Kristin Perez

Spartanburg Community College

"I spent about a year at the university and I ended up going into a lot of debt. When I decided to go back to college, I wanted to without going back into debt. That's how I decided on Spartanburg Community College."

My name is Kristen Perez, and I’m studying computer programming at Spartanburg Community College. I studied health science before, but I decided it just wasn’t for me. I like to work by myself, and that’s why I chose computer programming as my major.

Tell us about your higher education journey so far.

I graduated from high school two years early, and decided I wanted to study health science at a university. I didn’t put too much thought into why I picked health science as a major. I had a lot of friends who were studying it, and it was something with a lot of available jobs, so it seemed like a good idea. I really should have put more thought into what I like and what I wanted to do back then.

I spent about a year at the university and it did not go well. My grades were not good, and then I found out I’d filled out my financial aid forms wrong, so I ended up going into a lot of debt. I couldn’t afford to go there anymore, so I dropped out.

I worked in retail for five years, and it turned into one of those jobs I hated going to every day. After all that time working with customers and people, I decided I wanted to be able to do something where I could work by myself and work from home. I looked into computer programming, and started to realize it’s something that comes very naturally to me.

During those five years, I worked to pay off all my student loans. When I finally did, I decided I wanted to go back to college without going back into debt. That’s how I decided to go to Spartanburg Community College.

How has SCC compared to your previous experience with higher education?

I was pleasantly surprised! When I was at the university, I took classes that were 100 people in a lecture hall. Even my core classes at SCC — like English 101 — were really small. I was able to reach out to my teachers easily, and they helped me through any questions I had. That was really surprising to me because when I was at university, I would try to email my professors and they wouldn’t even respond. It’s much more personalized at SCC.

Honestly, going to class is something I look forward to. The teachers are super relatable and actually know me by name, especially in my C++ class, which is the major class I’m taking this semester. My teacher asks a lot of questions, and he makes sure we understand everything. He has office hours, and even though he has three or four classes, he knows each of us. 

How else has SCC helped you?

It was way easier to apply for financial aid at SCC. I filled out a form online, and they got back to me. I started the semester before the college did free tuition for the 2021-2022 academic year, but even then, I only paid $900 (including books and fees) because financial aid covered the rest.

It got even better my second semester when I found out that by studying a STEM field and achieving a certain GPA, half of my books were covered by a scholarship. I didn’t even know about it until they sent me an email.

They’re also helpful when it comes to finding a job after graduation. One of the classes I’m taking is a resume-building class for people in STEM fields. I built my resume, wrote my cover letter, and did a mock interview. They also set you up on Handshake, which is SCC’s job board. You’re able to see what kind of jobs are available after you graduate, and you can even apply for those jobs directly.

What has it been like going to college while working?

A big thing that drew me to SCC was the flexibility. I’m working full-time in addition to going to school full-time, so that’s really helpful. Every class I’m taking this semester is online, so I can do them whenever I need to. It’s really nice being able to fit classes around my work schedule. It’s not easy, but I make it happen!

What motivates you to put in all the extra time?

I think about graduating in two years and actually having a career I enjoy. Even though it took me a few years to figure out what I really wanted to do, I now know what I want and it’s going to be worth it in the end.

What advice would you give to others thinking about their next step?

I think you get the same quality of education at a technical college compared to a university. Even if you want a four-year degree, you can still do two years at a technical college and save a lot of money by transferring later.