My teeth chattered as I reluctantly joined the crowd, desperately trying to read the buildings and find my class. My heart was waiting to stop at the ring of a bell that would inform me I was late but a bell would never come. Although I was 16 and starting my junior year of high school, it was actually my first day of college.
The previous spring I had decided to apply to a Middle College program where 11th and 12th graders attend a community college to fulfill both high school and college credits simultaneously, with the exception of two mandatory high school classes that were held on the college campus and essentially the core of the program. The program has not only saved me money on AP and IB tests while offering college credit, but it has also served as a great transition to gain experience and confidence in college classes and communicating with college professors and staff.
The academic aspect became inspiring, I could graduate high school with an associate’s degree, something I never knew was possible. Not only that, but college is in an environment where people aren’t just going to school as a required transition but for their future. For years I thought the important part was getting an “A” in class, but in my new environment I was able to realize that an “A” means nothing without new knowledge. By meeting commuting students, with all different stories as to why they were there, I realized that education is a luxury and class became an intellectual time I could look forward to.
Single parents, students without the funds for a four-year university, older scholars, and many other unique and intriguing lives became my classmates and sometimes I learned more from them than the class curriculum. I met people who invested over an hour and several different forms of public transportation to get to class. I learned about people who worked three jobs and balanced a full schedule of classes. I heard about their kids, the pride and joy of their lives, the reason they worked so hard for a better future. I witnessed the world front hand, real people living their lives. I never felt sheltered in high school but suddenly I was in a world of adults and exposed to others’ experiences that I didn’t know existed.
On the college campus, I had gained far more independence, like the ability to go to the bathroom without asking and even more crucial, actually choosing to go to class. I quickly learned independence came with responsibility and this changed my entire mindset about school. While I could go to breakfast or sleep in instead of attending a lecture—which in full disclosure I tried out a couple of times in the excitement that I could and no one would call my mom—I realized that that was forfeiting my chance at becoming educated and thus self-sabotaging. Doing well in a class was up to me. Learning is a choice and at middle college I recognized this and made my choice.
There are days where I wish I could walk around campus as a high school senior, and run for homecoming court, but going to Middle College will always be one of the better decisions of my life. My academic future is no longer a terrifying, distant, topic, but it has become something I am prepared and excited for. I feel fortunate that middle college is a program that lets high school students advance their education while further developing their personalities. Many students don’t fit the rigid guidelines that make up the high school campus, some are ready to move on before others, and some just need something new, and in any of those cases, Middle College serves as a great option.