How I Overcame the Community College Stigma

Carolina Rubio is a double major in political science and journalism at Southwestern College.

Editor’s note: Carolina Rubio is a double major in journalism and political science. She is currently the campus editor of The Southwestern College Sun and the president of the ASTRA Club.

During my first semester at Southwestern College, I ran into a classmate from high school who greeted me with, “Why do you go here? I thought you were smart.”

Well, hello to you too, I thought. Taken aback, I shrugged and continued with my day – ignoring his comment.

I had just returned to school from a gap semester after graduating high school. Unsure of how college even worked, what classes to take, who to talk to about career choices, I was not only disoriented, but now also insecure about what I was doing with my life.

Why was I here? Why hadn’t I tried hard enough to get into a university? What is the fastest path out of here?

Sitting in class that day, I have to admit, I began to panic.

Though transferring was my objective, I was too quick to dismiss the opportunities offered to me. I followed a typical class, work, home routine that left me feeling more insecure because of how dull it was.

My perception of school was that it was just a passageway, and I was anxious to go to the next step because I was ashamed of being stuck at a ‘junior college.’ It hadn’t struck me I needed to get involved.

After joining The Sun and enrolling in the newspaper production class my second semester, where I soon became assistant editor of the campus section, my path became a little clearer. Having a purpose other than obligations like studying and working allowed me to grow, to learn that I didn’t have to treat my time at Southwestern College as some sort of punishment for not attending a university.

Being able to work with other people, getting to know my classmates and their success stories and realizing that everyone’s goals were different broadened my perspective of my campus. I met professors who could hold higher paying positions at more prestigious universities, yet choose to teach here to support their community.

Education holds the same value at Harvard as it does here – learning, observing, working, creating and collaborating. I found the majority of the people around me wanted to better themselves.

Our culture paints a very clear and particular picture of success that includes an acceptance to a university followed by a job offer or graduate school. Community college is usually painted as the reject pile, where you go to school only because it’s the condition your parents gave to keep living at home. Though that is the reason many students begin to attend, it isn’t what makes them stay.

Attending a community college isn’t synonymous with failing, but a springboard for your career after high school or wherever you are in life.

For any doubtful college seniors, current freshmen, or anyone who is skeptical of the environment within a community college, coming here was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my short 20 years of life.

Attending a Southwestern College didn’t set me back but rather gave me room to grow and get to know myself without worrying about spending $24,000 to $65,000 each year.

I learned that there is no straight path to ‘success,’ but more of a journey of education, personal and professional development. Where you make your achievements does not make them any bigger or smaller. During my first year at Southwestern College, I earned scholarships, made connections and found my career path in a supportive environment. I will still end up with the same degree as the rest of my high school graduating class who are attending a university. I’ll still end up finishing college just like my classmates who went to UCLA after high school. Our paths were different, but I am beyond grateful for mine.