The Student News Site of Flintridge Sacred Heart

Veritas Shield

The Student News Site of Flintridge Sacred Heart

Veritas Shield

The Student News Site of Flintridge Sacred Heart

Veritas Shield

Why I decided to go to community college

Happy with my decision to go to PCC. Photo by Aaron Lee.

Last summer, before school had even started, I decided that after graduation I’ll be attending Pasadena City College. Having spent most of high school spiraling about how much college did not appeal to me, I was thrilled to at last find a college experience that seemed interesting, new and like it wasn’t about to be the end of everything that I enjoyed about my life.

I worried about college all four years of high school every chance I got. If I could give you a look into my head during every college meeting or assembly sophomore and junior year, it would look like this:

“Oh no, another college meeting. Okay. Okay. This is fine. This is FINE. It’s super normal not to know what to do with your life when you’re 16. No one does! Except if no one knows what they want to do with their life, why does everyone seem to know exactly where they want to go? Also, how is no one else concerned about roommates? I don’t want a roommate! But if I don’t get one, I’m just going to spend all of college alone. But if I get one, I’ll hate it and college will be ruined. Oh no, no matter what I do, college will be terrible. IT WILL ALL ALWAYS BE TERRIBLE!”

Winter break of junior year, concerned with my stress about college, I checked out Frank Bruni’s “Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be,” which deals with the crazy pressure we as a society put on teenagers to get into exclusive undergrad schools. Within its pages, I discovered St. John’s College, a small liberal arts college in Annapolis that has a curriculum based on the Great Books and is the third oldest college in America. I cautiously began to fall in love. Visiting its website, I saw brick buildings, shelves stacked with books and students sitting underneath green trees reading Plato. It basically looked like my idea of heaven.

From then on, St. John’s was my everything. At least until I set foot on the campus last summer for a tour. As we saw more and more buildings and heard more and more about the curriculum, I became more and more cognizant of the fact that I actually did not want to go to this place. It was too small and too isolated, and although I was initially attracted to the fact that it has such an unconventional curriculum, I realized that I didn’t actually want to take the classes they offer. I’m not saying St. John’s isn’t a great school. I’m just saying that for me, it wasn’t the right fit.

I have never been interested in having the traditional college experience. Maybe because it seems to be an amalgamation of a lot of things that don’t interest me or perhaps frighten me: football, big parties and sleeping in the same room as someone who’s practically a stranger. Maybe it’s because besides FSHA, I didn’t have a traditional school experience.

I spent my time in school before FSHA at Oak Knoll Montessori School, a tiny Montessori school in Altadena that no one has ever heard of. There were only four other people in my grade, and I spent at least five years in class with all of them. We didn’t have access to the Internet until seventh grade. Coming to FSHA after Oak Knoll was a really big adjustment, especially since the pandemic prevented us from attending in-person classes and forced us all on Zoom. I am a pretty shy person, and I was even more shy freshman year, which made it difficult for me to make friends. I didn’t have a phone, so I couldn’t text anyone. I also dislocated my knee freshman year, so I didn’t come back to school in April with everyone else when hybrid learning began, and instead was first introduced to the campus my sophomore year. While FSHA is many times bigger than my old school, with  nearly 400 people, it’s still a pretty small environment, not to mention how isolated the Hill is from most things due to the fact that it’s literally on a giant hill.

I’m grateful for the schools I’ve attended so far. Oak Knoll taught me how to learn and be independent, and FSHA granted me the opportunity to take those skills and actually apply them to things, whether it be homework, extracurriculars or just the challenges of growing up. And now I want more. I want to mix those two environments, FSHA and its structure with Oak Knoll and its utter lack of structure (I spent the majority of my fifth grade year just reading Lucille Ball biographies and The Visual Dictionary). I want to create my own college experience, and I want it to be unique.

