Here’s How I Transferred To Yale From A California Community College
By: Nune Garipian
This post was originally published on Forbes
Sitting in a room of community members, the president and senior community college administrators, and student leaders, I added the final touches to my college application. It was my typical Thursday evening at Pasadena City College (PCC), which began with a full-time schedule of classes and ended with a 2+ hour Board of Trustees meeting. I was the Student Trustee, the elected student representative on the Board, and over the past few months, I had learned how to make use of the limited free time I had between classes and meetings. This included changing my attire from student to board member, grabbing a quick dinner, and in this case, applying to one of the nation’s top universities 10 minutes before our meeting went live.
A comma here, a different word there, and then — submit. With a few minutes to spare, I broke the news to my friends in the room, “I just applied to Yale.” Their initial reaction was more revealing than intended, responding with a simple, “What?” From then on, I became uncomfortable with even the thought of knowing I applied to an elite college. When asked about the schools I was considering, I left Yale out. If it came up, I would try to justify my application with a quick, “It’s just for fun,” setting low expectations for myself. It seemed too impossible; Yale only accepts 2-3% of transfer applicants, of which less than a handful come from a community college.
Up until my final semester in community college, the thought of attending a top-tier university never crossed my mind. The Ivy League culture of exclusivity too often prevents low-income students—like me—from considering it a possibility. This leads to a general lack of awareness about the financial aid options available at top schools. At Yale, 100% of financial need is met for undergraduate students which, surprisingly, made it the most affordable school for me.
My high school stressed the importance of going to college but never addressed being able to afford it. At Clark Magnet High School, I spent the final months of my senior year worried about the rest of my life. We were conditioned to believe that to be successful you needed to know what you wanted to do, which included going to a 4-year university. With the increasing stress around me and the stigma against community college, I felt the pressure to adapt. So I did. I chose a major and committed to attending a local private university. I experienced the excitement of the new student weekend orientation, shared my college decision with family and friends, and even bought a green lanyard with the campus logo. It was exciting and I felt like I was finally doing something right.
But, as the buzz wore down, reality sunk in. It only took one visit to the financial aid office to see the true cost of a college education. The allure of campus gear and friendly counselors no longer mattered. As a first-generation college student, my parents never had to fill out forms for federal loans. Now, it was our only option. Although I had a strong support system, I second-guessed my decision. I wasn’t confident in my major and wasn’t ready to be stuck in both an academic program and a loan repayment plan. There were so many other possibilities and I couldn’t commit to the burden of an expensive tuition. It wasn’t worth it.
So, I withdrew my statement of intent to register and enrolled at Pasadena City College, unsure of what the future held. I watched as my friends began their first year of “real” college and I felt like an outsider cheering from the sidelines. My decision to attend community college came with uncertainty and by the end of my first semester, I regretted my choice to withdraw. Now, looking back, I’ve realized that you can’t predict the trajectory of your life at 18. In fact, it’s probably better that you don’t. With the support from the Pasadena City College Transfer Center, the Office of Student Life staff, the college administration, and my professors, I was able to make the most out of my community college experience. If I hadn’t gone to community college, I wouldn’t be at Yale today.
Community college gave me the chance to explore different subjects without the guilt of knowing each new experience would contribute to an overwhelming amount of debt. I had access to classes from STEM to liberal arts and everything in between. Within my two years, I took courses in economics, geology, criminal justice, philosophy, and political science. I had flexibility over my schedule and could pursue jobs and campus leadership roles while taking classes full-time. I interned with former Assemblymember Mike Gatto and was offered a part-time job as the youngest staff member in his office. I joined a local City Council campaign and oversaw the successful campaign execution from beginning to end. I was elected as the student representative of the Pasadena Area Community College District’s Board of Trustees, becoming a campus advocate for college affordability and student inclusivity.
I became a version of myself that I’d always thought was there, but had yet to realize—until community college gave me the opportunity.
Now, I’m studying political science at Yale, its second largest major serving over 400 undergraduate students. I’ve taken courses in issue-specific areas including lobbying and campaign finance, democracy and bureaucracy, human rights, and higher education with top researchers and professors in the field.
Throughout my journey one thing has remained consistent: the importance of an affordable college education. I saw it at my community college, where even with its low tuition, students struggle with food insecurity, often depending on campus-hosted events for their daily meals. And, I see it at Yale, where low-income students pursue campus-jobs as their peers plan European getaways. Students are encouraged to go to college but are not given the resources to be successful. College comes with a price and it’s about time something was done about it.
This summer, I worked at the College Promise Campaign with a passionate team ready to make the difference. We understand the impact of community college, both in increasing economic prosperity and giving students a second chance. That’s why we’re committed to building broad public support for the development of College Promise programs, which give students access to free community college. Currently, there are 200+ Promise programs, with new ones developing weekly. These programs span across 44 states, including 23 statewide programs. This is happening now; the success of the movement is increasing every day, making college affordability a priority and a reality. It shouldn’t matter if you’re a recent high school graduate, a first-generation student, a veteran, or a mother of three. If you want to go to college, cost should not stand in the way.
To find out more about the College Promise Campaign, visit collegepromise.org.