In high school, I did not have a plan or idea of where I wanted to go or what I wanted my career to be. My parents did not have the opportunity to go to college, so that made me a first-generation college student. I was navigating the college space on my own and even though I had the support of my parents, they just did not understand the whole process.
I made the decision to attend College of Lake County (CLC) in Grayslake, Illinois, in 2007, a time when online courses were not even a thing. CLC was a great choice because it was close to home and offered flexible schedules. I was living with my parents at that time and no, I did not get to sleep in on the weekends because my Guatemalan mom blasted music at 8:00 a.m. That was our sign to get up and clean.
I attended CLC full time the first two years in order to play soccer there. Later on, in 2009, I transitioned to part-time because of work and because taking online courses was a better route for me. During my time at CLC, I completed many interesting courses—records management, personal finance, interviewing practices, and managerial communication—that provided me with resources and information that I still use to this day. Those courses challenged me to step out of my comfort zone and think outside the box. I also worked part-time as a student services assistant, among other part-time jobs I held while in school.
I graduated from CLC in 2014 with an associate’s degree in applied science and an administrative professional concentration. The summer after graduating, I decided to take time off from school to just work and think about what I wanted to do next. As I was researching schools and majors, I came across Aurora University (AU), which is located in Aurora, Illinois. I really liked the school, their affordability, and the flexibility. I graduated from AU in May 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration. Unfortunately, I did not walk the stage that year because of the pandemic, but the school gave me an opportunity to do so in May 2021 and I was grateful for that.
When the pandemic first began, I was working for a tech company in Chicago called Mintel (which is often mistaken for the phone company Mitel). I worked there for five years as a client service associate. Due to the pandemic, I transitioned to working remotely. I loved working from home, but I wanted to be in a role where I would be able to interact with people.
One day, I was thinking about new opportunities and doing meaningful work and I decided to look back at my past positions. I really enjoyed my time at CLC and I felt like I needed to go back to that environment and help students. I talked to my wife about my plans, and she actually found a position for me at McHenry County College (MCC) in Crystal Lake, Illinois. I started working for MCC in June of this year in the admissions department as a new student enrollment coach, which is a fancy name for a recruiter. My job is to help students navigate the crucial first steps of starting college. I am an introvert by nature, but my job makes it easy to talk to people and create positive connections. We do not have quotas to meet or anything like that, which makes my job so much fun. Many of the students that I help on a daily basis are first-generation students and speak Spanish, and some are adult learners going back to school.
For those who do not know what they want to study, I usually try to find out about their hobbies and interests. I tell these prospective students that I have been in their same position before and that there is no shame in attending a community college. I have had the opportunity to experience community college as a student and as an employee. I have seen both sides, and it has allowed me to be more relatable to prospects and their families.
So on that note, here are just four reasons for prospective students of all ages to consider attending community college:
Transferability Made Simple
Starting one’s college career at a community college and later transferring to a four-year school is a good idea for students who have not decided on a specific major or are undecided on what university to attend for their baccalaureate degree. Community colleges also often offer an easy transfer process to four-year schools. For example, did you know that many colleges in the state of Illinois are part of the Illinois Articulation Initiative (IAI)? More than one hundred Illinois colleges and universities participate in this statewide transfer agreement. There are similar transfer agreements in other states.
Save Your Money
Community college is a huge money-saving opportunity. According to the College Board, the average tuition and fees at colleges and universities across the United States can be more than $35,000 a year. The average education at a public, four-year school for an in-state student costs $13,970, and for an out-of-state student it would cost $26,290. A private education at a four-year school costs $35,830 per year.
The average tuition rate for in-district students at MCC, for example, is $3,907 per year.
If you obtain a full associate’s degree before transferring to a four-year school, think about how much money you are saving compared to someone who goes to a four-year college or university straight out of high school. I am not bashing those who take that path; my main point is that community colleges offer a great number of opportunities for you to save money. I was able to pay for college on my own making between $6.50 to $10 an hour, and I graduated debt-free. And community colleges offer many scholarships—in some cases, you could even obtain a full-ride scholarship.
A Second Chance
Community colleges have something for every type of student. You might ask, “Well, I had bad grades in high school. Can I still go to college?” The answer to that will always be yes. You can give yourself a second chance by attending a community college and starting fresh. I had good grades in high school, but I was not involved in any clubs besides varsity soccer. During my time at CLC, I felt like I got the tools to improve my skills, grow as a person, and be a leader in the community.
Continuing Educational Opportunities
Community colleges offer plenty of continuing education courses for just about anyone, including but not limited to just-for-fun classes like digital photography. Adult learners, for example, can take courses in science, technology, wellness, and much more. In addition, community colleges offer workforce training courses such as leadership and talent management, OSHA training, and customer service training. There are also non-credit training program opportunities that help lead students into a variety of careers, such as real estate and emergency dispatching. Thinking of applying to graduate school? Your local community college might even offer test preparation courses for exams such as the GRE and the LSAT.
As I look back on my community college experience, I am not sure why there is such a stigma around community college. Community college students can definitely get the whole “college experience” just like they would if they went to a four-year school. Community college will just be cheaper and closer to home.
Also, looking back at when I attended community college in 2006 and looking around the community college where I work now, I can see several innovations. For example, increased student organizations have contributed to student success and higher retention rates. Community colleges are competitive in the sports arena as well. Many of them are part of the National Junior College Athletic Association. Moreover, by personal experience, I can attest that community college is a very competitive and fun environment. I made good friends. I played soccer. Most importantly, I learned to be independent and how to be part of a team.
Today, I would say the best part of my job, aside from attending fun community events and getting to know the people I work with, is having the opportunity to talk to prospects and help them find clarity about their future goals. That is what I mean when I talk about doing meaningful work. It gives me satisfaction seeing a student I helped walking the hallway. It gives me a great feeling because it reminds me of myself when I was walking the same path.
Hispanic Executive and NextGen Collective are not directly affiliated with McHenry Community College, and sharing this individual’s viewpoint is not an endorsement of the school.
Jorge Perez is the new student enrollment coach at McHenry County College in Crystal Lake, Illinois. He has over ten years of client service experience in different industries. He has worked in local government, higher education, hospitality, and more. He is originally from Guatemala and grew up in Round Lake and attended College of Lake County in Grayslake, Illinois. He later moved to Carpentersville and graduated from Aurora University’s online business program.
Today, he lives with his wife and son and their one-year-old black lab in Huntley, Illinois. As the first person in his family to graduate from college, Perez is very passionate about education and plans to start an MBA program in the spring of 2022. He is an avid soccer fan who can always be found watching the Premier League on the weekends, and his family supports all of the major Chicago teams: Cubs, Blackhawks, and Bears.