Few would argue that earning a college degree is a smart choice. But what are the advantages of attending a community college before moving on to a four-year university? How can community college students get the full college experience while still living at home? And what does it feel like to be the first in the family to continue one's education beyond high school?
Several recent Elgin Community College graduates shared their stories with the Daily Herald -- and offered some advice to high school graduates heading to college themselves this fall.
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First in the family to attend college
Deciding to continue my education and attend college after high school was the best decision of my life. After graduating from Larkin High School in Elgin, I enrolled at Elgin Community College becoming the first in my family to attend college.
Today I am proud to be able to say I did it. I completed all my general education credits and am graduating with an Associate in Arts degree from ECC. I will be continuing my education at Chamberlain College of Nursing in the fall. I have accomplished one more goal in my life and will not give up.
My advice for graduating high school seniors is not to be afraid to speak up and ask for guidance. Follow your dreams, and even when people tell you it isn't possible, you should believe in yourself. No obstacle is greater than one's determination.
Areli Solano, Elgin
Accidental bus ride made all the difference
My decision to attend college developed during my middle school experience. One day, I was walking into the building and a school administrator pulled me aside and asked me if I was late for the bus. Scared and confused, I said "yes." Little did I know that by accident, I was placed onto a school bus full of other classmates heading to Elgin Community College. It was a college day field trip, and all the students on the bus were selected to witness college firsthand and open their eyes to that experience. It was this experience that helped me realize that attending college was a goal I wanted to pursue.
My experience as the president of Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society has helped me develop my deficiencies and bolster my talents as a leader in the classroom and on campus. I have acquired many new skills and have developed many new networks.
However, all good things come to an end. My graduation will mark the end of me walking down building F or walking from building K to Building A. Whatever the case, through the years I walked those hallways, I pushed through the crowds, I registered for class at 7 a.m., and I too felt lost the first day of school. So I tell all incoming students, no matter what you do and no matter how long you take to complete your degree, the point is to complete. Continue to seek bigger and greater challenges that will allow you to discover new abilities and improve yourself.
So walk those hallways that I once walked, register for early morning classes and drive in circles to find parking because in the end, it's an investment for your future.
Ray Hernandez, Carpentersville
Join clubs for the true college experience
It is funny how history repeats itself. All of the emotions I felt when I first started attending Elgin Community College as a high school student are coming back now as graduation is right around the corner.
I feel the same emotions I felt as a senior at Dundee-Crown High School in ECC's Tech-Prep program. This program offered students the privilege to attend classes at the college while they were still in high school. I was excited to attend classes at the college and get a head start. At the same time, I was nervous and afraid that I would not be accepted by the other college students.
But all my fears and anxieties went away that first week of classes at ECC. I wanted to get a true college experience, and by doing this, I had to join a club or organization and be more involved on campus. I chose Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society because it held the students accountable for their grades, and I needed that support.
I loved how welcoming PTK was to me, and it motivated me to take a role in it.
But as I leave ECC and head to the University of Illinois at Chicago, I am afraid and nervous that when I transfer to U of I, the students there will not accept me. It is definitely a bittersweet feeling. But I am happy and relieved that I have accomplished the almost impossible dream for me.
My advice to high school seniors is to be open-minded when you go to college. Allow yourself to engage in school activities. It will be more fun and more worthwhile. It will also keep you motivated to achieve your dreams.
Yvette Argueta, Carpentersville
Choose the best option and never give up
Graduating from ECC is one of the greatest accomplishments in my life. I have never worked so hard for something. I will never forget the experience that I have had here.
I do not only want a better life for myself, but also for my family. They have been my drive to graduate. I am one of the first people in my family to graduate from college.
The main reasons why I chose ECC are because it was the best option for me financially. I knew that I wanted to go to a four-year university but there was no way I would be able to pay for it. Another reason was because I was undecided about my major, so it seemed like a great place to figure out my major.
I think that all graduating seniors should attend ECC. It really saves you money so you can save up for your future and it can also help you find your major if you are undecided.
Also, make sure that you become a part of extracurricular activities such as the wide variety of clubs and organizations we have on campus. This year, I was the student government president. I learned so many skills that I could use in the classroom and also in my future career.
