Starting out at a 2-year college

Megan Binkley, Staff Writer

Two years ago, I transferred to Madison College from a four-year college. As far as I know, this isn’t a common choice. The reactions of my peers at my old institution ranged from polite, slightly confused ‘congratulations’ to outright skepticism and aversion. “Wait – you’re going to a community college?” My best friend said. “So… are you dropping out of real college?”

For a while, my family did a better job of hiding their opinions. Eventually, though, my 9-year-old cousin spilled the beans when I mentioned having enrolled in a Zoology class.

“That’s impossible. My dad told me that community colleges don’t have real classes. So they don’t teach science,” he declared.

These reactions, while mildly amusing at the time, reveal misconceptions that those of you dividing your time between two-year and four-year institutions may encounter.

While hopefully not common, prejudices against tech and community colleges do exist, particularly among individuals who have never actually set foot in one.

As someone who started at a four-year college, spent two years at Madison College, and is now gearing up to complete my degree at the UW Madison, I can say this with utter sincerity: Madison College students, you couldn’t possibly have made a better decision for your futures than to start your careers at a local community college like this one.

Let me tell you why.

The average yearly budget for attending a four-year public college (in-state) is over $25,000. For private colleges, it’s over $50,000. The average four-year college graduate from the class of 2016 owes over $37,000 in student loans, and the average student will change their major at least three times during their college career.

From my experience, the picture painted by these numbers is as accurate as it is troubling. At the age of 17 or 18, college-bound students are told to pick a four-year school, pay for it in whatever way necessary, and choose a discipline to which they can dedicate themselves. This is a tremendous amount of pressure on young, inexperienced people, and it often has negative consequences.

During my freshman year at my first four-year college, I witnessed and participated in a range of coping mechanisms. Some of us, uncomprehending of the financial burden shouldered by our parents and benefactors, used our admission letters as invitations to a year-long party.

I personally used this lifestyle to avoid the fact that I had absolutely no idea what I wanted, or what I was doing in college. Other students coped by enrolling in the classes they felt they “ought” to take or dabbling in “fun” classes that didn’t actually contribute toward a degree.

Madison College ended up being the remedy to my situation, much for the same reasons that I believe it will help you get ahead in your college career. At $182 per credit with ample scholarship opportunities, Madison College saves students an average of $13,000 per year. It put a stopper in the drain that my old school had placed on my family’s

financial situation, and gave me time to rebuild my own finances, while still continuing to work toward a degree.

Additionally, for those of us unsure of what we want to study after high school, it’s a fantastic way to complete our general education requirements undistracted by the “shiny-object classes” while we contemplate what long term academic path to take.

For those of you on the fence about college as a life choice at all, it’s also a low-risk way to simply try academics out and see if it’s for you. If it isn’t, you’ll probably be able to establish that without entering into thousands of dollars of debt.

Most importantly, however, I believe that Madison College has an unusually high concentration of individuals who genuinely care about their students’ success. In the extracurricular mentors, especially, I encountered a degree of warmth and personal interest that
I have yet to witness at a four-year college. In a school that is so accessible to students who either don’t yet know what they want, how to navigate college, or what they’re interested in, this kind of support is invaluable.

So, liberal arts transfer students, when you leave Madison College and step into the broader world of four-year schools and professional careers: be proud of where you started.

Choosing to start your four-year degree at Madison College might just be one of the smartest and best deals you ever make, and it reveals a degree of self-awareness and foresight that I believe far outweighs the merit of launching straight into a four-year school simply for the sake of being there.