PrepWell Podcast


Ep. 204 | Don't Sleep On Community Colleges

The college landscape has changed dramatically over the last 5 years. Those who scoffed at community colleges are changing their tunes - for good reason.

Show Notes:

In this week's podcast, I make the case for proactively choosing a community college over a middle-of-the-road, under-delivering, over-priced, traditional, 4-yr college.

There used to be a stigma attached to community colleges, as if the students couldn't hack it at a 4-year college or university.

Those days are over.

The once "stigmatized track" is turning into the "smart track".

If you are a student who is:

  • not engaged in the college admissions racket
  • unsure about your college major
  • clueless about a career direction
  • not working up to your potential
  • not competitive on the SAT or ACT
  • not interested in going $150K into debt...

then this might be the episode for you.

The college landscape has changed dramatically over the last 5 years. Maybe your approach should as well.

Show Transcript:

Hello, friends, and welcome back to the PrepWell Podcast. In today's episode, I want to float the idea of attending a community college right out of high school. Instead of force feeding yourself into a middle of the road $90,000 a year, traditional four year college. And I know this sounds like a crazy notion for many parents and students out there, but I urge you to suspend any knee jerk reaction to dismiss this as an alternative.

And yes, I know there are many who believe that attending a community college is akin to a scarlet letter of sorts that tells the world that you couldn't get into a legitimate, traditional four year college. And I know these stigmas are hard to overcome, especially for students who, by all measures, would have easily slid into a four year college with no questions asked ten or 20 years ago.

I'm here to say we're not in Kansas anymore. Traditional four year colleges have become so expensive and competitive and politically charged and unnecessary for a growing number of jobs. Not to mention how obtuse the admissions process has gotten that it should no longer be such a given that every student blindly and unwittingly takes this path. What may have made sense 15 to 20 years ago may not make sense anymore.

For example, if you are a student and are mostly thinking of boys here who has been slow to mature and setback by COVID and fallen in love with your phone or your PlayStation or both, and not particularly interested in academics or the SAT or taking AP exams or engaging in meaningful extracurriculars or competing in the college admissions process.

And or you only wake up to the college admissions process in late 11th grade or the beginning of 12th grade, and thus you don't have a body of work that justifies getting into a quote unquote, good college. Then it might behoove you to take a step back and consider your options. If this describes you, here are your options.

Option one is that you plunge forward as if life was what it was 20 years ago. Pretty up your application as best you can at the last minute and force yourself to go to a middling four year traditional college where you have no plan, limited academic skills, questionable motivation, unclear vision about a major or a career interest and little idea about how the real world works.

And by the way, pay $90,000 a year for your trouble, and then you proceed to flounder. Join a fraternity, skip class, drink to excess, gain £15, Learn five fun drinking games and long for the day to get home for winter break to party with your high school friends and exchange war stories about how bad ass your social life is.

I know it's hard to admit, but this is the path that many unengaged students, particularly boys, are taking these days. For any number of reasons. And the list is long. They have found themselves woefully unprepared for college. They barely know how to write. Their attention span is 10 to 15 seconds. They haven't read a real book in five or six years.

They have no long term vision. They're poor planners. They avoid discomfort and risk at all costs. They think becoming a social media influencer is a good plan B if their plan doesn't work out. And by the way, they have no plan. They are entranced by online get rich quick schemes, whether it's Amazon Dropshipping or crypto or flipping real estate.

They don't think about what the future of work looks like. What types of skills are valued in the marketplace. And they think that attending a $90,000 a year college will somehow fix all of these things because that's what everybody does. Now, if you have a $200000 to $350000 college fund kicking around and money is no object and you won't have any college debt when you're done and you don't mind spending that type of money on a four year college experience that may or may not turn you into a legitimately viable college graduate who can make it and survive in today's world, then go for it.

No harm, no foul. Who is anyone to question your motives? And yes, there are all kinds of things that could derail you in college if you let them. In particular, the obsession with partying and alcohol. But let's put aside that for the time being, because there are some good things that might happen by going to college. So let's call that a net neutral.

If this describes you, then it may not be a bad idea to go to a mid-tier or traditional four year college for $90,000 a year and see if you can make it out the other side with your morals and political sensibilities and your scruples intact. Who knows? Maybe you even graduate with a degree that has some value in the marketplace, like engineering or computer science.

But even if you decided to study ethnic dance study, which generally speaking has very questionable commercial value as a field of study, since you aren't burdened with tens, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars in school loans, maybe that's not that big a deal. Maybe it doesn't matter. But but. But if you fall into the same category as the student I just described and you don't have a benefactor to cover your college expenses and thus you graduate with $85,000, $100,000, $150,000 in school debt.

Now you're in trouble. In other words, if you're rich or you have a benefactor that funds your college experience, and I'm intentionally calling it a college experience instead of a college education, because I think that's more fitting then you have a lot more room to operate. You have more breathing room if you can graduate with no debt. Even if you chose to squander all of the opportunities that college had to offer while you were there at least you're not in the hole when you graduate.

You may have missed a golden opportunity to learn and network and prepare yourself for the real world. But at least you're not in an obscene amount of debt. That doesn't mean your life will be easy by any means, because you still have to get a job to subsist with your ethnic dance theory degree. But at least you won't be indebted for potentially a lifetime until you can get your financial and professional act together.

However, if you did not have such a benefactor and you and your parents were scrambling trying to come up with $90,000 a year, most of which would come in the form of student loans, and you took the same path and majored in ethnic dance theory and didn't take advantage of your college experience and just did it because it's what everybody else does.

