Scenic route also can lead to a degree

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The traditional college student goes to college right after high school for four years to earn a bachelor's degree.

My journey was longer -- taking close to a decade after high school -- and very different.

Although I was a dedicated student during most of my pre-college years in San Jose, Calif., I grew discouraged and disinterested my freshman year in high school.

By the time my apathy wore off my senior year, I had to struggle just to get back on track to graduate. I never took the SAT college entrance exam and did little to prepare for higher education.

After graduating from high school, I decided to take a break from school for a semester and work nearby at Vans Skatepark in Milpitas, Calif., a suburb of San Jose.

The following January, I went to the local community college, Evergreen Valley College, to sign up with a friend who had gone away to college, only to come back home when things didn't work out. I spent the next two semesters as a part-time student.

I had little direction early in my college life. I didn't know what I wanted to get from college. I had no major in mind nor did I know what type of degree I wanted. I worked as a waiter throughout college, at times working nearly full-time, thus limiting how many classes I could attend.

This approach was at least partly by design. I didn't want my career to be based on a decision I made in high school or right after graduating. I wanted the opportunity to try out different majors and research the jobs that correspond with them.

So rather than have a test tell me what career would be best for me, I took different classes and tried to figure out what I like and what I am good at.

Some classes I enjoyed. Botany was fun, but I would had have to take too many science classes and would have had difficulty finding a job as a botanist. Sociology was a thought-provoking class, but I wasn't interested in any of the jobs I could get with a sociology degree.

Other classes weren't for me. I learned more Spanish working at a restaurant than I did at college. I enjoy writing, but my English classes were boring. Who knew astronomy could be so difficult?

It wasn't until I made it to San Jose City College -- a sister school to Evergreen Valley -- that I decided on a major. I chose what some see as a dead-end career: print journalism.

It may not have been the career path that paid the best or had the most jobs, but the major and career fit me perfectly.

I always enjoyed telling my friends the news, and I learned to read, looking at the sports section of the newspaper. I saw journalism as a career in which I could make a difference in people's lives.

Rather than rushing to sign up at a four-year university because I found my major, I instead worked my way up the ranks at the community college's newspaper, the San Jose City College Times. I had enough credits to transfer, but I wanted to learn more and make sure I made the right choice.

I made it to the top and spent a year as editor-in-chief.

Fortunately, credits were cheap -- $12 or so a credit when I started at community college -- which made this strategy possible. Working paid the bills, and my parents contributed when my income wasn't enough.

At this point, it was finally time for me to transfer to San Jose State University, after spending more time in junior college -- about six years -- than most students spend in total.

Often I felt the urge to speed through my time at San Jose State, but I stayed for three and a half years. Although it was still economical, it was more expensive than a community college. Some of my friends in my high school class had long finished their bachelor's degrees.

But it made me feel better about my choices when I heard that many of them weren't working in their chosen careers and instead were working as waiters and baristas.

So I continued down the scenic route and worked on the newspaper at San Jose State, the Spartan Daily, to get more experience.

In the more than nine years it took me working on a bachelor's degree, I could have been done with graduate school. Instead of rushing through college, I waited to make sure I made all the right choices and took advantage of all of the opportunities presented to me.

I wouldn't recommend this strategy to everyone, especially with the increasing cost of education. But it can be better than going to college the traditional way for some.

Tommy Wright, who was a summer intern at the Post-Gazette, has nearly completed his degree at San Jose State University with a major in journalism and a minor in political science. He can be reached at .


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