Lastly, don't ever feel like giving up. There may be difficult times during your college career, but don't give up. You will make friends that you will have for a lifetime and also have many mentors here on campus, such as club advisers, teachers or counselors. There will be a lot of people by your side to help you to get to your main goal: graduation!
Jake Arndt, South Elgin
Two degrees, two years, while working two jobs
I am so excited to be graduating with both an Associate in Arts and an Associate in Science degree from Elgin Community College. I am studying to be a special education preschool teacher.
I am so proud of myself for earning two degrees in two years while juggling two jobs. I am also very involved on campus.
If I could offer advice to high school graduating seniors who are getting ready to go off to college, I would tell them to make the best of their college experience by getting involved in campus clubs and activities.
I graduated from Jacobs High School a year early, so I did not have time to apply for universities nor did I feel ready to go off to a university. Choosing ECC was the best decision; it has been so rewarding. I am a student adviser for the honors program at ECC, a Spartan leader on campus, which means I help run and coordinate all new student orientations, and I am the information officer for Phi Theta Kappa, an international honor society.
Because of my involvement in Phi Theta Kappa, my transfer university, Texas A&M University-Commerce, is rewarding me with a very generous transfer scholarship, and I am in the running for a full ride.
My involvement on campus, and off campus at the deLacey Family Education Center, as well as my outstanding academics, allowed me to make the All-USA Academic Team and become a Bronze Scholar winner.
The scholarships I have received and the experiences I have acquired have been all made possible because I chose to go to ECC and got involved.
Pamela Tomany, Lake in the Hills
Guiding your own college adventure
College is what everyone is looking forward to their senior year of high school. There are so many new experiences awaiting you as you leave high school and begin on your life's next big adventure.
My best friends were all excited to be packing up and moving to Texas to begin their college adventure; however, I knew that I was going to have to wait another two years before my adventure began, or that is what I thought.
I had decided prior to graduating my senior year of high school that I would attend Elgin Community College because my dad attended community college, and I knew that it was the right choice because of the affordability.
The school year began, and I attended classes, studied, went to work and then home. I was often upset that I wasn't out having a great time in Texas or somewhere else at school. However, that all changed during my second semester at Elgin Community College, when I began to get involved with Phi Theta Kappa, an international honor society. I met many welcoming and inspiring people, I made many lasting friendships, and I got involved with the many interesting activities that Phi Theta Kappa put together.
I would definitely recommend joining a club, any club, to get involved with your college and be a part of everything that happens on campus. You will realize that your days are more exciting, and when you get involved, you guide your own college adventure.
I have had a wonderful two years at Elgin Community College. I will be attending North Central College in Naperville in the fall to study accounting. I am excited to graduate with my Associate of Science degree, but I will definitely miss ECC because this is where my adventure began!
Susan Piotrowski, Algonquin
Increased involvement, increased success
For most seniors in high school, determining which college to attend is difficult. With so many conditions to consider, it can be an overwhelming task.
As a senior at South Elgin High School in 2010, these were not the troubles I faced. I knew exactly where I wanted to go and that was Elgin Community College. I did not "shop around" or visit any school except for ECC.
I selected this school for many reasons; first, because it was literally a 10-minute drive from home. As a senior in high school, I was not interested in institutions that were far from my house, and I still feel that way now. Initially, ECC was my ultimate choice because of the location. Looking back on my three years now, however, there were many other reasons I chose it, such as cost, class size and because my closest friends were attending ECC as well.
Being a graduate from ECC is an amazing feeling. I am absolutely shocked when I think about how I've changed over these last three years and it is all due to what this astonishing institution has provided me with.
Knowing that I am a college graduate makes me feel successful and accomplished. I have just increased my chances of earning $1,000,000 more over my lifetime because I chose to attend a community college before a four-year institution.
My best advice for graduating high school seniors is to simply get involved with the campus and community. I would have never known what I wanted to be if it was not for my involvement in Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society. Had it not been for this amazing adviser and group of students, I could possibly be majoring in a career that was not meant for me. I encourage every high school senior to find an organization, club, or extracurricular activity they enjoy and invest themselves in it like I have done with Phi Theta Kappa.
Lastly, I want to encourage students to live by a quote and exercise it on a day-to-day basis: "Wherever you go, lead by example, and make a difference." Campus involvement and community service are two of the best decisions you can make as an incoming freshman and individual.
Samantha Migatz, South Elgin
General studies, business