I graduated high school with more than a 4.0 GPA and was active in theater and sports.

I always thought that would be enough to receive scholarships to attend any college to which I was accepted. But I didn’t receive sufficient financial aid offers for my family to be able to afford the tuition and room and board at the private universities where I wanted to go.

So I chose to attend Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) and live with my parents for financial reasons. It wasn’t how I thought I’d start college, but it felt like the right choice.

The hardest day for me was “T-shirt day.” My high school classmates wore shirts with logos of where they were going to college. I just wore a baseball shirt and thought, “This is not how I imagined it.” But, a lot of my classmates were also scared to go off to college and said things like, “You’re so lucky. I’m going to be in a dorm with a roommate, and you’ll have a car and a full refrigerator with your own food.”

I spent two years at community college and explored a variety of core classes I thought would transfer easily. Because I didn’t know what I wanted to major in, getting a chance to try things at a reduced cost was helpful. My parents paid my tuition and fees, but I worked three part-time jobs to help support myself.

After two years, I transferred to George Mason University. It was a smooth process because NOVA has a Guaranteed Admissions Agreement with the school. Tons of people at George Mason went through my community college, and many of the professors were the same ones who taught at NOVA. George Mason is just down the street, so I still lived at home with my parents and worked during my junior and senior years. I graduated with a major in communications, a concentration in journalism and a minor in sports communication.

In addition to graduating without debt, starting out at community college taught me to handle unexpected things in life that were thrown at me. I learned to roll with them and accept them so I could be just as successful had I had taken a more direct path. I’ll need all those skills in the competitive field I’m entering. Last week, I was offered a job as a broadcast journalist in West Virginia.

I’d recommend at least looking at the community colleges around you. It’s a much less expensive path. My diploma says George Mason University and I graduated with a 3.99 GPA. I didn’t find a difference in the quality of the education between my colleges. In fact, some of my toughest classes were in community college.

Both financially and as an opportunity for growth, going to community college wound up benefiting me in great way.