Community colleges have long been referred to as commuter campuses, and that term infers that students simply drive to campus to attend class and then leave. While that may have been the case 10 years ago, it isn’t anymore. In fact, many two-year schools have a boisterous student life and presence on campus that can oftentimes rival that of a four-year college. Exploring student life at a community college may put you more at ease with considering one during your college search.
Clubs and Organizations
Like universities, community colleges offer students the opportunity to gather with other students that share the same interests and passions. These clubs and organizations range from religious and cultural groups to creative writing and journalism workshops to chess clubs and meets. Additionally, community college students have the chance to be invested in the student governance of their campus through elections for.
Phi Theta Kappa has a presence on just about every community college campus. This prestigious international fraternity recognizes students at two-year institutions who excel academically. Students can be involved in as much or as little as they please, and like any other club and organization at a community college, it’s a great addition to a student’s resume.
It should be added here that community colleges have an open policy to student clubs and organizations, meaning that students can start their own clubs whenever they wish. It typically has to go through a submission and review process, but given that community colleges want to offer the same environment to students as four-year universities are able to, it’s easy to start an organization.
Diverse Student Body
U.S. News and World Report states that the number of students attending community college has jumped from 5.5 million students in 2000 to over 8 million for the 2010 – 2011 school year. Given those figures, you can imagine the diversity within the student body at community colleges across the country. We’re not just talking ethnic diversity either.
Community colleges aren’t just hubs of learning for students ages 18 – 24; it’s just as much a learning institution for returning students who are either looking to make a career change, unemployed and hoping to acquire further marketable skills, or simply going back to school for the sake of knowledge. This type of diversity is a real benefit to those students that do attending community college just after high school. Not only do they receive the benefit of learning from their professors but from the experience of other students too.
What may surprise you most about the community at two-year colleges is that there is an opportunity to not only support but potentially play a sport you’re passionate about. Two-year colleges are part of the National Junior College Athletic Association, which is the governing body of athletics at hundreds of community colleges across the country.
This network provides students who want to continue playing a sport after college the opportunity to do so as well as gives other students at the community college a chance to cheer on and support their fellow students in sports that they love to watch. These athletic teams play others in their area, guaranteeing a spirit of competitiveness that is seen at four-year colleges and universities as well.
Whether you want to play a sport, have a say in the dynamics of your campus or meet with other students who have a deep appreciation for film, community colleges pave a way for you to do it all. Just because you attend a community college doesn’t mean you won’t have an opportunity to experience the rich student life you hear about at four-year colleges. In fact, you’ll find it’s quite the opposite.
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Sometimes it’s all about perspective. Yale asked that I describe something “impactful” in my life — that was the theme of the supplemental essay I needed to write the year I applied. Like many classmates, I chose to describe the summer before my senior year.
But there was a big difference between how I and my ambitious classmates passed the time that year. They all outdid each other—and definitely me—with exotic tales of summers spent abroad in far-flung destinations or filled with worthy volunteer work or by snagging “cool” internships.
Me? I worked at the mall. If I wanted to big it up, I worked at New York City’s Manhattan Mall, a shopping complex in the center of Midtown that had the advantage of carrying all my favorite brands (hello, staff discount!). While the gig impacted my bank account, I wasn’t sure it would impress Yale’s admissions board.
There’s pressure to write applications that focus on a big, defining moment, but capturing a slice of life can be just as powerful.
As the start of senior year loomed closer, I knew I’d be tasked with answering the inevitable question: What did you do this summer? I practiced how I would respond so that I could tell the truth without embarrassment. “I spent my summer working at the mall” became my mantra.
Over time, something peculiar started to happen. The more I said it, the more I realized that the experience was impactful. I may not have been working at a soup kitchen or going on a safari, but it was a summer that had worth, at least to me. I decided to make this seemingly mundane, minimum-wage job the focus of my essay for Yale. And that’s exactly how I set up my intro:
I wish I could say that last summer I found a cure for cancer or ended world hunger, but all I can honestly tell people is that I worked at the mall for minimum wage…. It seemed to be a good match: I liked shopping, and I loved people.
Did I love the job? No, of course not. The tasks that kept me on my feet all day — like tagging and hanging merchandise — were mind-numbing. But the experience was not without meaningful life lessons in commitment, follow-through and taking pride in my work — all concepts that I used to anchor my essay:
As I worked, I began to notice things, such as how frequently customers dropped merchandise that they then left on the floor for an employee to pick up, and realized how oblivious I had been as just a shopper. I was exposed to a new perspective in an environment I was already familiar with.
As a rising junior at Yale, I’m now studying psychology on the neuroscience track, but I haven’t forgotten that summer I spent working at the mall. As I wrote, the “job most certainly was not life-altering, but it was eye-opening, and I did gain much more than money from it.” One thing that’s stayed with me the most is that I was exposed to a new perspective in a place I thought I knew so well.
I learned a valuable lesson from writing my essay as well. There’s pressure to write applications that focus on a big, defining moment, but capturing a slice of life can be just as powerful, and can arguably say more about an applicant. In the end, I chose a topic that expressed who I was as a person, and I think that made an impression.
Note: Read Alice Oh’s full essay at Admitsee or peruse other college applications from real students.