In the next couple of months, things are drastically changing for the Class of 2016 – we are officially leaving high school behind and moving forward.
For a majority of us, moving forward means going off to a four-year college. The spring semester is filled with questions from everyone about where we’ll be attending.
So why is that when this question arises, I feel anxious and panicked?
Because I will not be attending a four-year university. I’ll be attending Sierra College, where I’ll earn my general education in two years and then move on to a university.
The look on people’s faces when I tell them makes me feel somewhat disheartened. They assume I wasn’t smart enough to get into a four-year or didn’t have enough motivation, and I instead opted out and took the route to community college.
This choice wasn’t about my academics or my lack of determination. As of right now, I can’t afford the tuition of a university.
My financial status has no correlation to the area in which I’ve grown up in. My family’s income is derived from a small-business that has been owned for almost 30 years. Owning a business, in this economy, does not guarantee that you will have the ability to feed a family of seven every night.
On top of struggling to make ends meet, my brother’s very grand (and expensive) wedding was the only thing I needed to see before realizing that my tuition money was almost non-existent.
My only option at this point was to attend a junior college, earn enough money for tuition and then transfer to my dream school and pursue my degree.
In the middle of last semester, students were in the process of applying to colleges. I was not. My plan to go to Sierra College had already been set in stone.
I continued to dodge the never ending questions of where I was applying, and if I thought I was going to get in. Even with family members, I kept my answers vague and simple.
My mom and dad tried persuading me to apply for colleges, claiming that they’ll find some way to pay for it. Watching them fight over the cost of the electricity bill made me realize that they would be sacrificing too much money and stress for my education.
I told myself for the next two months that two years at Sierra College will be no different than two years at Columbia.
The talk about leaving this town and moving to a big city made me fearful. I would be stuck here for the next few years, while my friends seek new adventures in new cities.
Then, acceptance letters began emerging, and college was all the talk on campus. My anxiety began emerging as I continued to distance myself from all discussions about college.
I even went as far to try and avoid family events, fearful that I was being judged for not going to a top notch Ivy League institution. The only people who are more judging than teenagers are Indian parents.
Whenever I tell someone I am going to go to a community college, I always add how it’s only for two years and then I’ll transfer to another school, as if I needed to justify my decisions for others.
My relationship with my mother is also rocky. She always looks at me with dismay, because she was the only mom who couldn’t boast about her child’s academic achievements.
Every other day she would mention how someone’s child got into an Ivy League, as if to rub it in my face that I wasn’t that child.
She looked at my decision as a form of laziness, rather than lack of financial aid. Could I have taken out numerous student loans for a tuition? Yes – but I didn’t want to deal with the burden of paying off student loans into my adulthood.
This was my way of not burdening my parents with an expensive tuition, and my mom treats me like I had done much worse than put them in debt.
I grew more and more upset. I felt as if I had made a terrible decision and now it was too late to apply.
Almost everyday, I came home, skipped dinner and slept for hours trying to avoid my problems.
At school, I kept a smile on my face in an attempt to convince others (and myself) that I was fine. My mother and I rarely spoke, and if we did, it turned into an argument.
My grades were slipping and I had almost lost all my motivation to continue. My only excuse for my poor grades was that I was going to Sierra so it didn’t really matter.
I then realized that in the midst of convincing others that I’m okay going to a junior college, I convinced myself that it wasn’t okay.
I finally snapped out of it and my sadness quickly turned to anger.
Why was I being patronized for not attending a community college instead of being encouraged to pursue my dreams? What is it about attending a junior college that makes me different from any other student?
I want to be just as successful as any other student on this campus, and I will work just as hard as anyone to achieve that.
In two years, when I finally get into my dream school, I will know that it was all worth it.
Don’t let anyone, including yourself, believe that you’re any different because you’re not going down the same path to a “proper education.”
Our society, and our campus especially, has made college education a very big deal. I understand that it can be a big deal, but those who aren’t ready or aren’t attending shouldn’t be deemed as outsiders from the rest of our student body.
You will all become successful, in the different ways that you define success. In five or 10 years, it’s not going to matter what your grades were like in college or high school.
You’ll have your degree or your job and that’s how you’ll travel towards your future, without ever needing to look back on how you got there.