Tough Choice: Community College or University?

A student diligently studies in silence.

When I first came to America, I entered Diablo Valley College (DVC), a community college which is famous for its strong relationship with University of California Berkeley. The program for community college is 2 years, before students transfer to study for another 2 years at a 4-year college. When I first arrived, I only had a handful of friends. At that time, I did not realize that there was a large Indonesian community in the US which is known as PERMIAS. Since I had a few friends who were already there, I hung out with their group and realized that they are just the right type of people for me. I guess that choosing a social group is incredibly important when living independently. Not only did they provide great company, they also helped me by being good listeners. I might even say that they will be my friends for life.

Tough Choice: Community College or University?
A great view when catching a break after afternoon classes.

Life was good in DVC. There was one thing missing, which was challenge. Since, I could not quench my desire in Community College, I decided to transfer out earlier than expected. I was able to complete the program in 1.5 years because I exceeded the minimum credits to transfer out. At that moment, I decided to take my chances and apply for the Winter or Spring Semester of 2012 (school term starts in January 2012).

Choosing a 4-year university was quite straight forward. As an engineering major from Indonesia, I saw UC Berkeley as the university to reach for. Everyone in Indonesia or China would want their children to go to Berkeley. Some of the perks can be listed as follows:

1) Berkeley is ranked in the Top 5 Engineering Universities in the world.
2) It is location in California (The best location to be in the United States due to the excellent year-round warm weather)
3) Strong Indonesian community
4) Friends
5) Asian-renowned university

Along the way, I researched more on the schools that I really wanted to go to. My major, Materials Science and Engineering was one of Berkeley’s specialties. However, after I visited the campus, I was put off by the environment. It was roughly the same with DVC and I just wanted to try a new setting. Furthermore, Berkeley did not allow any intakes in the Winter semester. That was when I decided to look for more schools; schools in the greater West Coast, East Coast and the Midwest.

I started to narrow my search to the Midwest region which is unheard of by most Indonesians. A famous one would be Purdue University. That school was not in my scope as it did not have what I was looking for. Then, I found the University of Michigan, which quickly became my first choice after seeing their facilities and benefits online. Yes, it does not have the same “Wow!” factor and fame that are synonymous to UC Berkeley but it is still in the top 5 in the world for my major and has a different “Wow!” factor of its own calibre. Surely, the other three benefits on the list above are no longer met. Despite the circumstances, I decided to apply to UMich and a couple of months later, I received good news. Of course, not only was I extremely happy, but I was surprised because, at that time, my grades were not superbly fantastic. Nevertheless, I felt blessed.

Skipping a few moments forward, I was standing amongst 100,000 people wearing only blue and/or yellow apparels who were cheering “Go Blue!” Indeed, it was an incredible sight. The atmosphere was sometimes tense and even boring; we were leading by 30 points. Watching a game in the Big House, the biggest college American football stadium in the world, certainly brings out my inner Wolverine (our school’s mascot). Sure, studying is a norm and everyone here is prepared to be the best that they can be, even if it means stepping on other people’s toes. But out of the hectic academic life lies a great community united in two colors, Maize and Blue. I can say that Michigan’s “Wow!” factor is the unity in the campus as well as its unending and unwavering school spirit. Whether it is against the Boilermakers (Purdue) or our lifelong rivals, the Ohio F*ckeyes (originally Buckeyes), our school spirit never dies and cheers will be out on the streets. We would provide our college bars and pubs an unexpected, yet great fortune, that night. And afterwards, waking up in the mornings never felt so bad. As far as academics go, our alumni is known worldwide, from the voice of Darth Vader to a main cast in Glee (Darren Criss as Blaine) to CNN’s chief medical consultant, Sanjay Gupta to the guy who brought you Google, Larry Page (try Googling it). What does all of them share in common? All of them have studied in the Law Library which was nominated to be Hogwart’s dining room.

I would say that college life in Michigan is definitely the best. Ann Arbor is known to be the second best college town in the US, the first being Boulder, CO. I realized, and I might get this wrong but, I doubt that I would receive an equally immersive college experience if I went to another university. I was also involved in Michigan’s PERMIAS for a year, helping out and arranging events for the other 50 Indonesians in the school. In my totally biased opinion, if you are thinking of studying in the Midwest, choose the University of Michigan and you will not regret your decision. Although, I have to say this but Winter could be quite tough; Elsa’s powers are uncontrollable here.

Tough Choice: Community College or University?
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Looking back at my life in Indonesia, I knew I changed a lot since then. It’s not so much about the grades but it’s how I socialized and related with other people. I realized that I had full control of my life, as my parents weren’t around to nag me on what we do. It was up to me to determine what kind of person I wanted to be. I guess, it was the opportunity to start with a new slate. Also, it was a good time to start experimenting on things that I always wanted to do but didn’t have time for in the past. It was the time to start trying new ideas and new approaches in life. Basically, it was time to reinvent myself.

As for those who are questioning, whether he or she should start with community college (CC) or university, I would suggest that you weigh out the pros and cons. In my opinion, starting with community college has its benefits:

1) You start at an early age (Some CCs do not need any High School diploma)
2) You get to know the American culture and learn to adapt
3) It is usually less costly
4) It is a great alternative, if you are still unsure about your major

Starting directly in a university is more difficult to achieve, but not impossible at all:

1) You might be able to waive credits from high school credits (A-Levels, IB, GED)
2) You can learn about the university from a young stage
3) You are more likely to be involved in one or more clubs from the thousands that pique your interest
4) You can work with professors (doing research) to build relations
5) Looks great on your resume

I guess I can end this post by saying that deciding to go first attend a community college or directly to a university is not easy. Picking the right school at the right location is a challenge, as well. If you asked what I would have done, I would say that I would not change a thing. There are some things you can learn from each path you take. At the end of the day, you just have to weigh your costs and benefits.


Photo Credit: First two images were taken by the author. The last image was taken from


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