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It’s just a number

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JULY 12, 2019

Every year after I turned 20, the pressure to transfer grew heavier. Before I was 20, the thought of transferring to a four-year university never occurred to me. But the age gap between the other students and me began to grow, and my family began asking me how much longer I had at community college. I didn’t have a conclusive answer.

I let time pass me by while in the process of transferring to a four-year university, but in return, I gained memories and experiences that make me look back on my time at community college and smile.

I can’t exactly pinpoint what I thought the outcome of attending Santa Barbara City College for all those years would be, yet starting when I was 18, I managed to be enrolled every fall and spring semester at SBCC, varying between part-time and full-time enrollment.

Every summer during my time at SBCC was spent outside of the classroom. When I had time off work, I got the opportunity to travel with my international roommates. I spent one summer in France and the next in Sweden, and though these trips weren’t part of my academic plan, they were a quick escape from school and an opportunity to broaden my horizons. All the years I spent at community college amounted to me figuring out what I wanted to achieve academically and in my overall life — those years gave me time to develop a sense of direction.

When I first started to feel self-conscious about my age and the number of years I had spent at community college, I didn’t think about the fact that throughout my three-plus years at SBCC, I met students of all ages. Some students were still in high school and taking classes at SBCC to get ahead on their college credits. Some students were in their 30s and decided they wanted more than a high school diploma — I even met some students who were over the age of 40. Community colleges like SBCC create a space for nontraditional students to continue their education no matter their age. SBCC was a space for me to realize my goals and set a plan to transfer.

SBCC’s student demographics show that in fall 2018, 37 percent of students were 19 years old or younger, 34.8 percent of students were between the ages of 20 and 24, 19.5 percent were between ages 25 and 29, and 8.8 percent were over 40 years old. When I read over these demographics, I realized that my age range during my time at community college was actually really common. The age diversity that can be found at a majority of community colleges exemplifies the growing presence of “nontraditional” students in higher education.

I was 23 years old when I got my acceptance letter from UC Berkeley. When I accepted my admission offer, I knew that I wanted to live on campus because throughout my time at community college, I lived in shitty apartments. I’d had enough of dealing with landlords, roommate drama and rent hikes, so I crossed my fingers and hoped that I would get a spot in Martinez Commons (the only transfer housing on campus). I hoped to reside with students closer to my age, but unfortunately, I didn’t get an offer at Martinez.

I ended up in a single room at Stern Hall, which I was happy about, but I was still a bit disappointed. Outside of higher education, the age of 23 doesn’t seem so old, but when I moved into Stern Hall and saw all the 18-year-olds with their parents who seemed to have everything perfectly organized for them, I felt old.

At UC Berkeley, my age has had its advantages and disadvantages. One of the advantages of being a 23-year-old transfer student at UC Berkeley was that my level of maturity allowed me to better handle the stress and fast pace of the school’s academics. I had already gotten all the partying and experimenting out of my system. I knew that there would be a handful of students at UC Berkeley who were older than I was, but I still felt a little nervous about finding friends I could relate to. Luckily, during orientation I met students who were my age and some who were in their late 20s and early 30s.

Ultimately, I’m glad I didn’t rush into transferring, because all the time I spent at SBCC prepared me for my time at UC Berkeley.

Being a college student no longer means you have followed the traditional path to college straight after high school. Being an undergraduate student no longer means you need to get your bachelor’s degree in exactly four years — and it most certainly does not mean you have to be between the ages of 18 and 21 to do so.

Age is just a number, and it shouldn’t define, rush or limit your goals.

Mixty Espinoza writes the Friday column on her experience as a first-generation transfer student. Contact her at [email protected]

JULY 15, 2019