Then you could be in for a rude awakening. This is where option two kicks in. If you're not ready to take advantage of the college experience for any number of reasons, you're slow to mature. You were derailed by social media or video games. Lack of mentorship, general laziness didn't pay attention to prep academy and or you can't afford what has become the default cost of a college experience, which is typically $50,000 a year for an in-state school and $90,000 a year for a private liberal arts college.

Then maybe you should consider attending a community college to get your act together. First, by attending a community college, you save a ton of money, some community colleges or even free things to state subsidies. You get more time and space and breathing room to figure out where your life is going and whether you're ready to take things seriously or not.

There's very little time for this type of reflection when you're on the high pressure, high stress, high school, merry go round. You'll have more time to explore your interests Without such a strict high school schedule holding you back, you often will have full days off from community college classes as opposed to the 9 to 5 Monday to Friday grind of high school.

You would take the general ed classes that you would be taking at any fancy traditional four year college anyway. You could take a part time job to make some money to help you explore potential career interests, to figure out what the real world is all about. You have more time to figure out what you might want to major in.

You could set up shadow sessions. You could look for internships or research opportunities in a field that caught your interest, something that, yes, you could have done in high school, but you didn't. For whatever reason, there's less pressure to give in to the social norms of binge drinking and frat parties and promiscuity and the drug culture embedded in many traditional colleges.

If you're still interested in graduating from a four year college, there are often very robust pathways to go from a community college to the state university. Many times there are quotas and mandates to accept community college transfers in big numbers. In fact, in California, your chances of transferring into a state college like a UCLA or a UC, Santa Barbara or UC Berkeley are way higher coming from a community college compared to straight out of high school.

It's not even close. And by the way, if you're hung up on what people will think about you going to community college for two years before you transfer to a school like UCLA, I wouldn't worry about it so much. If someone asks you where you went to college, you would say, I graduated from UCLA with a degree in criminal justice.

You don't say, Well, first I went to community college for two years and then I applied and wound up getting into UCLA, where if you don't say any of that stuff, you're as much a UCLA grad as any other student. Whether you were there for two years or four years. In my opinion, going to a community college exposes you less to the dumb mistakes that traditional college freshmen often make.

Skipping class, drinking to excess three or four days a week, doing dumb shit. Excuse my French. Many community colleges are commuter colleges. Meaning you live at home or off campus, which will save you even more money and will help you figure out what it's like to live on your own in the real world, instead of being coddled by the 24 hour dining halls that offer four different varieties of vegan pasta at every meal.

You will learn actual life skills. And listen, I understand that if everyone that you know is going to a fancy four year college and that's what you always expected to do and what your parents assumed that you would do, and you decide to go to a community college anyway, it's going to raise eyebrows. It's going to raise questions.

Spoken or unspoken. And you know what I say to that? Who gives a shit? Excuse my French again. For one, these people will forget about you within 30 minutes and never think about you again. Believe me, they don't care that much about you. They will be on to someone else or something else immediately. You might need to eat that crap sandwich for a few seconds and hold your ground knowing that it's the right thing for you.

What I love you to say is something like, Yeah, I'm just not ready to commit to a four year college, financially or otherwise at this point. I kind of admittedly dropped the ball in high school. I didn't do what I needed to do to compete for college. That might actually be worth the money. So I'm going to take some time at community college and get my act together.

I have a lot of growing up to do and I look forward to developing some more life skills and interests that will give me some direction going forward. Boom. Drop the mic. Yes, this takes humility, even when you know it's the best course of action for you. Let me put it this way. If I had to compare the difference between you feeling a little bummed and self-conscious maybe about going to a community college during a random 32nd conversation with a friend and how you would feel graduating from nowhere, A special university with $200,000 in debt.

There's no comparison. The awkwardness of that 32nd conversation with some rando whom you may never see again compared to the existential burden of $200,000 in debt for life is not even a question. Eat that small crumb of humble pie. Move on with your life and save the $200,000. I get it. It's tough when others have preconceived notions that you're trying to dispel.

My advice? Don't waste your time trying to convince people that you made the right decision. Let your actions. Five years from now. Ten years from now. Speak for themselves. The more you try to convince someone of the rightness of your decision, the more insecure you sound. If you have the choice between blindly pursuing a $350,000 college degree, that you're not ready for not able to pay and not sure how it fits into your greater life plan and throttling back and taking your time at a community college where you have room to think and plan and attack the process.

I think the choice is clear. Please consider this alternative. If you find yourself admittedly behind the eight ball and unprepared for college, but still drawn by the pressure to follow everyone else. Don't be afraid to blink. The other alternative, particularly on the money saving front, is to look into ROTC scholarships and service academy options. But those paths have become so absurdly competitive these days, and you can't get into one of these programs at the last minute.

After blowing off high school for three and a half years. To be competitive for these programs. You need to start early, be on the ball and have a plan. Now, if you know someone who is a good candidate to take option two and consider the community college route and maybe they need a pep talk from me, let me know and we'll set up a Zoom call.

Who knows if they come to their senses. It could save them $300,000. That's all I've got for you today, folks. Thank you for tuning in. Thank you for continued support. In case you didn't know, this podcast supports prep academies, online mentoring program, or high schoolers and their parents receive weekly videos for me. Or I break down important topics and give timely advice about the college admissions process, particularly for top tier colleges, service academies and for ROTC and athletic scholarships.

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Podcast Host:

PrepWell Academy's Founder, Phil Black, has spent a lifetime cracking the code on the world's most competitive programs: Yale University, Harvard Business School, Navy SEALs, Goldman Sachs, Entrepreneurship, Shark Tank (2X), etc.

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