When I graduated with my associate degree from LaGuardia Community College earlier this summer, I found myself thinking back to my first days here — when the campus felt like a maze and the pace seemed incredibly fast. I worried that it was going to be too much for me, and wondered whether college would always seem so confusing.
I realize now that what I felt was fear. As one of the first in my family to go to college, I didn’t know who to ask for guidance about how to adjust to the requirements of college.
Fear of college is both real and common. A Google search for “fear of college” returns over five million results! Based on my own experience and conversations with friends, just thinking about going to college can fill people with anxiety and self-doubt.
Some respond by coming up with reasons not to go. Or they start but then quickly drop out, blaming life complications or busy work schedules. Maybe impostor syndrome — the feeling that you’re not good enough or smart enough to be in the position you are, or want to be, in — is to blame.
When I came to LaGuardia in 2016, I didn’t plan on going to college. I’d dropped out of high school when my daughter was born but had gotten connected to LaGuardia’s Fatherhood Academy, which supports young fathers by helping them to finish high school and more. I planned to earn my high school equivalency and then get out.
I was content working as a barista. But my Fatherhood mentors were so motivating; they shared their personal stories, many of which were just like mine. With their help, I began to see that a college degree was attainable, and that I could continue working while also going to school. So I decided to pursue my associate degree at LaGuardia. Fatherhood even paid my enrollment fee.
But then more hurdles came up, and again I found myself worrying whether college was right for me. Thankfully, I’ve been able to connect to amazing resources and programs that have helped me along the way.
When I didn’t do so well on the CUNY assessment test — particularly in math, which has always been my kryptonite — I was referred to CUNY Start. My CUNY Start teachers were incredibly supportive, even providing math tutoring before and after class. They helped me get ready for college — not only improving my math skills, but also teaching me how to seek out resources for help.
After completing CUNY Start, I was ready for college-level classes. I was accepted into LaGuardia’s College Discovery program, which paid for my textbooks and MetroCard, and gave me access to other helpful resources, including an advisor who guided me throughout my time at LaGuardia.
When I found myself running back and forth between work, school and my daughter’s daycare, with little time to study or breathe, I searched for on-campus jobs and was thankful to find many opportunities. I landed two on-campus jobs — one as a mentor to new Fatherhood recruits, and one as a Civic Fellow working with the college’s government relations manager. Through these jobs, I’ve grown professionally and connected with people who support and inspire me.
Despite these jobs, new childcare expenses kept coming up, so I applied for and was granted a scholarship from the LaGuardia Community College Foundation.
Today I’m confident about my future. I am now working toward my bachelor’s degree in creative writing at Hunter College, where I’m matriculating into SEEK, the College Discovery program at CUNY four-year institutions. With the tools I gained at LaGuardia, I know how to seek out and find help.
When I see students paying for their tuition out-of-pocket or prioritizing work over school, I tell them about the resources I found at LaGuardia to help me stay on track. I used to think that if I became a full-time student and made education a priority, I wouldn’t have enough money to pay my rent, take care of my daughter and meet all of my other daily responsibilities. With my on-campus jobs, my LaGuardia Foundation scholarship, CUNY Start and College Discovery, I was able to focus on my education and dedicate time to my daughter.
I want to tell anyone feeling nervous about starting college that they’re not alone — that if they look around, they can find programs and people to help them get to graduation. If I hadn’t found these resources at LaGuardia, I doubt I’d be where I am today.
Going to college has made my life so much better. My mom was right about the value of education. One of the last things she told me before cancer took her in 2012 was not to leave school. When I dropped out of high school, I felt ashamed — that I was letting down her memory. I know she’d be so proud of me today. I am honoring her memory by sharing her words of advice with my daughter, who’s now 6 years old and the light of my life. Children are great imitators, so I’m giving her a blueprint that includes education, seeking out resources for help and not being afraid to try something new.
This story about overcoming fears and doubts about attending college was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for our newsletter.
Christian Ortiz graduated from LaGuardia Community College in 2019 with his associate degree in writing and literature. Today he begins classes at Hunter College toward a bachelor’s degree in creative writing.