But won’t I be missing out on the whole “college experience”?

It depends on what “the college experience” means to you. If it means parties, drugs, cheap beer, and shuffling, half-asleep, to class in your pajamas, then yeah, you won’t get that at community college. My definition of “the college experience” involved meeting like-minded people, getting involved with school activities like the Great Books Student Society and the Video Game Club (real!), and rallying for causes I cared about—and I did get some of that at Wright. I don’t want to mislead you, though: The social aspects of college are way less intense at community college, because so many of the students have outside responsibilities that keep them busy when they’re not in class. I, for one, worked a part-time job while taking four or five classes. That didn’t leave a lot of time for socializing.

Having less of a community at school can feel a bit lonely, but it can also encourage you to go out and establish yourself in a world that’s larger than a college community. A large part of my own socializing took place outside of school. I went to parties associated with other schools, started a poetry series at a local bookstore, where I met a lot of other poetry nerds, and met people at a lot of my city’s queer events, like dance parties and performances (all great places to meet people, especially if you’re underage).

What about my life after community college? Isn’t it hard to transfer to a four-year university from there? Are there scholarships? What is the meaning of life???

I just graduated from my community college a few months ago, and I’m transferring to the University of Toronto in two weeks, which I’m super excited about. But when it came time to transfer, I curled up in a corner with a stack of applications and cried until all those awful essay questions blurred and disappeared. There were so many more things to consider when transferring, like, Will this school accept all my credits? Will they offer me aid as a transfer student? These two questions played a large role in my decision-making. Some schools didn’t offer any aid to transfer students, which made it more difficult for me to consider them. Other schools wanted me to start as a freshman, which also ruled them out. I ended up narrowing it down to schools that either accepted my full two years’ worth of credits and/or were a cheaper price/willing to offer me a significant amount of aid. A group of Wright professors helped me research schools, write my college essays, and apply for scholarships.

The transfer process can be painful, but lots of community colleges are set up to make it easier for you. My school had a Transfer Admission Guarantee agreement with a local state school, where as long as you kept up a certain GPA, you couldn’t be rejected. If you’re considering going to a community college, call the ones in your area and ask if they have this kind of program with a four-year school. Applying out of state complicates all of this a little. Some universities will be super transfer-friendly; others will want you to take all your classes over again. Again, call the two-year colleges you’re considering and ask them what percentage of their students successfully transfer to four-year ones. If you know what school you want to transfer to eventually, call them and ask how many community-college transfers they accept each year, and whether most of them come from a particular place.

There are also plenty of scholarships out there just for people transferring from two-year to four-year schools: Two big ones are the Jack Cook Kent scholarship and this one sponsored by Coca-Cola. If you join Phi Theta Kappa (the two-year schools’ honor society) you can get a $5,000 transfer scholarship to one of your community college’s partner schools.

While the whole transfer process is admittedly painful, there are advantages to applying for schools as an older/transfer student. In my case, by the time I applied to four-year colleges, I knew what I was looking for in terms of my education. I was more certain about the things I cared about, and I knew to research each school’s libraries and curriculums. I also knew to look up my potential professors to find out what research each was involved in when they weren’t teaching.

In most cases, doing well at community college will make you an attractive transfer candidate. So don’t let people stress you out by telling you you’ll never get into such-and-such a school coming from community college. That’s just bullshit. Most of my current friends started out at community college, then transferred to the fancy universities and liberal arts colleges they attend today!

As far as the meaning of life goes, I know that it’s more than college and what school you attend or want to go to. Hopefully it’s got something to do with trees, and ice cream, and really good books, and doing what makes you and the people around you happiest. It’s easy to get caught up in schools, and reputations, and what people tell you is important. During my last week of community college, there was a ceremony where students were given awards for their achievements in school and involvement in certain clubs. I remember sitting and watching all these people get called up to the stage and realizing how many incredible people I had met and how much I was going to miss my school. More than science, English or math, going to community college introduced me to a side of my city I would never have known to look for otherwise. Most of all, these past few years made me feel more than ready to examine all my options, get the education I want. ♦

Tova Benjamin is a poet and student. She likes biting her nails, crazy girl narratives, and telling great bedtime stories featuring strong, independent princesses.