This is the last in a six-part series of stories about programs that offer high-school students the opportunity to take college classes.
Over the past week, MarketWatch has been exploring the rapid expansion of opportunities for high school students to take college courses — and its implications.
Raul Gomez, 23, knows about these topics first-hand.
During his time at an early college high school in El Paso, Texas — a school designed to help students earn their associate’s degree by the time they graduate — Gomez took several college courses.
MarketWatch spoke to Gomez about how these experiences set him up for his future:
‘The early college was a set of portable buildings. The cafeteria and the administration buildings were really the only true buildings at the high school.’
MarketWatch: How did you find out about the early college high school?
Raul Gomez: My brother was part of the first class at Mission Early College High School, which was the very first early college in El Paso. When he joined, I was about a 5th or 6th grader.
I wanted to have that same experience. He graduated before I was accepted into a program. It was a very proud moment and I wanted to experience the same thing.
MarketWatch: How did your experience attending an early college impact you?
Gomez: I know it changed me.
I wasn’t too sure if I was going to be able to go to college. Here in El Paso, there’s a very strong Mexican cultural influence. My family was basically — and they’re still — very Mexican. When it comes to Mexican culture, you have to find a significant other by the time you’re 20, 21 and then have kids when you’re 22, start your family and then, of course, give your parents grandkids and what not.
To some degree that was my mind set. It was one of my bigger drivers, but after entering the early college all of that changed.
Completing my education is my biggest goal — making sure that I have my medical degree and then my master’s before actually starting a family or looking for a job.
‘When it comes to Mexican culture, you have to find a significant other by the time you’re 20, 21 and then have kids when you’re 22.’
MarketWatch: What were your first impressions of the early college?
Gomez: It was a very strange place at Mission. I had toured other high schools. The early college was a set of portable buildings. The cafeteria and the administration buildings were really the only true buildings at the high school.
That was strange, especially because it was right next to a desert.
It didn’t seem like much, but what I did enjoy was when we were about to enter the early college, the summer before they had a summer camp. In that summer camp we met some of the teachers, we had some pseudo classes where we covered geometry, math etc.
MarketWatch: How did you find the experience of the early college academically?
Gomez: The hardest not so much year, but semester, was the very first semester. The teachers wanted to prepare us for the expectations and the challenges, and the difficulties of what we were going to be seeing in those college classes.
‘The teachers wanted to prepare us for the expectations and the challenges, and the difficulties of what we were going to be seeing in those college classes.’
After that it really became easy because we started building study groups and most of the classes that I took, I would take with people from my school. That network and that connection really made the process easy.
We had the college load and we also had the high-school work load so finding time for myself was a little bit difficult. I don’t think the material itself was difficult, it was just keeping up with everything, and then trying to keep or maintain a social life while trying to maintain my academic success.
MarketWatch: What was your social life like in high school?
Gomez: It was very different. I, of course, was connected via social media with the people that I went to middle school with. They were actively using their free time to go to concerts or raves or just playing sports and competing against other high schools — we didn’t really have those experiences, but we had a different variety.
My social life revolved mostly around my academic life. The people that I would meet in my classes or at my school, we would just really hang out during school, but then after school everybody was mostly busy with the curriculum and the assignments.
To some degree, I did maintain a social life/academic life balance, it just wasn’t as great as what my peers had from other high schools.
‘I, of course, was connected via social media with the people that I went to middle school with. They were actively using their free time to go to concerts.’
MarketWatch: When did you start thinking about college and what did that look like?
Gomez: The goal that I had was just staying in El Paso and then going to the University of Texas-El Paso. Rather than experiencing something new after I finished my associate’s degree and after I finished high school, I thought I’m just going to attend UTEP and finish there.
At that point, I didn’t just want to get my bachelor’s degree, I wanted to get my master’s degree before moving on to medical school.
MarketWatch: How did the credits transferring factor in?
Gomez: If we were going to stay in Texas most of our credits would transfer over. But if we decided to leave Texas, depending on the college or university that we went to, they might or might not accept all the credits.
To some degree, I feel like that did dissuade me from leaving Texas. Not only was I going to get the benefit of transferring all of my credits to UTEP, I was going to stay in the environment that I knew and felt comfortable with
‘If we decided to leave Texas, depending on the college or university that we went to, they might or might not accept all the credits.’
MarketWatch: What did life after the early college high school look like for you?
Gomez: After high school, I attended UTEP for two years and completed my bachelor’s degree. While I was completing my studies, I decided to work within the university. After I completed my bachelor’s, I was offered a full-time position working at UTEP.
I worked for a semester and then in the fall of 2017, I started my MBA at UTEP. Since I was a full-time staff member they have some employee educational benefits. [He graduated earlier this month].
MarketWatch: What made you decide to get the MBA?
Gomez: I did some research and I actually considered getting a master’s of science in biology, but that was very heavy in research and I didn’t enjoy research as much as I thought I was going to.
[The MBA program] offers a concentration in health care administration. Since my plans were to go into medical school, I felt like that would work out really well.
MarketWatch: Why did you want to get a master’s before medical school?
Gomez: When I was in high school, the counselor strongly advised us to not just finish with our academics after we got our associates or our bachelors, he always emphasized if you want to stay competitive within the professional world, you have to go either for a master’s or a Ph.D.
I knew that I wanted to go into medicine, but I also wanted to have a Plan B, that’s why I decided to go for a master’s.
MarketWatch: What are your plans after graduation?
Gomez: I’m going to take a few months to study for the MCAT [the admissions test for medical school]. During that gap year, I’ll also see if I can use my MBA to get a little bit of work experience in health-care administration. That way, whenever I do submit my application for medical school that will make me stand out.
MarketWatch: Are you applying to medical schools outside of El Paso or Texas?
Gomez: Ideally, I would want to stay in El Paso for medical school. The tuition prices are lower in Texas than in most states. Of course I’ll be submitting applications to different medical schools, not just in Texas — some in California, some in Washington and some in New York.
Depending on where I get accepted and what the costs are, I’ll be deciding from there.
For my residency, I do want to leave El Paso, just so I can get a little bit more experience in different areas and different diseases. After I finish my residency, I plan on coming back to El Paso to work here.
(The conversation has been edited and condensed for style and space.)