How to survive and thrive in community college (and why you should consider attending)

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Cecilio, our friend Christina, and I at Sacramento City College (circa 2007).

With 4-year universities being more expensive these days, many individuals are opting for another route to pursue their education and/or career: community college.

There are different reasons why someone may want to go to a community college:

  1. The tuition is much cheaper for your first 2-3 years than going to a university right away, especially if you live at home with your parents
  2. You still don’t know what to major in or pursue (and that’s okay!)
  3. You are older and never got a chance to get a degree or you’re looking for a career change
  4. You want to pursue a trade (most community colleges have trade programs and it’s cheaper than going to a technical school)
  5. You want to take classes for fun and enrichment
  6. You didn’t do too well in high school but want to redeem yourself and be able to transfer to a university 

In my case, I did horribly in high school up until my senior year. I just didn’t care. I didn’t take AP classes, I slacked off and I hung out with the wrong crowd. I hardly got involved. I got suspended for 5 days. I completely turned around my senior year and got involved with Link Crew, the school newspaper and I raised my GPA. I even got honors and only had one C. It was my senior year I decided that I wanted to go to Sac State, but my highest level in Math was geometry and I didn’t meet other requirements. It was then I decided that I would just go to Sac City College and then transfer to a university.

There is nothing wrong or shameful about going to a community college. Cecilio grew up in Davis, CA (college town—home to UC Davis) so it was ingrained to him since childhood to go to a prestigious university right after high school. He applied to a few UC’s, USC and SF State and only got admitted to 2 schools, but ended up going to Sac City due to a mishap from math class. Going to a community college is seen as academic suicide in Davis, but in the end he was happy because we met and then he did transfer to UC Davis.

You can transfer to any university of choice whether you want to stay local or move far away. You can still join a sorority as a transfer student if that’s your thing. Depending on where you live, It’s also much easier to get admitted as a transfer student than as a high school student, especially if you apply to a university that has agreements with your community college.

I loved my time at Sac State, but I had much more wonderful memories at Sac City College. While community college is mostly used as a stepping stone to transfer to a university, it doesn’t have to be a drag. You can still have fun in the process. 

Here’s how I made the most of my time at Sac City and I hope that it helps you too.

Get your general education classes out of the way.

You’re going to have to still take the usual—English, math, science, history/humanities…there’s no way around it (unless if you passed the AP test in high school). It’s just best to take those classes as early as possible during your first few semesters. I highly recommend taking summer school to get it out of the way so that you can have more room for other general ed. classes or classes you want to take for your major. Most classes are 3 units, and California community colleges are $46/unit. So that’s just only $138, compared to having to take a summer class at a university which could cost $1000+.

See a counselor to talk about your goals.

Whether you want to transfer to a university, get an Associate’s Degree or a certificate, a guidance counselor will help you with your goals. They will show you what classes you need to take (although most community colleges will have a yearly catalog with the list of required classes and their descriptions). They will also guide you through the transfer process. Here in California, there are official transfer agreements between community colleges and the CSU and UC systems through However, if you want to transfer to a private school, it’s going to be a bit trickier so that’s where the counselor will definitely come in handy (and of course, talk to the counselors at the university you want to go to!)

Get a job on campus if you can.

My first job was at Sac City, and I was a tutor at the computer lab for graphic design classes. It was actually a really easy job—I knew the Adobe Creative Suite and I helped students taking classes in the graphic design program with their homework or getting familiar with the software. I also helped print out their final projects with the large format printer. Because it was on campus, the hours were insanely flexible and I had them based on my class schedule. I was even able to do homework on my downtime. On campuses jobs allow you to choose your hours around your class schedules. You usually do not get that luxury off-campus. There are so many things you can do: you can be a library assistant, work at the cafeteria or bookstore, or tutor other students.

Get involved in clubs and organizations.

This is a must in university but community colleges have amazing clubs that you can get involved in. I would not have had half as much fun as I did if it weren’t for those activities. I joined The Express, Sac City’s student newspaper as a writer and a designer. Obviously it was the best decision I made because that’s where I met Cecilio, but I also met some pretty cool people there and I gained journalism, media and design experience. I also joined a Christian club (Campus Crusade for Christ, now known as Cru) and met some great people who helped me grow spiritually. I even went to one of the winter conferences in San Diego. Joining organizations will help you make new friends and you can also add them in your resume.

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Cecilio and I at The Express in 2010.

Don’t assume that classes are going to be easy.

Okay, I admit that I had some pretty easy classes, but I also struggled with others (and of course still passed). I actually think some community colleges professors make the classes more difficult to weed out students who think the semesters are going to be a breeze. I can’t recall how many tears I cried when Cecilio and I studied for statistics class. I also remember when I signed up for a biology class, the professor had a mean streak and said, “This class is going to take up a chunk of your time so if you have other classes or a full-time job going on, I suggest you drop right now”.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help from professors or fellow students.

I’ve always needed help with my math classes. And that biology class I was just talking about? A classmate e-mailed a whole class wanting to create a study group and meet before big tests. So I wanted to join it, and 6 of us would study in the library or student center. Our small group celebrated with a potluck once the semester was over, and our professor softened up towards the end, admitting that she wanted to weed out the students who wouldn’t take her class seriously.

Take electives and try something new.

Usually, classes in the arts and foreign languages are part of the requirements to transfer or get an Associate’s Degree. Because I planned on pursuing graphic design, I had to take drawing classes as a part of the lower-division requirements for my major. That beginning drawing class was transferrable and met that requirement for the design program at Sac State and it was met my arts requirement. You can also take other types of classes like painting, ceramics, photography, acting…

I also took exercises classes as a way to get fit on a budget. The classes were only 1 unit anyway (and back when I attended, each unit was only $20). I took yoga, weight training, dance and swimming. So that’s something to think about if you want to stay in shape without having a gym membership.

I hope this post helps you navigate your journey during community college if you decide to attend, and that it encourages you and gets rid of the negative stigma about it in your head!

Hannah is a travel writer, graphic designer, and the founder/editor of Hannah on Horizon. She is based in Sacramento, California, living with her husband and two adorable dogs. She shares tips on how to experience luxury travel on any budget, and how to maximize time at each trip or destination, no matter what your budget or amount of vacation time at work. She enjoys making you feel like you have visited each destination with her through her storytelling and informative writing style.

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