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I chose a community college. It was the best decision I’ve ever made, and it saved me $80,000 too.

OPINION: My pathway is one I recommend as a viable and cost-effective option

I recently earned a two-year associate degree and am preparing to transfer from a community college to a four-year university to finish up my bachelor’s degree.

If my experience has taught me anything, it’s this: starting higher education at a two-year college is a great experience, it will save you tens of thousands of dollars, if not more, and there are plenty of resources to explore all of your passions before deciding on a career.

What’s more, by living at home and working part-time while taking classes, I’ve even saved up some money on my road to financial independence.

Here’s my story: I was all set to attend Northern Arizona University as a freshman in 2018 when I got my incoming bill my jaw dropped to the floor.

They wanted $28,722 for each year; that included tuition, room and board, a meal plan and other fees. It was too expensive to fathom. My mind tried to grasp the idea of being $100,000 in debt in four years. I just couldn’t do that to myself at such a young age.

Instead, I enrolled at Mira Costa College, which costs me about $800 dollars a semester.

Two years later I have no college debt and because of a California policy that prioritizes students from the state’s two-year institutions access to its four-year ones, I’m all set to finish up my degree at Mira Costa come fall and have many options for a transfer school. Many states have similar programs.

My pathway is one I recommend as a viable and cost-effective option for any 18-year-old fresh out of high school.

For one, many of my professors actually taught at nearby four-year universities as well. They used the same curriculum, same textbooks, and the same class materials. Several of them often admitted they prefer teaching at community colleges more than four-year universities.

I was also able to have time to try things out, find out what subjects I liked, and what I didn’t.

I thought I would major in nursing after high school, and actually changed my major four times after taking several electives. I am now a sociology major. I loved how I did not feel pressured to settle on a major right away without knowing if it was a perfect fit for me.

I can’t imagine the cost of changing majors four times at a pricey campus.

Surveys show that 20 to 50 percent of students enter college undecided on a major, and about 75 percent change their major at least once before graduating with a degree. Why does society encourage young people to go into major financial debt right out of high school, when they don’t have a clue what they’re spending their money on yet?

Plus, with so many colleges staying virtual this fall due to COVID-19, or offering some sort of hybrid model, is it worth all of that money to learn from home with Zoom University?

I’m also a big proponent of vocational schools, learning a trade through work, or obtaining certifications in different blue-collar and tech fields. In my experience, every person learns differently, and college isn’t always the best option for everyone.

Looking back at my high school experience, I was often told the only pathway to success is to head straight into a four-year college. That did a disservice to me and my peers, it always made me feel as if there was something wrong with me for taking a different path.

If more young people began at a community college or tried different vocations, we would see fewer college students strapped with $100,000-plus in debt and a degree that can’t guarantee them a good-paying job after they graduate.

The bottom line is students need more options, and they need to be educated on those options.

MORE: Cal State: ‘no plans to reduce’ fall tuition despite keeping classes online

IMAGES: Monkey Business Images / Shutterstock

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About the Author
Gracie Beile is a sophomore at Mira Costa College, majoring in sociology and minoring in education. She plans to transfer to California State University San Marcos. In addition to contributing to The College Fix, she is an active community volunteer and sustaining member in the National Charity League. She also enjoys ballet dance, going to the beach with friends, and travel. After graduation she plans to start her career as an academic counselor.    

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