CLEVELAND -- Claire Mulvaney was in elementary school when her parents encouraged her to take up piano. She had a different idea: "Guitar was for me," she said.

The decision turned out to be a good one. Mulvaney, 20, graduates this month from Cuyahoga Community College with an associate of arts degree. Tri-C served as a steppingstone to the prestigious Berklee College of Music, where she will study guitar and voice beginning this fall.

The Aurora resident said it has been her longtime dream to attend Berklee. "It has always been an intimidating goal," she said. "I hear you either sink or swim."

The college's matriculation agreement with Berklee will allow her to find out. She said she probably would not have made it to Berklee without Tri-C and the money she saved given the school's affordable tuition.

Mulvaney said she discovered what the college offered when her rock band, Toxic Lemons, competed in the Tri-C High School Rock Off. She met with Steve Enos, director of jazz studies and Metropolitan Campus music faculty coordinator, and was off and running.

Her time at Tri-C included opportunities to learn from high-caliber artists such as Terence Blanchard, Dominick Farinacci and the Manhattan Transfer through master classes at the Tommy LiPuma Center for Creative Arts.

"I've been really impressed," she said of her experience at Tri-C.

The guitarist and vocalist has performed at Cleveland Classical Guitar Society recitals and regional venues. She is dipping her toes in jazz now, and has played at Blu Jazz, Bop Stop and Take 5 Rhythm and Jazz.

When she's not doing that, she is singing in her church choir and practicing or working at Aurora School of Music. "Pretty much all I do is music," she said.

But still no piano.