Whenever we happened to drive by Pasadena Community College, my mom would point it out and then extoll its virtues. So much cheaper! Study abroad! Someone’s husband went there and then went to Harvard! I would be lying if I said I didn’t just go, “Oh cool,” and then ignore her. But after my epiphany at St. John’s, PCC, which had previously been at best  a distant runner up, began to look like a gold prize winner. For one thing, it’s only $46 a unit; most classes are three to five units and you take about four classes a semester. Even with additional fees, at most it adds up less than $3,000 per year, and it’s only two years.

I will be honest: I am a very frugal person. Some have called it stinginess. I prefer to think of it as discernment. I do not spend money on things I do not need or absolutely adore, and the fact that most colleges cost more than $40,000 a year (many much more) not even including additional expenses, is incomprehensible to me. I had already decided I didn’t want to take out student loans, especially after taking Economics here at FSHA and witnessing the horror of the U.S. National Debt clock. Right now, the average American has $38,905 in student debt. That’s just too much money to owe at such a young age! I refuse.

So in August of last year, I scheduled a tour of PCC. There were so many things I liked about it: the posters for jazz concerts in the hall of the music building, the friendliness of the woman who gave my mom and me directions when we realized we had no idea where to go, and the fact that everyone who goes there is guaranteed entrance to a California university, provided you meet some basic requirements. Honestly, though, what sealed the deal for me was when we walked by a row of classrooms and I saw an elderly woman in giant glasses sitting cross legged on top of a desk in the outdoor hallway eating a plastic bag full of carrot sticks in silence and seemingly unaware of a tour going on. I saw her and thought, “Now here’s something none of the other colleges had.” I was sold.

Even though I’m happy with my decision to go to PCC, there l have been moments where I wonder, “Did I make the right choice?” Especially because FSHA is a college prep school, and I assumed no one from here has gone to PCC. I felt a little alone. But then I did some research.

Looking over old Veritas Shield articles, I discovered that Jocelle Lauron ‘20, Ryan Dubb ‘19 and Gabie Garibyan ‘19 all attended PCC and were interviewed by the Shield about their decision to do so. One quote by Dubb really resonated with me. She told the Shield, “Once I kind of beat down my own ego, I was able to make that decision to go to PCC and understand that I was doing a good thing for myself.” I understand what she’s saying. I flinched the first time my mom  recommended I look into PCC, but as I began researching it more, I realized that my opposition came from a place of pride, not intelligence. I felt like community college was a place that smart, serious people didn’t attend, but I came to discover over time that that wasn’t the case.

And although I was worried about how not leaving home would prevent me from becoming an actual adult, the more I thought about it, the more I realized how many people don’t actually leave home. In most cultures, it’s common for people to live with their family, especially when they’re young. My aunt lived with her parents for the first two years of college, and she is probably the most grown-up grown-up I know. Besides, one of my plans for attending PCC is to study abroad, which the school  offers, in which case I would be living without my parents in a different country for at least a couple of months.

As I have been telling people about my plans to go to community college, a really strange thing has happened. Frequently, the response is some variation of “I taught there/my husband went there and is now a super important lawyer/I went there and it was the best time of my life/that’s such a great idea!” Despite what TV taught me, community college really isn’t just a place where you go if you can’t get in anywhere else. Yes, it can be that, but like everything: it’s what you make it. I’ll be honest, I do get anxious when people ask me where I’m going to college, but I’ve come to realize no one’s opinion about it matters except  mine. And I’m glad I realized that the traditional college path wasn’t going to be for me, and instead made a choice that, although scary, actually excites me. I’ve started visualizing my life in college, something I never did before without immediately getting sad or worried.

I know I’m not the only one here who has trouble getting excited about college and who gets a stomach ache at every college assembly. Yes, community college is not for everyone. And if you want the “typical” college experience, it is probably not for you. But to any Tologs out there who aren’t sure about college yet or keep wondering “Is that all there is?” after visiting schools, I say, why not take a tour of your local community college?

Leave a Comment
About the Contributor
Claudia Lee
Claudia Lee, Managing Editor
Claudia is a senior and the Managing Editor of Veritas Shield. She joined journalism as a sophomore. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her family and friends, baking, taking walks and writing.

Comments (0)

All Veritas Shield Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *