Why Choosing Community College Was the Best Academic Decision I Ever Made

A recent University of California, Irvine graduate, community college transfer student, and former ACCT intern says it’s time to stop stigmatizing community colleges and their students.

In 2013, I had to make the decision to whether pursue my education at a four-year university or a community college. During my senior year of high school, I was accepted to California State University, Los Angeles. I was eager to pursue my educational goals at this university; however, shortly after submitting my registration paperwork, I received my financial aid package and learned that I would have to take out a loan of $4,000 per semester to pay for my educational expenses. Making the decision to instead attend Cerritos College not only saved me a tremendous amount of money, but also helped increase my four-year university options when I was ready to transfer, while offering academic and career counseling that far exceeded my expectations. 

As I researched community college options, I encountered several negative and mixed perceptions, such as being a place only for high school students that did not excel academically, the lengthy amount of time it takes to earn a degree, or the supposedly poorer quality of education. Frankly, these negative ideas are misconceptions and can dissuade prospective students from the numerous benefits community colleges bring to students, such as building enriching mentor relationships, career-based extracurricular activities, and higher education affordability.

There is a misconception that community colleges do not provide adequate support for students to reach their goals. Though many community colleges have limited resources for student supports, I attribute a tremendous amount of my educational success to my mentors from Cerritos College. During my second semester, I met my first and most impactful mentor, who provided me with the resources to navigate community college. This mentor met with me twice a semester to help schedule my classes, put me on the path of an Associate of Arts Transfer program that guaranteed me admission to a four-year institution, and helped me create a career plan.

In addition to valuable mentorship, community college provided me an environment to participate in extracurricular activities, to build strong leadership skills, and to explore various career fields. My first experience with campus leadership was when I was elected to social ambassador of the psychology club. In this role, I was responsible for promoting our club across campus, coordinating psychology-related events, and retaining and recruiting members. I experienced personal growth while holding this position by facing my fear of public speaking, joining Psi Beta the National Psychological Honor Society for Community Colleges, and ultimately deciding to major in psychology and sociology.

Moreover, my high grades and leadership experiences led me to getting inducted to one of the most recognizable honor societies across all community colleges, Phi Theta Kappa (PTK). As a PTK member, I was motivated to academically excel in all my classes, and I aimed to earn a 3.8 GPA every semester. I attended workshops and meetings with a PTK coordinator through which I improved my organization skills, learned to better prioritize class assignments, and gained successful studying tips. I also learned the importance of meeting with professors and faculty outside of class to get the most out of my educational experience. 

Attending community college allowed me to gain these leadership experiences and pursue my educational interests at an affordable price. According to researchers from the College Board, in 2018, the average tuition and fees at public two-year colleges was $3,660 compared to over $10,200 public four-year universities. At Cerritos College, where yearly tuition is about $1,350, the combination of California fee-waivers and federal Pell Grants covered the costs of my tuition and books. Moreover, I had the flexibility to attend college part-time and work in order to save money before transferring to a four-year university.

Attending Cerritos College was a steppingstone for my path to greater academic and career opportunities. Community college opened the door for me to apply and get accepted to the competitive University of California, Irvine (UCI), where I had not previously been accepted coming out of high school.  At UCI, I broadened my academic experience by working as a research assistant in the Sleep and Cognition Lab. I was also able to further develop my career interests by interning for the Orange County Probation Department and the Association of Community College Trustees in Washington D.C. Ultimately, gaining these greater opportunities is a large reason why attending community college was one of the best decisions I ever made.  

As a graduate of both a community college and a “public Ivy” university, I can attest that the stigma of attending community college is baseless and needs to be changed to allow future students to thrive and take advantage of all the benefits these institutions offer. Students who are conscious of their resources should feel confident in deciding to attend a community college. It very well may be one of the best financial and academic decisions they ever make.

Ayman Mendoza is a former ACCT intern. He currently works as a mentor for the TRIO and Educational Talent Search programs at the University of Southern California. 

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