If someone in elementary school had told me that I wasn’t going straight into a four-year university after high school, I might have been devastated. It may have to do with the constant effort from teachers that pushed students like myself to go straight into a university. Looking back now, I realize there was a factor of elitism embedded in my academia that led to internalized feelings of failure for not attending a university right away.
I remember in the first grade, sitting in my classroom apart from other kids because a select few of us were learning a different and more advanced curriculum. I enjoyed the challenge, and from grade to grade, I sought to improve and stay ahead of the learning curve. It bought me the approval of my parents, who didn’t attend or finish college. Nothing motivated me more than knowing my parents would see me take a step forward that they didn’t have the privilege to. I would be the first generation to start what I envisioned would be a legacy. It’s a familiar feeling of proudness and aspiration for the children of immigrant parents.
In middle school, I took “advanced” classes, and in high school, those evolved into more formal advanced placement classes. The courses were challenging but enjoyable, and we often had professors encourage us with a subtle, but elitist tone. We were commonly referred to as the “cream of the crop,” and told that we were better than the other kids for taking harder classes. The idea was that, because we were preparing for college, we had a better future in store.
We would be ahead of the curve just like we always were — just like I regularly was. I was a part of a demographic that was the top percentile of my class. Our town was small and less funded than others, and college seemed to be the way out for me. I believed in this vision and put in the work but it was not as much as I could have. I figured I would get by like I naturally had. It was not until the last two years of high school that I realized that even if I got into a four-year school, I wouldn’t be able to pay for it. I realized the only way to do college without student loans would be through scholarships or a full ride.
To top it off, I applied for FAFSA and found out I did not qualify. My family is considered middle-class, but it didn’t mean that they could afford to pay for my tuition. I knew I wanted to write and recognized that jobs in this field weren’t going to be enough to help get me out of debt after graduating college. So, I decided to apply nowhere. I watched my friends receive letter after letter of acceptance, and it came with a feeling of both glee and internalized misery that I dropped the ball and realized it too late.
After some soul-searching and reconstructing my reality, I learned to accept that my journey was different. I would persevere no matter what I did. I hammered it so far into my head that it became all I saw until I transferred. I went to a community college with plans to transfer into a four-year university.
Community college provided some flexibility, and it also allowed me to pick up a part-time job to work to offset the costs. Paying for my tuition and supplies was tough, but not impossible. I highly recommend anyone considering higher education to start at a community college. Not only are some of the classes at a community college just as challenging and engaging as they are at a university, but it’s cheaper and allows time for growth.
I learned a valuable lesson — I learned to unlearn. The process began with unlearning my elitist attitude towards a community college and alternative education. I realized that there were different ways to learn, and community college was just as valid. I joined my college’s student newspaper and found people who had similar experiences and goals. It built the blueprint to what I would try and accomplish and develop at a university. Then I transferred to San Diego State.
During my first semester, I realized my expectations were not as I foresaw. If you’re a transfer student and want to graduate in two years, SDSU recommends you take five classes a semester.
If you have an impacted major, that may also mean summer classes and summer tuition. I followed those directions in my first year. But having to pay for tuition, supplies, rent, etc. left little to no room for the extracurricular activities I yearned for like writing for a newspaper. I found the amount of school work and extra hours at work draining and diverting me of my goals.
Last year, I decided to split up my classes to alleviate some time for what I wanted out of my university experience. I also joined an organization on campus that aligned with what I desired. I recommend all transfer students join an organization on campus. It can be one that you want to venture into or one that feels familiar. I found mine with The Daily Aztec and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. It felt rewarding, and once again, I met people who shared similar ambitions as myself, and it was inspiring.
Your experience might also coincide with the majority of other students who are just starting to find themselves, although they might be on a different path than you. It is essential to recognize that comparing yourself to them is invaluable unless you see their motivation as contagious. Your experience might be entirely different. As a transfer student, we may feel obligated to hurry up and graduate. I urge you to give yourself time to grow just as we did before we transferred in. Taking your time allows you to absorb what you want in your experience. It can also mean more time to use university resources to find internships and other opportunities.
I understand that financial aid may be an issue, and that may mean sitting down and crafting something that works best for you. I’m an advocate for considering ambitions before graduating simply because you feel you have to. The feeling of wanting to cross the finish line may be a faint echo of an internalized sense of seeming behind for not going to a university in the first place. It’s okay to slow down if it means you’re accomplishing and fulfilling your passions. It’s your journey to navigate and it always has been.
Charlie Vargas is a senior studying journalism. Follow him on Twitter @CharlieVargas19.