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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

I am a first year student at a Top 40 school

I am a first year student at a Top 40 (in the world) school. Between my upper-middle class parents, scholarships, and financial aid, I could easily continue on going with college for the next ten years. And I will keep getting scholarships because I take classes in a subjects matter I am good at, my potential 'majors' if you will. Those are Mythology, Linguistics, and Creative Writing. You can see where this is going. Come October of 2009, I was already at the point where I had to ask myself "what the hell am I doing here?" My classes this semester involve the quick-learned talent of reading the IPA chart, a class that covers the extensive history of Greek Mythology (and I've read all the classics in high school), an open workshop in Lyricism where half of the students speak English as a second or third language, and a mandatory history class on Japan and I took Japanese History at my local state school in my senior year of high school. Next year I will be taking a novelist workshop with even less native English speakers, a class on wine tasting and one on math theorems in music theory, a Japanese class composed of fifteen Japanese students, 12 Chinese students, and 3 or 4 anime fans, a 200-level class on reading the IPA chart, and an Asian folklore class.

Where am I going with this? How is any of this helping me? I'm taking classes with subjective grading systems, terrible curves, and profs who know less about the subject matter than I do. I'm draining money out of the system that I don't need so I can live in a cramped little room with all of my books and an ever growing pile of water bottles and beer cans. It is such an empty experience, and I know it won't help me. At best, I'll have the BA (or BFA, should I end up in Creative Writing) and then get a desk job that has little or nothing to do with my major. I can't stand it. I want to leave, but I have no job experience and my only skills relate to language and writing. Short of succumbing to the inevitable and becoming one of the many English teachers who serve only to perpetuate this cycle, I've got little else I can see myself doing. Unless I hit it big in the publishing world, I don't have many options here but to live with my parents, something that would probably end in tragedy.

I wish, in high school, there had been other options suggested to me. Our guidance counselors made even the poorest students apply to community college, and students like me - the top tier - were everything but forced to apply to the best schools in and out of state. There was no real concept of specialty schooling, or job training, or perhaps just alternatives to "living with your parents." It was basically that or college. Now I'm stuck in a system that will lead to a life of monotony.



TahoeJohn said...


The good news is that you are obviously bright - which is the number one predictor of success. The other good news is that you are recognizing the challenges with your current path right now early in your college career. I can't tell you how many students I hear from or about that graduate with a degree that is not marketable and who owe $50,000 to $200,000 in student debt. And they are working at Home Depot because their degree does not translate into job offers out of the college placement office.

The other good news is that you can make changes now. Don't go into debt assuming that if you get a degree there must be a great and gratifying job waiting for you - you are more likely to win the lottery. If you go into $100k in debt with a degree that does not bring a job - you will definitely be "stuck".

I don't know if you are a Facebook or YouTube person. But there is a guy there named Toby Turner - I met him when I hired him to write and perform a song (High School Thoughts About College) for the web site. He got a degree in communications (or similar) at University of Florida. He happens to have a great sense of humor, and is a pretty good song writer. He has been working his buns off the last couple of years, writing material for YouTube and last year he was a roving reporter for the MTV Video Awards. I can tell you that he is going to be a star one of these days. He found something he loves, he is working it from several angles and he is at it non-stop. By the way he is in Sundance, Utah right now because he has a minor role in a minor film that is being shown there called "New Low".

So my fundamental recommendation to you is to go out into the world (even if you live at home) and find some ways that you can apply your skills (writing and thinking and working) in ways that people will pay you today. But also keep working the related concepts (like blogs, videos, song writing, poems, short stories, newsletters) in subjects that interest you, can develop a following and may not pay today but may pay off in the future. College professors have no idea how to do this - all they know is how to produce more college professors. You can always go back to college if you decide to do that later.

Too many college students just keep going to college because it is the easiest thing to do.


TahoeJohn said...


As of now, I am not in any debt - my parents are paying for my first few years of college and I might even get away with a fifth through my scholarships. However, looking at the job market as it is, I'd probably need an MA in order to get a job worth the effort of college, and that would probably incur a bit of debt, although not nearly as bad as some people I know. A friend of mine is getting a PhD in Ethnomusicology (don't ask), and that is potentially the most useless degree I've ever heard of wasting ten years on. And I know Philosophy majors.

The idea of going out into the world without a degree is daunting, if only because of everything I've been taught in my life. But with what you have said in mind, and the fact that I can go to college for at least a couple more years without amassing any sort of debt, I may consider establishing some ground in the journalism and online blog/vlogging community while I seed off of the system/my parents until I can afford to drop out, at least with some hope of being able to leave my parents' home within a year or two thereafter. It is a difficult decision. Particularly given that, while I am here in college anyway, I'd quite rather take courses that interest me that stockpile courses in the same subject so I can get a useless degree. Indeed, the more I think about it, the more I realize that I probably will never get a degree, let alone a useful one.

Regarding my other 'talents', I speak Japanese and Gaelic semi-fluently - near fluently for the first one - and I am beginning to learn German and Dutch. A friend of mine would like to teach me Korean, as well. Other than that, I've probably read more books than all your high school English teachers combined, but I'm not sure what I could do with that amassed literary knowledge other than teach English.


TahoeJohn said...


Learning is great fun. And folks that love to learn have some major advantages in life. But learning is not the “end result” if you have to earn living. Even if you don’t have to earn a living and are independently wealthy one still wants to accomplish something. And most accomplishment involves influencing and communicating with others, the ability to organize and the ability to produce results.

A couple of suggestions for college courses that may be very helpful: Logic – allows you to identify the fallacy in arguments. Statistics - far too many writers simply draw conclusions from sample sizes that are far too small. Economics – the basic concepts of supply and demand drives much of the world as it turns. These are courses that are taught very well in the traditional college setting.

Beyond that, the quote I heard not long ago was from Harold Ramis (actor, writer, director) who said “If you look around and you are not the most talented person in the room, then find the most talented person and go stand next to him.” By the way, he was in an acting class with Bill Murray.

It doesn’t sound like I need to suggest that you take a few roads less traveled – seems like your basic nature. But in addition to that, don’t go into debt, and find ways to apply (monetize) your skills sooner rather than later. Because if you can’t learn to monetize your skills and interests you will either be living with your parents forever or working in a job that is not very engaging.

In college there is far too little discussion about entrepreneurship, creating your own business, and networking for success. The irony is that for the non-commercial studies is where it is needed the most. Students majoring in engineering and accounting can still get jobs the old fashioned way.


Anonymous said...

You don't have to do this if you don't want. You can always change fields, school, take a break, whatever. Very few people are doing the exact same job they planned for when they were undergraduates or when they were in high school. One thing that can help is to see life in terms of what you want to do, not what classes you have to take. Of course, that's hard - what DO you want to do, really, to make money and live your life in a way that will get you both enough material things to keep you from spending the rest of your life at your parent's house and happiness? Its really common to get confused in the middle of your undergraduate years - its a time you are changing from somebody who is having their life run for them by the schools and the teachers and the parents and the tests and the getting into the right place for college into a person who has to decide what one thing YOU want to do and how is that going to be done. Take your time but always be focused on YOUR life, not what other people think your life should or could be. Good luck - I know you will be just fine, because you are already asking some very good questions!