In the current world of higher education there are countless majors, colleges and careers to choose from. A simple web search could lead today’s aspiring college student into a black hole of information regarding the best colleges and in-demand careers. While numerous high school seniors have a concrete plan laid out for their future, a majority are undecided or end up making changes to their plan multiple times. Some students know from a young age that they are going to be a doctor, lawyer or teacher, and they grow up to achieve just that. On the other hand, there are a large number of students who need time, inspiration and life experiences to give them direction.
Jennifer Randolph was one of those high school seniors that had a concrete plan laid out for her future…or so she thought. As a high school senior, her plan was to pursue Psychology, and eventually, Pre-Med, at the University of Iowa with a long-term goal of becoming a Psychiatrist. Growing up in Northwest Iowa, Jennifer didn’t see herself staying in the region and had a desire to leave the small-town atmosphere behind.
Following her high school graduation, Jennifer began as a Psychology student at the University of Iowa. It didn’t take long for the large class sizes, lack of access to her instructors, pace of city life and the overall culture-shock of Iowa City to take effect. School had always come easily to her, but she found herself struggling in her courses, despite her best efforts.
A situation then occurred that would have unforeseen influences on Jennifer’s future. She was involved in a car accident where she was deemed at-fault, and to make things worse, she was being sued by the other individuals involved. This situation led Jennifer to her first experience working with a lawyer, and it also amplified her desire to move back to Northwest Iowa.
Attending Northwest Iowa Community College hadn’t been part of her original plan, but looking back, she wished it had been. Upon moving back to the area, Jennifer enrolled as an Associate of Arts student at NCC. She was now undecided about her future path, but she remembers being pleasantly surprised by the assortment and flexibility of the courses she had access to, “I was honestly shocked at the variety of classes I was able to take while getting my generals, especially the variety of psychology courses.” There were several other positive factors that stood out to her as well. She was able to take many of her classes alongside friends from high school, her instructors proved to be experienced in their fields, tuition was affordable (even more so with the help of receiving scholarships) and she could easily access her instructors outside of class.
During her first semester at NCC, Jennifer continued to research her accident and took a considerable interest in all of the legalities surrounding it. It was then that she realized how much interest she had in the legal field and how engaged she was in learning more. She began to contemplate Law as a career.
After graduating with honors from NCC, Jennifer transferred to The University Center in Sioux Falls, SD, (what is now known as The Community College of Sioux Falls). Enrolling at the University Center allowed her to take courses from various universities, such as the University of South Dakota and South Dakota State University. Jennifer decided to pursue a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice and began taking courses through USD and online through SDSU. Her vast interest in the subject matter of the Criminal Law coursework verified that Law was the right path for her. In 2016 she graduated with her Bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice from USD, with a minor in Psychology from SDSU. She credits NCC in preparing her for transferring and continuing her education. Jennifer said, “NCC definitely prepared me for the four-year college experience.
I continued to excel in my classes throughout my time at USD.”
Prior to finishing her Bachelor’s degree, Jennifer continued to ponder the possibility of going to Law School, and it was her Criminal Law Professors that inspired her to take the LSAT and apply. Without much studying, Jennifer took the LSAT and began the grueling law school application process. During a meeting with her assigned Pre-Law advisor, Jennifer was told to give up and that she would not be successful. Hearing this pushed her to try even harder, and she continued on her path to becoming a lawyer.
Jennifer’s NCC experience continued to assist her through the law school application process. One component of the application requires submission of letters of recommendation and character references. One of her NCC instructors, Holly DeGrote, had such an impact on her and took so much time to get to know her during her time as a student that she did not think twice before asking Holly to serve as a character reference. “Holly was the first person I thought to ask. It was comforting to know I had one person like her in my life. I did not have the same connection with my instructors from USD.”
With her hard work, determination and support system on her side, Jennifer went on to excel in Law School, obtaining her Doctor of Jurisprudence from Drake Law School in 2019, where she graduated with honors. Jennifer also received certificates in Criminal Prosecution and Defense and Mediation. She took the three-day Bar Exam in July of 2019, and two months later received the news that she had passed! Jennifer had soared over her final hurdle and could officially call herself an Attorney at Law.
In 2019, Jennifer joined De Koster & De Koster in Hull, IA. Her law practice areas include: criminal, family, real estate, estate planning, and assisted reproductive technology. She is also on the court-appointed list for the State Public Defenders Office of Iowa. Jennifer finds her work very fulfilling and looks forward to her future as a Lawyer in small-town Northwest Iowa.
Jennifer continues to advocate for community colleges, especially with her clients and aspiring lawyers that ask her advice. “I always encourage individuals to start local, to start with an Associate’s degree and work up, especially if they are undecided.” Jennifer recognizes the silver lining from her accident long ago. “Looking back, I wish I would have started at NCC, but I truly believe that everything happens for a reason. I don’t know where I would be if I hadn’t learned I was bad at math, been sued, or met my NCC instructor, Holly DeGrote.”
Photo: Jennifer Randolph, ’14 Associate of Arts