“Financially, it makes more sense for you to start at community college. The gap between financial aid and tuition costs is too great.”
This is a hard conversation that we often have with our students, but it’s also one that I was on the receiving end of during my senior year of high school. I attended a high school that really pushed 4-year college educations. We were told to attend a university, but the financial aspect was often left out of the conversation. After applying to a handful of schools in Florida, I got a few acceptance letters, but none of the aid packages were generous enough to be financially feasible for my family.
At the time, my FAFSA Estimated Family Contribution was $0, much like most of the students we serve. The cost to attend my top choice was around $27,500 a year. In order to fill the gap between the tuition amount and any financial aid I received, I would have had to take out over $20,000 in loans every year, totaling $80,000 in debt over four years. On the other hand, the cost to attend my local community college was $0 because of federal and state aid. Although the best choice may seem obvious, this is a hard decision to make, especially when the student has their mind set on a specific university.
Towards the end of my senior year, my family and I decided that I would start my post-secondary path at community college.
When I began classes in the fall of my freshman year, I wasn’t super excited. Like most of my peers, when I thought of college, I pictured living in a dorm, eating in a dining hall, attending football games, and taking classes in a lecture hall with 200+ classmates. But after a few weeks of being at my community college, I soon discovered a thriving student life, a great honors program, and the opportunity to carve a place for myself on campus.
In addition to the financial benefits, starting at a community college often sets our students up for success in incredible ways. Most community colleges boast smaller class sizes, unique opportunities for professional growth, and the chance to start over academically. During my first year at college, I attended three leadership conferences, studied abroad in Austria, joined campus organizations, and started my own campus newspaper.
Academically, the smaller class sizes and individualized attention from professors were a huge benefit to me. I enjoyed the fact that some of my classes had 10 students, and I recognized everyone who hung out in the honors college. My high school GPA was good, but nothing to brag about. But when I graduated from my community college, my GPA was extremely competitive and helped me land a scholarship to transfer to the University of Florida to complete my bachelor’s degree.
At most community colleges, there are unique support systems put in place to increase retention rates among the student body they serve. The Community College of Philadelphia offers career services, educational support services, counseling, academic advising, and several organizations catered to their student demographic. A representative from CCP’s Center for Male Engagement visited our school and held an information session for our senior guys. He spoke about the community and levels of support that were available through the center, including life skills workshops and career and leadership development training.
At Penn Treaty, every senior is required to apply to the Community College of Philadelphia. Whether it’s their first choice, their safety school, or just a graduation requirement they need to fulfill, CCP is an option we want every single one of our students to have access to. As a proud graduate of a community college, I’m always happy to talk to students about my experience. It’s a path that we often encourage our students to pursue, and one that I am happy I took.