NOVA: Where Savvy Students Go

NOVA: Where Savvy Students Go

12/3/2008

Kenneth Burchfiel

[This was a rough draft of the article. I hope to put the final draft up soon.]

Our school is in one of those strange areas where, if you tell your classmates that you’re going to a top-ranked community college, some of them will look down on you. In truth, attending Northern Virginia Community College (NVCC or NOVA for short) is one of the smartest education choices a McLean senior can make.

“You’re going to get [professors] at NOVA who have the best education; they’re professionals in their field,” government teacher Ian Howell said. In a region like Northern Virginia, as Howell pointed out, there’s no shortage of qualified educators. That’s why the college is able to offer 160 different associate-level degrees at eight different campuses.

It’s intriguing to read articles about skyrocketing college costs and cash-strapped students, then look over the community college’s fees. Those living on campus, according to Collegeboard.com, will pay less than 4,000 dollars for a year’s worth of education. To put that number in perspective: you could attend NVCC for two years and buy an SLK-Class Mercedes for less than the cost of two years at Randolph Macon. Howell knows of one senior who, after one and a half years at NOVA, transferred 38 community college credits to William and Mary. With W&M costing nearly 20,000 this year (according to Collegeboard.com), I give that student an A in economics.

True, if you’re looking for an intimate community with lots of students out on campus playing guitar, NVCC isn’t the place for you. This is a two-year school geared towards those looking for a great education at a great price. If your ideal “college experience” is one of football games and after-midnight beer bashes, don’t bother applying. But should you be undecided about your major, NOVA offers “the exact same courses and the exact same credits,” says Howell, as schools costing tens of thousands more.

A sizeable majority of seniors choose to attend NOVA every year. My fear is that many students never considered NVCC in the first place, if only for its reputation. Students here—and I am not innocent myself—often put more weight on a college’s name than they do on the school’s practicality. As a result, schools like Yale, Columbia and Dartmouth are venerated while NOVA becomes something of a punch line. If the Class of 2013 gave NOVA a serious look, I think many would be surprised by the caliber of its programs—and the transfer options students have to great colleges like William and Mary.

Consider two students. One gets accepted into—and decides to attend—Harvard University. The other goes to NOVA. Judging by colleges alone, many of us would call the first kid the smarter of the two. (If they got into Harvard, they must be, right?) But somewhere in the selection process, the latter student realized that Northern Virginia Community College has a stunning array of classes and credits for an unrivaled cost. Based on that decision, I’m almost inclined to call the second student the brighter one.

We’re lucky to live in a country with over 4,000 colleges and universities, and even lucky to live in a state where a college education comes at $4,000 a year. I just hope that my classmates won’t shrug off the opportunity to attend NOVA.

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