up snob, but that’s honestly how I felt. Clearly someone needed to knock me off my high horse. I just didn’t want to be associated with the stigmas of a community college; full speed ahead to GMU.
If only it was as simple as it sounded. Financial aid barely covered half of my tuition. I had to take out loans and so did my parents. Since that only applied to tuition, I couldn’t take out an extra $10,000 just to live on campus, so I commuted. I also didn’t have my license at the time, so I took the metro every day. One bus, two trains and a shuttle – all just to get to school. Total, the trip took about two hours one-way trip.
Eventually, I transferred to UMD. For some reason, they accepted me this time. I’m definitely not complaining, but I always wonder what changed in a year and a half. Did I become a better student? Honestly, I don’t think so. As far as I knew, I was the same type of student I was in high school.
Now that I’m thousands of dollars in debt, I wonder about my time there. Do I have some great memories at Mason? Kind of. Have I made some close friends? A few. Did I have some cool professors? Yeah. But was it all worth it? Probably not.
The commute was awful and it’s going to take a while to pay back the loans – all because of my stupid pride. I realize now why so many people go to community colleges first. It’s so much cheaper. It has nothing to do with how smart you are. The first two years at any university are just for taking gen eds, anyway. Why not save my money?
I obviously can’t speak for everyone, but I definitely wish I could go back in time. I would tell myself not to worry about what other people think. There’s nothing wrong with community college. As Nelson Mandela once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon, which you can use to change the world.” It shouldn’t matter where you start, just as long as you finish.