Briana Schmus

Technical College of the Lowcountry

"Anything that you work towards requires sacrifice. You have to work for what you want, but at Tech they also give you the tools that you need."

We moved from Michigan to Illinois when I was 12. My parents were pastors, so that came with a lot of fun. I lived in a very strict household. I wasn’t really interested in school, but I had a passion to teach. I went to a community college in Illinois, got my teaching degree and taught preschool for a while. When I decided that wasn’t for me, I joined the Marine Corps. While I was in the Marine Corps, I realized that I had a passion for law. When I got out, my husband got orders here and we moved from California. I enrolled at Technical College of the Lowcountry because they had a really good paralegal program, and that’s what I’m going to school for now.


What motivated you to apply at TCL? 

I knew I needed schooling because I eventually want to become a lawyer. TCL has a really good paralegal program; one of the best in the area. It’s easy to enroll. I got everything done in a day, including my placement test. The staff was super helpful and friendly. My advisor, Laura, is amazing. Each step of the process solidified my decision to enroll and pursue my education here.


What hesitations or reservations did you have about continuing to pursue your education? 

There was a total “What did I just do?” moment during my first day of classes. I turned out to be the oldest person in the classroom, which made me wonder what I was doing and why I had gone back to school. It was a personal hurdle that I had to get over. As I started going to night classes, I realized I wasn’t the oldest student and there were actually a bunch of adults pursuing their education. You see a lot of retirees here, which is awesome, especially the ones that retired from the military. They spend 20 or 30 years doing the same thing and then decide, “You know what? I’m going to go back to school.” 


What has been the most exciting part of your journey? 

I think the thing that excites me the most is how deep the TCL roots are. Right now, I’m working at a law firm that has connections with TCL and takes on new paralegals. It was perfect. The College of Charleston also works hand-in-hand with TCL. When I go to transfer to get my Bachelor’s, I’ll already have completed quite a few classes.


What have you defied on your journey? 

I have definitely defied the odds quite a few times. Just being a female in the Marine Corps is a big thing. You see statistics where people get out of the military and become homeless. The rates are through the roof. I definitely feel like I defied the odds for that. Also, I have a bunch of medical stuff going on. I’ve been here for a year and a half and have had six or seven medical procedures during that time. The TCL staff and faculty have just been so awesome in helping me get over those hurdles. 

When I’ve emailed teachers about upcoming surgeries, they have done everything from reschedule appointments or class times to helping me with assignments and extra one-on-one time. It is a very small community, and we’re all here for the same goal. 

You build a bond.  I talk to my advisor and some of the instructors in the paralegal program all the time. We know each other on a personal level. They’ve met my husband, and it’s nice to have that personal relationship with them. 


How did lessons learned in the military help you in pursuing your education? 

Being in the military taught me to never give up, even when times get tough. My time in the Marine Corps was definitely my biggest push into the legal field. I got into a little bit of legal trouble there and that’s really what motivated me. Also, the community aspect and camaraderie in the Marine Corps is one of the biggest reasons I joined. I’ve built all kinds of friendships and relationships here at school, too. 


What sacrifices did you have to make along the way? 

Time and money. I’m paying for tuition, not spending that money on whatever I want. Anything that you work towards requires a bunch of sacrifice. You have to work for what you want, but here they also give you the tools that you need. We have a great tutoring program, supporting staff and the financial aid is good. 


What are some misperceptions people have about technical college and what would you like to tell them? 

With the pandemic going on, money is tight for everybody. TCL is 100% affordable, especially with the financial aid that they offer. For me, TCL also has one of the best paralegal programs. The nursing and culinary programs are also great. Another really nice aspect of technical college is that it is hands-on. It’s not just sitting in a classroom all day. I don’t see that happening at four-year universities. Technical colleges also have so many ties to the community. 


What advice would you give to people who might be considering their next steps?

I would tell people to look into TCL. Technical college is great. It really is. Universities are great too, but you need to know what’s going to fit you best and you need to know what’s going to fit your career path. Maybe TCL is not bad, or maybe Clemson. People have the stigma that technical college and community college is for poor people, that it’s not a good college, that it’s bottom of the barrel. It’s really not like that at all.

I’m one of those that I’m not going to push people into doing things, but I definitely will push somebody into at least considering tech as an option.