College: A Tale of Two Siblings

With college these days, there are a few options, I suppose. Students can do as I did and march off to a four-year university right out of high school. Or they can do as my sister did and start off taking general courses at a community college before transferring.

I somehow got through college. When I look back on my life so far, the four years of it that I spent studying journalism at a university in California aren’t one of its highlights. I was immature, erratic, and made few friends, and I didn’t compensate for any of these shortcomings with a stellar academic performance, either. I graduated with a 2.6 GPA and no serious job prospects. I sometimes wonder if I would’ve done better to do as my younger sister later did.

With college these days, there are a few options, I suppose. Students can do as I did and march off to a four-year university right out of high school. Or they can do as my sister did and start off taking general courses at a community college before transferring.

There are advantages to each approach. Here’s a breakdown:

Four-year school: I wasn’t ready for college as an 18-year-old, this much I can easily concede now. Hindsight makes shortcomings so readily apparent. Looking back on my time in school, I know I wasn’t ready for the autonomy, the hedonism, the drinking. I didn’t really grasp the importance of doing the footwork on my obligations, slow, steady progress, things I admittedly still struggle with as I approach 30. I doubt many people have an intrinsic command of these things.

If I could do college again, I’d at least go in with better awareness of the pitfalls of my new environs. But I also know that I learned things and grew from my various misadventures. I didn’t enter college a saint, and I didn’t graduate as one either. But I know I learned how to suck it up and deliver on challenges. I learned how to function amidst turbulence. And a part of me says I would’ve had problems wherever I’ve gone, that that self-destructive streak in me might have prevented me from ever earning a degree if I hadn’t lucked into a college out of high school. This would be true even with the help of online tutoring.

Community college: My sister’s five years younger and got to watch from afar as I made a mess of my life, alienating friends and almost failing out of school my freshman years, still going through periodic tribulations and low spots in the years that followed. And at about $12,500 a year for all my academic expenses, maturity didn’t come cheap for me, exponentially more expensive than, say, an online math tutor. By the time my sister was ready for college, my family had a plan, figuring she could live at home and take classes at the junior college a few blocks from our house.

The plan could not have gone better. I think my sister aced every class she took at community school, with occasional breaks in her schooling so that she could work and travel. She eventually transfered to one of the best universities in the country and graduated with honors. If she ever had the problems that I did, I never heard about them.

Admittedly, my sister might have been equipped to do fine at a four-year school straight out, as well. Where I’ve always been talented yet mercurial, my sister combines book smarts with steadfast diligence. I can only wonder what might have been for me in school if I’d taken a similar approach.

Lenord Richards is the author of this article. He currently works with a group of teachers who specialize in online tutoring for children of all ages. He is directly involved as the head online math tutor, so he tends to get the bulk of the work from students.

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