nineteen years young
student, artist, adventurer
this is my kind of perfection
In all of our life decisions, we are often left with buyer’s remorse, confronted by the what-ifs. Higher education proves to be no different: when students choose the financial advantage of completing general education requirements at a community college, they are left wondering if they missed out on having the genuine college experience.
The answer here depends entirely on the definition of the “real college experience”. The tumultuous shift from high school to university is a time-honored rite of passage, and it is the freshman university student’s awkward leaps through dorms, Greek life, and lack of parental supervision that comes to mind when you think “college student”.
Maverick Rosales, an English major at San Diego Mesa College, believes that students at community college miss out. “Prior to going to school at Mesa College I attended a four year university as a freshman. My freshman experience, in my opinion, constitutes a real college experience, and I would define the experience as unique. The fact that school wasn’t just a place you went for class, but also the place you lived, created an environment that you won’t ever have at a community college.”
The social experience at Mesa – like most of the other 110 community colleges in California – is not as fundamental. Another Mesa Student, Hazel Thompson, describes the social environment there as reminiscent of high school. “What I believe and what I’ve heard from different friends who do go to a state college,” Thompson said, “is that there’s more interaction and getting people involved in groups and more mingling than at a community college.”
Missing out on the social skills learned at university may have major consequences later. If a student doesn’t learn how to network with their peers, said Mesa psychology student David Nalan, it might be harder for him or her to find a job later. As someone who describes himself as “gifted socially,” Nalan isn’t worried about adjusting when he transfers next fall. “But there are other people who go to community colleges and aren’t as social or haven’t had the opportunities to become as social.” Those students are – in Nalan’s opinion – “doomed” socially.
For many students, the financial benefits of attending community college far outweigh these potential costs. Despite his opinion that university offers a broader social life, Rosales agrees. His experience has convinced him that “university students are simply straining their wallets and should consider the more cost effective route that community college provides.”
“In a sense, you’re paying for the social aspect at the university,” Thompson said. She thinks that it’s possible for a community college student to recreate that experience by living in an apartment with other students: “You don’t really have the fraternity, but you can make your own instead of living someone else’s template of one.”
Thompson lives in Ramona, approximately forty-five minutes away from campus, so it’s difficult for her to be involved with student organizations. Still, she said, it’s “kind of a blessing in disguise.” The stress of maintaining good grades is lessened by not having to worry about paying bills and putting food on the table. “I get to go home every night. I get to see high school friends,” she said gratefully, admitting that even though “sometimes it’s a good thing, sometimes it’s a bad thing,” she doesn’t want to give it up just yet.
The smaller class sizes, flexible scheduling, and more gradual transition from high school align to create an environment where a student can take their time choosing a major without having to worry about university expenses. Thompson, who has been attending Mesa College for two years, said that it was better she went to community college because she had originally planned to be an interior design major but realized halfway through a semester that it wasn’t for her. “I got to explore other majors and now I’m set as a hospitality major.”
When asked if planning to transfer to university after Mesa College, both Nalan and Rosales said that they hope to attend San Diego State University. Thompson isn’t sure yet, but is looking forward to receiving her Associate’s degree from Mesa College soon.
College is supposed to be the time of our lives. What exactly that time should involve depends on the individual; for some students, a vigorous social life is as mandatory as any general education class; for others, the time that community college gives them to take their time exploring career paths is the most rewarding.
So, can a student at community college have the real college experience? Undoubtedly. It just takes a subtle shift in definition.