My College Journey

Senior year of high school is a very exciting time. It’s a period where students apply to their most favored colleges and universities, living for months with a mixture of hope and anxiety until they finally receive that oh-so-coveted acceptance letter. Often times, the colleges we apply to are our dream schools, schools we have imagined attending for years. But what if we never had a dream school? What if we know we want to go to school but have no idea what we want to study? What do those students do?

Although I would consider my parents educated, neither went to college. The same is true for my two older brothers. However, there was not a shadow of doubt in their minds that their youngest child, me, would become the first member of the family to graduate from college. The only problem with this hope was that although they knew they wanted me to go to college, they did not necessarily help or know how to help me in that conquest.

The first leg of my journey began while I was still in high school. South Pasadena has a great relationship with one of the local community colleges, so a few months before graduation, some advisors from Pasadena Community College came into our school and held a seminar for students considering going the junior college route. This was great for me, as I was receiving all the information I needed in order to enroll. I began attending that fall and took a variety of classes, exposing myself to all the different courses and topics available at the school. I didn’t know what I wanted to study so these introductory classes helped channel my scholarly interests.

During this time, many of friends actually were attending the school of their dreams. I remember a year after we began college my friends and I rented a cabin in Big Bear for a ski trip. During our holiday, we all happened to have to register for classes at the same time. I added my classes for the next semester, which totaled roughly $500. A lot of money for a boy of 18. My friends, who were mainly attending USC, also added their classes for the next semester. I remember vividly one of them saying, “You want to see something ridiculous?” before turning the computer to reveal the $27,000 total which had appeared on screen for her classes. I could not fathom it. Upon graduation, my friends would be roughly $200,000 in debt just from classes and school supplies, not to mention they were also paying for housing for all four years. I made a decision right then that I would never be a student who is willing to put himself in a mountain of debt just to obtain a degree.

When it came time to transfer I knew two things. Firstly, I wanted to be able to commute from home. Moving to live closer to campus would not only put me in unnecessary debt but most likely require me to resign from my job, which I did not want to do. I also wanted to stay close to family. Becoming homesick would never have been an issue—I’d previously left my immediate family and all my friends in England and moved to the states at 17—but I simply wanted to remain close to the family that is here. Secondly, my mindset had changed from graduating college with little debt to wanting to graduate from college with no debt. Nowadays that seems like such a foreign concept, but I had done the math and planned everything out. Graduating debt free would be a challenge, but it would definitely be possible.

I had narrowed down my school options between California State University Long Beach and California State University Los Angeles. Both met my criteria, and I liked both schools. I had the added benefit, however, to speak with friends who were attending or graduated from Cal State Los Angeles. They assured me that I would love the school, and to be completely honest, I did. The campus was diverse, my professors were very friendly and extremely approachable, I loved basically everything about the school and my time spent there. After two years at California State University Los Angeles, I had achieved my parent’s dream of becoming a college graduate. I also achieved my own dream of graduating from college debt free. I can say I graduated as one happy individual.

I coach girls’ varsity basketball at my high school alma mater, so I often have seniors panicking about college and what they should do. I tell them the same thing every time. Everybody’s journey to college is different. Some will choose to go the community college route, others will attend a four-year university immediately. When it comes to college there is no wrong decision. There is no wrong choice as to why you chose one school over another. The same goes for the amount of time it may take to complete. I have friends who graduated in three years, while I have also friends who took seven years. Again, everybody’s journey is different. When my friends and I gathered to celebrate the last of our friends to graduate, we did not see a USC grad or a CSULA grad, all we acknowledged was a table of graduates.