So, You Think You’re Ready for College?

By: Afrkah Cooper

I had been preparing for college my whole life, but I still felt unprepared when I got there. The two most important members of my family, my mother and my grandmother, both have their associate degrees but, unfortunately, sharing their college experience with me didn’t prepare me for mine.

I remember being in the second grade and my grandmother made me promise her that I would go through school and earn a master’s degree. I had no clue what a master’s degree was, but I promised her. I loved school and, more than anything, I wanted to make my family proud. At the time, however, I didn’t know that I was agreeing to the struggles of all-nighters, parking tickets and student loan debt. Although we talked about going to college, we never talked about what came with college.

Although I had limited resources, my parents and counselors insisted I go to college and they supported me in numerous ways. Application fee waivers were a major resource my counselors shared with me and, through their effort, I did not have to pay any fees for my college applications – a huge burden lifted off my shoulders, as it sometimes costs as much as $40 just to apply.

I had a lot of college options to choose from. However, most were options I couldn’t afford and “applying for more scholarships,” as my counselors told me, was harder than it seemed. With acceptance letters but little financial support, I turned to community college.

Although lame to my peers who were going away to school, community college was in my comfort zone. This was a place that most of the members in my village had attended so they could offer me the support I needed during my transition. Plus, I could afford it. My family knew they wanted me to go farther than an associate degree, but since they never navigated a four-year university system, they couldn’t prepare me for it.

When I transferred from Macomb Community College to Wayne State University, I experienced difficulties that I had to figure out on my own. These struggles may have set me back a little but learning to navigate the challenges just made me stronger.

I am not a first-generation college student by the typical definition. But I will be the first in my family to receive a degree from a four-year university. And, one day, I’ll be the first to receive my master’s degree.

Readers: My guess is that you’ve reached your success and know what it takes to be a four-year degree student. I encourage you to reflect on the people in your village who helped you achieve your goals and consider reaching back and mentoring a student. With your experience, you can help them understand the details of college. You can teach them that college is about managing and adjusting. Maybe you’ll be able to help them achieve their own graduation dreams, with as few bumps in the road as possible.

Afrkah Cooper is a Detroit Drives Degrees intern.