Don’t rule out community colleges while shopping for higher education

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This is the time of year when high school seniors start deciding where they want to apply to college. I want to encourage them to keep community colleges on their lists—and not just as a backup school, but as a good starting point to a college degree.

I freely admit that attending a community college was not my top choice. In fact, before I started here last year, I was disappointed and embarrassed about going to a two-year college.

Now that I know about the many opportunities at LaGuardia, it’s hard to comprehend that I once felt this way.

So how did I get here? I was born and raised in NYC. When I was 11, my family and I moved to my parents’ home country of Nepal. After high school, I decided that I wanted to come back to the U.S. to pursue a college degree. I took the college entrance exam, the SAT, and began researching colleges in America. I felt like I was out of luck when I learned about application deadlines at four-year colleges, many of which I’d missed by more than six months. Learning about postsecondary education in the U.S. felt overwhelming.

I thought being in the U.S. would make things easier. So I booked my flight, even though I still had no clue about where or how I’d be able to go to college here.

I moved in with extended family members in Queens, and began touring private colleges like Columbia, Sarah Lawrence, NYU, and more. Meanwhile, my parents kept encouraging me to consider LaGuardia Community College. They’d heard positive things about it when we lived in Queens during my childhood years. And they knew it was much more affordable than the colleges I was looking at. They suggested that I start my college studies at LaGuardia, earn my associate’s degree, and then go to a four-year college.

I didn’t want to settle for my education, though, and contemplated taking a gap year to apply to the aforementioned colleges, because I had aspirations of receiving scholarships. But looking at my test scores, I had a feeling that I would only receive need-based financial aid. So I went with my parents’ suggestion.

I worried that going to LaGuardia would mean that I wasn’t aiming big. But taking a gap year would delay my college dreams, so I just went with it.

I applied in the middle of August, which is extremely late for applying to most four-year colleges. Like most U.S. community colleges, LaGuardia has rolling admissions and is open access, meaning that no one is turned away.

So I was enrolled!

I decided to try to put aside my low expectations and initial thoughts about attending a community college. Instead, I’d study hard and make the most of my situation.

Right away, I was amazed by the services to help students adjust to college and succeed: staff to help students apply for financial aid, an advising team (for each major) to help students sort out confusion about which classes to take, counselors to assist students in alleviating their stress, and a center where people can learn about the legal benefits they could qualify for. These services, combined with a welcoming atmosphere, the fact that I was enjoying my classes and fellow students, and felt I was learning a lot from my teachers, changed my perspective about LaGuardia Community College.

In my second semester, I qualified to join the Honors Program because of my hard work. Through the program, I met LaGuardia students who were transferring to renowned universities like Stanford, City College, Baruch, Cornell, and more.

Further in my second semester, I needed to find a job to make ends meet, so I visited LaGuardia’s Career Center. Their staff helped me edit my resume, search job openings and submit applications. After a short time, I secured a job as a college assistant for LaGuardia’s Department of External Affairs, which helps keep Long Island City, and the greater NYC community, connected to LaGuardia. Through work assignments for this job, I learned about the power of community colleges to help break the cycle of poverty for students and their families—because graduates and their families earn significantly higher incomes (vs. those who don’t go to community college).

Now I’m in my second and final year at LaGuardia. I’ll graduate in June 2018 with an associate’s in Communications. I plan to transfer to NYU to continue my education. Ultimately, I want to pursue a career in marketing and/or communications.

I’m very glad that my path led me to choose LaGuardia. At LaGuardia, if you work hard, and speak up about needing help—whether it’s with something academic, financial, personal or career-related—there are resources here to help. It has the programs and services to meet students where they are. And here you can meet faculty and staff who care about every student.

So to any of you readers who are either in high school thinking about a cost-efficient college, a parent thinking about sending your children to college, or someone contemplating going back to college for any reason, I honestly recommend considering a community college, such as LaGuardia Community College.

Rinchen Lama

LaGuardia Community College

City University of New York (CUNY)

Long Island City

Updated 12:57 pm, November 22, 2017
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