Why I wish I went to community college

As I sat last night listening to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address I had an epiphany – I should have gone to community college.

This was a convenient thought considering the fact that I am now enrolled at a local community college close to my parents home. Yet my epiphany was not confound to last night. Over the past month after having resigned from the University of Pittsburgh, I have come to the conclusion that community college would have been a better, more reasonable option then attending an out of state four-year university.

High school does not prepare you for college

Honors programs, AP classes, and high SAT scores do not mean a student is ready for the diversity of challenges that arise at a four-year university.

I attended a nationally accredited, “Blue ribbon” high school in an affluent, successful area. I took 10 AP courses from my sophomore to senior year, and scored over a 1900 on my SAT’s. I didn’t make the decision to go to college, that had been predetermined well before I could comprehend it, rather I made the decision where I went to college.

I enrolled at the University of Pittsburgh, having been accepted into their undergraduate business school. When reflecting back on why I made the decision to attend Pitt I have come to one conclusion – I was confused. I made the decision to attend that school because of social pressure from my peers making their own decisions.

I found that focusing academically was also a challenge after graduating high school, yet not for the reason I had anticipated. I remember my older sister (graduate of McGill University) telling me how classes would require me to “take more responsibility” to pass. I came into my first 350 person lecture hall expecting the weight of this new found “responsibility” to overcome me, to challenge me. The opposite occurred.

Entry level courses at Pitt had less relevant substance then the AP courses  I had previously taken my final semester of high school. As a declared “Business Information Systems” major, I found myself in humongous lecture halls for a variety of economics courses, a history of jazz music course, and a natural disasters course. Yes, I needed to be more responsible in order to learn in these classes, yet their materials were so inexplicably boring that I found I could not.

Ultimately this led to the most difficult challenge I faced at Pitt – motivating myself to want to learn. This is a silly concept in theory – you would think a high school student that excelled academically would naturally be engaged in class at the university level, yet the opposite is more prevalent in my experiences.

Excelling in high school is not difficult. Scheduling for AP courses that are notoriously easy to pass was the name of the game, and I played it to perfection. Yet at college you actually have to want to learn the material in the courses, and for an entrepreneur like myself taking jazz and disaster courses, that was difficult.

Immediately I reverted back to my high school ways – put in just enough work to pass, and apply your time, effort, and energy elsewhere. During my first semester at Pitt I founded a LLC in my dorm room, and sold protein powder over the web. I passed my classes with A’s, B’s, and C’s, and learned more relevant information outside of those lecture halls then within. I paid over $40,000 to do that for the entire year – that was quite the privilege.

Community college might prepare you for college

If I could have a “do-over” I would have attended the community college I am now at over the four-year university I had initially enrolled in. After completing three semester at the University of Pittsburgh I have paid over $100,000 in out of state tuition and fee’s for the experience of learning there.

I was not mature enough, I was too focused on entrepreneurial pursuits, and I did not have the desire to learn that was necessary to get my money’s worth at Pitt. Yes, this is my own doing, but that has only become clear in retrospect – it would have been nice to have known before I wrote all of those checks.

This is why community college makes sense, this is why I think all high school students should seriously consider taking one, two, or even up to four semesters of community college courses.

I could have saved $95,000, my credits would have still transferred  to my next four-year university (University of Maryland), and I most likely would have still had that epiphany last night.

It is just a thought, but maybe Obama is on to something. Maybe community colleges hold a more pertinent role in our society then we think. Completing general education credits at community college should be the choice that administration and parents presses upon their kids, not the expensive out of state universities.

The idea that community college is not a long term option for career success has been engrained in my mind. That is not to say that community college is not the perfect foundation for students to gain a sense for the importance of academics, maturity, and money management before pursuing a four year degree. Rather, that is exactly the role community colleges should play in our society.

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Zach Shefska

Entrepreneur, developer, blogger from Washington, DC.

One thought on “Why I wish I went to community college”

  1. Zach,
    Learning occurs in many different ways, on many different levels and at many varying degrees of cost, but remember you can put no price on what you’ve learned, $3.00, $5,000.00 or $100,000.00, if you learned something, anything because of the experience, than it was worth every penny!

    Learning is what makes life an incredible journey, enjoy the trip!

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