A Forked Road: Find A Job Or Go To College?

Sep 21, 2017

As a high school senior, you often come across many forked roads. Where are you going to apply for college? How are you going to pay for college if you get in? What do you see yourself doing in life? Is it even worth it to actually go to college? You’re finally done with high school and you are left in oblivion.

When I graduated from Riverside High School, I came across many of those forks in the road. In the end, I decided to go to North Carolina A&T, but I wrestled with other options, like finding work.

For almost two years, I worked at Bojangles. Towards the end of my senior year, my manager approached me about applying to becoming a manager in training at the restaurant. The position meant more money and a path to greater responsibility.

“When you work with a lot of people you can see the difference between people who [are] more interested in doing the job and who really want to grow in their own lives,” my manager Silvia Guevara said.

Diana Zambrano, a recent high school graduate who feels the pressure of being a first-generation college students.
Credit Courtesy of Diana Zambrano

Taking the job was tempting, but I really wanted to go to college. I will be the first person in my family to go to college. Even though I was playing around with the idea of becoming a manager of Bojangles and possibly not going to school, I never told my mom.

“For her to be the first one in the family to go to a university, I’m very proud of her and watching her do this just inspires me,” said my mom, Makeda Smith. “If you work hard and believe in anything that you want to do, then you can make it happen.” 

It was really hard to grow up wanting to make my family proud and go to college. The pressure got even more real when my older brother dropped out of high school, got his G.E.D., and started working.

“I was just watching her grow and at one time I thought she was going to sing,” my mom said. “I notice she is very vocal, she likes to speak, speaks well, so when she said she wants to go to school for journalism or broadcasting I was excited.”

Me and Diana Zambrano are one and the same. We both feel the pressure of being first generation college students.

“I always wanted to go to a university but I always knew that I would not be able to maintain the money,” Zambrano said. “I don't want to be in debt all of the time. I would see people from different U’s [say] ‘Oh, I’m broke from college and this and that’.”

I don't want to be in debt all of the time. -Diana Zambrano

Money is one of the reasons Zambrano thinks college is not for her. But she also doesn’t want to disappoint her mom. She’s even scared to tell her mom she’s planning to just work this fall.

“It was always going to be a decision because I have to work regardless, you know?” Zambrano said. “I have bills I have to pay because I'm not going to rely on my mom for the rest of my life.”

Diana and I both want to avoid the struggles we saw our moms go through growing up. For me, I’m thinking college is the way out. I left Bojangles earlier this summer, but plan to find part-time work when I start college in the fall.

But part of me wonders if I’m making the right choice. If I’m deep in debt and have to drop out, will it have been worth it? For now, I’ll keep filling out scholarships, keep working to pull through, and keep looking ahead as I enter my freshman year of college.