A Letter to a Former Student

Upon Finishing the First Quarter of Your Freshman Year of College

First, a little backstory: A former student of mine, who is smart, talented, and capable, messaged me the other day. He is currently a computer science major, but is contemplating a career in writing. He is one of about three people (thank you! so much! all of you!) who read my blogs–this one and my professional blog tamarascottwrites.com–and he asked me for advice on changing his major to music and journalism.

Dear student,

I’ve been thinking about this a long time (well, it’s felt like a long time, because it’s been what, 4 days since you sent this to me?).
My first reaction, when I got this message at midnight, was, “Oh your God, don’t do it.”
And then the next morning, as I didn’t have much work to do that day (meaning I wasn’t making that much money that day), and I thought about writing you back, I couldn’t bring myself to tell you not to follow your dream.
And this went on for a few more days, so I’m going to tell you the not so rosy side of the story.
When I was teaching, I had enough money to pay my bills, eat, and go out with my friends a couple of times a week. I could afford a $100 trip to Target once a month on top of that. That wasn’t living high on the hog, but it was ok. It also wasn’t paying off my student loan debt anytime soon, either.
When I left teaching and was a server, I was making more money (about $1000 more a month, if you can believe it), but I was just as miserable because although I could buy whatever I wanted, I didn’t have the mental energy to pursue any sort of writing or literary pursuits in my off time. Who cares if you pay for your Master’s degree if you allow your brain to turn to mush.
My decision to become a freelance writer was not entirely my own. It was a decision I made with my boyfriend (who splits my rent and bills) and my parents (who have to pay my bills if I can’t, because they’re my parents and they don’t want to see me starve). I currently bring home anywhere from $30-$300 a week. I need $1300 just to pay my bills. That doesn’t include expenses like food or beer or cute shoes.
I am not telling you this to scare you, or to make you feel bad for me, or to dissuade you from following your dreams. I am, however, telling you this because you are in a very safe place right now, and you are able to take some time to figure out what it is you want to do.
You are in the delightful position of being able to take journalism courses and actually work at the school newspaper and try some freelance work of your own before you think about doing this as a career and even before you declare your major!
I know that it seems like everyone around you has it all figured out, but really, no one has anything figured out, and if they say they do, they’re lying. When they say (I’m not quite sure who this mythical “they” is, but “they”‘re out there) that college is all about experimentation, they’re not talking about boobs or pot or beer, they’re talking about ideas and identities.
Don’t be so quick to adopt an identity, because you may get stuck with it. I donned that teacher hat when I was 15, and for about 15 years, it was good to me, and then it wasn’t. I wish I had played a little more when I was a freshman, because maybe I would have seen something else I liked just as much.


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