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COMMUNITY COLLEGE CONFIDENTIAL: IT'S A GOOD DEAL

Starting college can be a scary but rewarding time. I goofed off all through high school, and was extremely upset when I found out my only option was to attend Hillsborough Community College. I thought HCC was a place where only "losers" go to school. On my first day of class, I felt like a kindergartner, journeying into uncharted territory.

I'm now approaching the end of my first year, with a 3.7 grade point average, and I couldn't be happier that I am attending HCC. I have had professors who hold doctorates, and many who have experiences extremely relevant to our classes (my mass communications professor is an ex-reporter). The variety of people you can meet on a nontraditional campus is truly amazing. I've been in classes with dual-enrolled students, some who had to complete coursework for a job, a mother with six kids and a woman in her 70s. With such a diverse student body, you're learning from your fellow students as well and the education seems more rewarding.

There are many reasons to go to a community college, and many reasons to stay in town and go to a local university. If you choose to go to either HCC or St. Petersburg College, both have honors programs and majors ranging from architecture to hospitality management. Both are members of the Phi Theta Kappa, the national honor society of two-year colleges.

I am so happy I stayed home for my first two years of college. Though I don't depend on my parents for much, as Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz says, there is no place like home. There is nothing like knowing you have the support of family and a few good friends. Having my own bedroom, my own bathroom and not having to fight for a parking space when I return from class are just a few of the perks that come with staying at home.

According to www.thecollegesolutionblog.com, many students are opting to stay close to home while furthering their education, with 74 percent of high school students in Florida making this choice. I now have a solid plan to get my AA degree from HCC, then to study journalism and photography at the Columbia College Chicago. I have a good taste of college curriculum under my belt and plenty of time to plan my finances.

Every kid dreams of the day they leave home, and though I will be pursuing that dream next year, there is a lot to be said for pushing that departure back a while. You might want to wait to give up late-night adventures with long-time friends, and mom's cooking.

Emily Duren is a 2010 graduate of Spoto High and a former tb-two* staffer.

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