When I graduated from high school, I was accepted to a four-year university. Only one. I was dead set on going to that university to get started on my degree. After talking to my parents, I decided to start at my local community college, and boy was it the best decision I ever made! I learned a lot about school subjects, I learned a lot about myself, and most importantly, I grew as a person.
I would not be who I am today if I had not gone to community college, before transferring.
My first year, I did not know one thing about the road to college. I went to my community college and they told me to meet with a counselor, take the placement test, and apply for financial aid, but it was very overwhelming trying to navigate the system. I finally found a flyer for a first-year program. I went to the orientation, filled out my application and was accepted. I was assigned a mentor, a counselor, and had access to the director of the program as a resource. We had to meet with our counselor once a semester and had to meet with the director at the beginning of our time there. They told me about a fee waiver to cover the cost of tuition, and they helped me find the financial aid office to get my application done. When I met with the director, I told him I was torn between nursing and being pre-med and he took the time to break down both pathways for me. This was the beginning of the growth I would see.
My second year at my community college, I got involved in student government and I began to volunteer at a hospital nearby. I volunteered at the hospital through a program that would end in receiving a pre-licensed clinical care certificate. This year was one of my tougher years because I had to start taking my science classes while balancing a schedule that required my hours dedicated to two extracurricular activities, but it wound up being very rewarding. I got to tell students about the resources available to them and I experienced the pain and love that lies within the walls of a hospital.
My third year was particularly special because I started to work in the student government office and I got the chance to volunteer in the emergency department for six months, instead of the usual three. While working in the student government office, I got particularly close to the student government advisor. She took the time out of her day to help me with my personal statements and connect me with current residents at different hospitals. At the hospital, I got to see more things than I ever thought I would. I saw a gunshot wound, a knife wound, and had the chance to perform CPR. It was an intense year filled with laughs and tears. Then I graduated with two associate degrees and with my spot lined up at UCLA.
Now that I have finished my first year at UCLA, I look back and see I would not be here if I had gone straight to a university. Yes, I might have already graduated, but I would not be studying neuroscience at UCLA with professors that are involved in cutting edge research. I think of how privileged I am to be studying in a space that is widely known for its prestige and at times I get hit with the thoughts that I don't deserve to be here, but then I remember those late nights studying for my classes just so I can wake up early for my hospital shift.
Being here, I see that I was lucky to have started at my community college. The major preparation classes I took were at a pace where I could follow along, the class sizes were small enough for my professor to learn student's names and for me to be able to ask questions without feeling 200 pairs of eyes on the back of my head. But the most important thing I gained were my networks. I am still in touch with the director of the first-year program, who is now the transfer director at the community college, and with my student government advisor, who is finishing up her doctorate degree this year.
Had I not started at my community college, I would be in debt, be less mature, and have less confidence in myself. If I could, I would tell all high school students to forget the stigma that comes with junior colleges and go for it because you can save a lot of money and get acquainted with people who inspire you.