I spent 4 years at community college instead of dropping out


(Illustrated by Kendal Foreman/ Warrior Life)

At 17 you can’t vote, nor drink, or gamble but are expected to be able to go to college and make decisions that will impact the remainder of one’s life.

Like most students, college has been preached to me since the beginning of my education as the key to a successful life. The choice of getting a college education was never an option in my household.

“You are going to college,” my mom would say. “All of my children are going to college.”

The proper expectation for me was to spend two years at El Camino College followed by transferring into an exceptional university.

My timeline didn’t play out that way. I spent four years at El Camino College before I finally got accepted into a university.

I began my journey at El Camino as an undeclared major. At that time, first year students were still required to take placement tests.

My results were disappointing.

I was placed in the lowest of the low in math and two semesters below college level in English.

The series of remedial classes I tested into was the kryptonite in my original transferring plan. Feeling dumb would be an understatement for what I felt when seeing my results.

I was labeled incompetent according to my placement test.

The word incompetent made me feel like I had already failed before I was even given a chance to start.

I was a fresh faced first year college student turned bitter. Taking 6 a.m. remedial classes that don’t count as transfer credit felt like the biggest waste of my time.

Every morning I had to convince myself to open my car door and drag myself out to make it to my class.

My anxiety would show up like clockwork. Creeping up in my throat before every lecture and exam. Sometimes I would run to the restroom and lock myself in the stall just to pull myself together.

I can’t count the number of times I cried my first semester. I felt nothing but pressure weighing me down. The thought of never getting out of remedial classes kept me up at night.

I thought El Camino was going to be a walk in the park, but it felt more like I was drowning in the deep end.

The college experience had been advertised as a life changing thing, where every student would get to choose their own path for their education.

But instead, I was stuck taking classes that weren’t a necessity to the goals I wanted to accomplish. My mind was made up and the advertised experience had shattered before my eyes. I was flooded in my fear of disappointing my family and the possibility I would never leave El Camino College.

I remember my mom’s face when I finally had the guts to express I no longer wanted to go to school. There was a brief moment of disappointment on her face followed by a reassurance.

“Try your best and at least finish this semester,” she said.

That was my wake up call. It took time for me to realize I had become my own worst enemy fighting the constant battle of my own self worth.

No one saw me as incompetent except myself.

Community college can be a race for some and a marathon for others. In terms of where I started El Camino College I felt like I had been set a mile behind my peers, and I would never have the chance to catch up, or cross the finish line.

Many students that get placed within remedial classes don’t believe they are following the correct path or are taking too long. This is shown in the data collected by The National Center on Education and Economy which shows that “Less than 20% of students enrolled in at least one remedial class attain a degree within 5 years.”

I have seen many community college students go through the same struggle as me and feel embarrassed by the stigma surrounding attending a community college for more than two years.

Four years at community college is longer than the two years I had hoped for. The four years at El Camino helped me accept my failure and allowed me to believe in myself when I felt the most lost.