By Jose Medrano
As I think back on my college exploration opportunities, I now realize how little research and support I had. My school counselors didn’t inform me about available opportunities warranted by my good grades. The place my family could afford to live was, Langley Park, a mostly poor, mostly Latino neighborhood just outside of Washing, D. C.; and I now would infer that many of the educators I encountered did not have a positive vision for the children our region.
The Guidance of Nearby Friends
Back then, I had never heard of community college. Being a child of immigrants and the first in my family to attend an institution of higher education seemed like an insurmountable challenge. I started working at the University of Maryland during my high school years. During the years that I worked there, two students of color motivated and assisted me with the college process. I had no clue about the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), and they broke it down for me. They assisted me in applying to the only college I knew, the University of Maryland at College Park (UMD). I did well enough to get into the Academic Achievement Program, which aimed to assist first-generation college students.
Small Class Sizes
As a seasoned veteran in the educational field, if I had a do-over, I would have started at a community college. The classes have fewer students and are affordable. At UMD, I had a math class in an auditorium-sized classroom with hundreds of other students. I failed my math class, not once, but twice. I was ready to quit, when a classmate saw my frustration and defeated look. He advised me to take the math class at the community college. At that time, my parents had purchased a home in Silver Spring, a working-to-middle class suburb of D. C., I spoke to a UMD advisor and was given permission to take classes at Montgomery College (MC), a community college closer to my home.
Later, I met with an MC counselor, who helped me with searching and registering for the math class. I took Math 120, Survey of College Mathematics, during the summer. There were only 12 students, including me. The professor made mathematics fun and had a great sense of humor. He assisted me in building my math confidence. In the end, I earned a B, and this was the course that I needed to earn my bachelor’s degree from the UMD.
I have seen and experienced the empowerment that results from attending a community college. It can be a steppingstone into greater things a student will encounter. I worked as an Academic Coach at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, Maryland, where I assisted thousands of students with the college process.
A student that comes to mind is Juan (pseudonym), a young man with whom the school counselor and I worked closely. He applied to multiple schools and an honors program at the community college. Juan was accepted into the rigorous Macklin Business Institute at Montgomery College performed well academically. His advisors at the program assisted him in applying to the Jack Kent Cooke transfer scholarship and he won! He applied to many schools, but in the end Georgetown University became his choice.
If you are a student and are soon graduating high school, I encourage you to consider a community college and earn your associate’s degree. There are some guaranteed admission programs and scholarship opportunities. Many special access programs require students to earn an associate’s degree. An associate’s degree, when transferred to a state institution, will satisfy most of their lower level general education requirements. In addition, students with associate’s degrees are 92% more likely to earn a Bachelor’s degree in four years, partially because earning an associate’s degree decreases the overall cost of a college education. Importantly, an associate’s degree can help students get jobs or promotions right now, instead of waiting to complete their bachelor’s degrees.
Take a Second Look
Lastly, you have to become your own researcher and advocate. I have seen a multitude of my students benefit from the honors programs at Montgomery College which offer full tuition or tuition discounts. For instance, in the Silver Spring area, MC offers the Montgomery Scholars Program, , the Macklin Business Institute, , and the Southern Management Leadership Institute. Look around online. Talk to your teachers, your counselors, your classmates, your friends, and your parents. I’m certain that you’ll find many doors that will open for you.
Jose Medrano is a BOND member and full-time counseling faculty at Montgomery College’s Takoma Park Campus. He is passionate about helping students go to college for free!