It’s the “accept everybody” part of community college that usually leads people to make negative assumptions about community college, which leads me to my second point:

Aren’t community colleges for slackers/fuckups/losers/old people?

People go to community college for all kinds of reasons, all of them very valid. Among the most common are financial constraints, time constraints, and just not being prepared, academically or emotionally, for a private four-year university. Some high school graduates don’t know what they want to major in yet and don’t want to spend a lot of money figuring it out. Some people are there because they want a specific type of vocational training or are on leave from the military. I met people who wanted a degree from a fancy school but didn’t want to pay for four entire years there, so they do their first two at a junior college. And a huge number of community college students have kids and/or jobs, or are on leave from the military, and can’t attend college full-time. Community colleges are generally pretty accommodating to restrictive schedules. I had one teacher who would give us time to write essays in class, because he knew that most of his students wouldn’t have time otherwise.

There were also a lot of students from other countries who started taking classes as undocumented students, which you were able to do at my college. And many community colleges offer resources beyond just education: I met a woman from Mexico recently who was struggling to learn English and find a job and further her education. I put her in touch with a Spanish-speaking teacher at my school who walked her through the admissions process, helped her sign up for classes, and introduced her to advisers who helped her arrange financial aid. After a visit to the wellness center, she was hooked up with health insurance and free therapy. She even got to borrow a computer from a school loan program.

A lot of people were at Wright because they couldn’t afford to continue taking classes at expensive four-year institutions. Others had jobs that suddenly required them to get an associate’s degree. Occasionally I would meet people who were there because they had been kicked out of or suspended from another school, but they were the minority. (And none of these people seemed like fuckups, anyway—as you know, school can be super rough at every level!)

Since I left high school with so much catching up to do, community college was perfect for me. The teachers didn’t expect me to write a perfect research paper and were very patient in explaining basic science concepts like evolution to me. There was a writing center where I learned how to properly write an academic paper. My professors recommended books for me to read outside of school.

Don’t you get what you pay for? Does going to a cheap city school mean I’ll have fewer resources, bad classes, and a shitty education?

I have a ton of opinions on this one! In some ways, the answer is yes. My school operated on a pretty small budget (most of it provided by the city), which meant there wasn’t a lot of money for things other schools splurge on. We didn’t have a huge campus with sprawling complexes and pretty ponds. All the classes took place in one building, and there was a single, small library without too many books and no access to expensive academic databases.

But just because your community college doesn’t have some specific resource doesn’t mean you have to go without it. You might live in a city with other colleges nearby. Many colleges give the public access to at least part of their collections, though you probably can’t take anything out. I used to borrow a friend’s student card to get into her school’s library. You can also scrounge around the internet for file-sharing websites, or check out your state or city library’s sharing program. (Another option is to ask a college-going friend for their login to use the big fancy databases, but don’t be mad if they say no—they could get in trouble for sharing their info.)

A lot of the expensive four-year schools have classes with really cool titles covering all sorts of interesting topics (e.g., the Vampire in Literature and Cinema, The Simpsons and Philosophy, and the Science of Harry Potter—all real!). Most classes at community and city colleges are more interested in fulfilling your general, functional requirements: basic English, basic math, and a few more-individualized courses like women’s literature and environmental science. But these classes are pretty solid, and most of the teachers I’ve had have been great. One of my favorites professors also taught at a couple of prestigious four-year schools, but he said he really enjoyed the diversity of the student body at Wright. Another one had been an editor at the Wall Street Journal; she chose to teach at Wright because she wanted to give back to the community. Such do-gooders were rare, but that’s true at any school. Make it your goal to find them and sign up for all of their classes. (I found about five teachers at my school whom I loved, and took almost all my classes with them.) Good teachers make a huge difference at any school you might go to.

I have to admit, though, that I found some of my classes at community college unengaging or limiting. The workload was lighter than at my friends’ schools, and we would often move through subjects really slowly. If this is the case for you, tell your teachers that you aren’t being challenged. One of my professors and I worked out a deal where I would write a semester-long research project in lieu of the short essays required of other students. Or you may have the opposite problem and find yourself struggling in your classes. Most community colleges are well equipped to help people who are having a hard time. I’ve always been terrible at math, and completely terrified of it. When I first signed up for college, I failed the high school math equivalency test. My adviser told me about a free program offered over winter break to help students who were behind in any subject. In short: Going to a community college definitely doesn’t mean you’ll be getting a shittier education, but it might mean you’ll have to play a more active role in getting a good one.