Three years of full-time community college classes taught me a lot. I covered the first half of my formal education; I took classes on astronomical formulas, philosophical paradoxes, anatomy, women’s history and more.
But that’s not what I learned.
The community college system created an interesting paradigm for me. Students are fresh out of the high school bubble — late work with no repercussions, seemingly limitless excused absences and a lowered academic expectation.
Additionally, community college isn’t really “college.” You don’t live there. You don’t even live with other students. You still live at home. You’re basically a glorified high school student — half as many hours of schooling and three times as many hours of homework.
The California community college system was also undergoing some changes of its own when I first enrolled, adding to this weird dynamic.
Fifteen years ago, community college classes were free and anyone could register for pottery, interpretive dance or the history of button making.
But now, tuition is at an all-time high, rounding out to about $35 per unit. Classes are impacted because the community college system is trying to serve a diverse array of interests and needs, causing a heightened requirement of remedial classes and leaving less and less money for other classes.
As an 18-year-old, the future looked dim.
But for three years, I kept hearing good old Charles Darwin’s infamous phrase in the back of my mind: survival of the fittest.
I had to be more fit than this institution. I had to outsmart it in order to graduate from it. So I did; and here’s what I learned.
1. How to be my own academic advisor. Where to begin? There was the instance when I asked the student registrar what I should do, because I needed to switch around some classes. He suggested that I drop all of the classes I was registered in, and then re-register for a new slate. After speaking to my academic counselor, I learned that that was the “most idiotic thing a student in this system could do,” emphasizing the uselessness of these advisors. This was only one of many similar occurrences.
There were also the countless other times I desperately needed guidance on the IGETC (Intersegmental General Education Transfer Curriculum) qualifications, but was instead directed to the two-hour-long drop-in appointment — the school’s policy for the first two weeks of instruction.
So I learned how to figure it out on my own.
2. I was smarter than a lot of people. I don’t mean to sound conceited, but if I can navigate through an institution’s academic policies better than its own staff, I think my point has been proven.
I also found myself constantly correcting my teachers’ grammatical errors and inconsistent grading scales — perhaps more of a testament my type-A personality than a downfall of the system, but still.
3. I was dumber than a lot of people. This fact was made clear to me at my graduation. Our valedictorian gave an amazing and inspirational speech. I didn’t even know we had a valedictorian.
I also found myself constantly humbled at my peers’ intelligence. Again, my conceit may be showing, but the vast majority of my classmates were students from my own high school, a pool of students with an obvious lack of talent — or so I thought. I was always shocked at their insightful comments and high test scores, which brought me to my fourth realization
4. The real world is scary. If I don’t start making smart decisions now, I may just wind up back here in my 30s, 40s or 50s. I couldn’t allow myself to get caught up in the stigma of being a “community college student” — a sure indicator of my failures in high school, and dismal future at a university. I had to keep my head down and just continue to work.
5. I’m incredibly sappy. Community college taught me how to deal with the devastation of being left behind by friends attending cool colleges and fleeting high school memories. I had to buck up. I had to do well in classes, get a job, keep up with all of it and grow up. After three years of that formula, I’m here and I’m so thankful. And so sappy.
To tell SARAH MARSHALL what she might learn at UC Davis, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.