During my senior year of high school, college was a subject I didn’t like to talk about. I knew I didn’t want to go, but I knew I had to go. It was intimidating.
I had a lot of options as far as post-high school education. At first, my plan was to play college football. I had my offers but I decided that football wasn’t going to continue after I graduated. I was feeling lazy and still riding that conference championship high.
Then I thought college wasn’t for me. But I quickly changed my mind as I realized I wanted to get out of Chicago. A friend I had known all my life was going to Parkland, a community college in central Illinois. That’s how I decided that Parkland was the school for me.
My first time entering Parkland was for my admissions test. I hadn’t done any real research on the school besides looking at their pictures, so I didn’t really know what to expect. As I pulled up to the school, I thought that the pictures I had seen didn’t do the school justice. It was a beautiful campus.
After the test, I remember making my way to the bookstore, passing the hallways filled with side sign-up tables for different activities and classes. Inside the bookstore they had everything from technology to school pride clothes to food, but everything was expensive.
Paying Rent Became More Important than School
Looking for a job at Parkland was difficult. I had to find something around my school schedule and I had to learn the transportation system so I could get around town. I ended up finding a job with a temp service.
They had me cleaning out a vacated apartment complex. I was helping transport all the metal from the apartment: stoves, ovens, refrigerators and other things. We would take all the metal and run out to the scrap yard, then go back to the complex and repeat the process about three more times.
I needed this job to help pay my rent.
But the temp job didn’t last forever and I didn’t have luck finding another job to replace it. Soon paying the rent became more important to me than going to school. I needed somewhere to lay my head in order to study. I lived in a four-bedroom apartment with two other people I knew from high school, but I still had to pay for my room.
Without a job, everything that was going on with college started to fade. My problems with my living situation grew. I stopped thinking about school on New Year’s Day, 2016. That was the day I got evicted and arrested.
Rent hadn’t been paid in two months so I knew what the next steps were. The same day I got evicted was the day I got arrested. I spent that day in the county jail. By this time college was the last thing on my mind and I just couldn’t wait to get back home to the city.
A Great College Experience Starts with Smart Research
If I could go back and redo my Parkland experience I would start all the way back in senior year of high school. First, I would do as much research on my college choices as I could before actually leaving. Then I would visit the campus at least three times before relocating. As a college student, I would stay on top of my school activities as much as possible.
In retrospect, I don’t think I tried as hard as I should have to find a job that could work with my school schedule. If I could do it over again, I would work much harder at finding a job, even filling out applications before arriving on campus.
My advice to new high school graduates is this: College is a huge step. Don’t let that intimidate you. If and when you get scared, start to think about all the benefits that college brings. Keep in mind “the more you learn the more you earn.” College is also a chance not just to study and pursue your interests, but to build your social network. Find the people who can help you grow, not the people who will bring you down.
Today, I’m working with Chicago CRED to get ready to go back to college and finish a bachelor’s degree. By reflecting on my experiences, I’m learning to see the world differently.
I want to be a writer and I’m ready to do whatever it takes to achieve my goals. I hope my story can help other young people avoid the mistakes I made and inspire them to reach their goals, too.