Friday, July 24, 2015

On not going to college

For some reason, I've gotten quite a few emails this year asking or commenting on the fact I didn't go to college. Usually either from teenagers facing this big decision asking me how I came to that decision myself, or from adults who are sorry they went to college just, uh, giving me the thumbs up I guess. Usually where there are emails, there are also non-emailers, just silently THINKING their questions, about a blog post?

First, not going to college was kind of easy for me. I was homeschooled, and my parents are pretty unconventional. No one pressured me to go. Actually, when I turned 18 I just felt lost and directionless and I wished someone would point me somewhere, so if my parents had insisted I go to college, I might have been relieved at the time. But, college is EXPENSIVE.

In 2000 when I graduated, this was not as much a topic of discussion as it is now, was still expensive. The college students I worked with were juggling full-time school and a full-time job and they could barely afford life. And they were always SO tired. "When would I have time to write, if I did that?" I thought.

My entire life has basically been formed around the idea of having time to write. Because without time to write, my emotional state goes down the tubes fast. Sometimes it feels selfish, but frankly, it's just...survival.

Most people incur student debt going to college. I was petrified of debts I didn't have a plan for paying off. That has always been a rule of life for me. You do NOT borrow money if you don't know exactly how you will pay it off. 18-year-olds are definitely not flush with plans for paying off debt. They say money is freedom, but not needing money is even BETTER freedom. Plus, I didn't know what I wanted to be when I grew up, besides a writer, and I didn't need college for that.

I'm not anti-college, mind you. Some people totally want to go to college, can afford college, and thrive at college. If you are one of those people, this post is not for you. There was a point in time where I very much wanted to go. My friend was at the University of Toronto, and I visited her, and thought, "I want to live in Toronto and have a professor with a sexy British accent and also take a course on the history of children's literature." It looked pretty fun, let me tell you. That was basically the point in my life when I started looking into college. I got catalogs, I researched scholarships (which usually require information about one's high school career homeschooled kids don't have)...I decided I would become a librarian.

Then, almost as quickly, I decided I didn't want to be a librarian unless I'd tried to become a writer first, and I gave myself a 4-year deadline. Which set me on my current path. I sold my first book 3 years later and I've been a writer ever since. I never have much money, but I also have very little debt and no regrets. Do you know how many of my friends who went to college ended up getting well-paying jobs in their field? ALL OF THEM! (No, like, seriously...not even half.)

Some of you reading might be teens facing this decision yourself, and you might be thinking, "Well, that is all well and good, Jackie, but my parents ARE hammering on me to go to college and get a good job and make lots of money. I just want to be a writer. (Or whatever, but that's usually what you tell me, teens. I assume those of you who want to be like, a musician, are off emailing a musician instead.) What do I do?"

--Obviously I can't decide that for you. You might have various factors to weigh. Like, your parents are threatening to kick you out if you don't go; you have a scholarship that requires you to go now (that's a thing, right? I don't even know); whatever. But let me assure you, 18 is a great time to do something adventurous or crazy with your life...go backpacking, move to New York City with six roommates, write your first novel; it's even just a great time to get a weird dumb job and play video games for a year or dabble in your passion for cosplay or book blogging or crochet, as you let high school wash out of your system and have a chance to really think. You are super young and flexible, even though right now it probably feels really heavy and important. You can take 5 years to figure it out, and in the long run, no one will notice.

--There is no rule that you have to go to college at 18. It'll be there for you at any time.

--Any debt you incur in college will be on your head, if someone else isn't paying for it. Consider whether you know what you will do with the fascinating and impractical degree you probably went for, being an artsy soul, and your newfound debt load. Or the very practical degree for a job you possibly, in fact, don't want to do. Now, plenty of the artsy degrees can lead to a real job, often after adding an additional degree. Like the librarian job I was considering. And those can be good paths, and paths you might figure out while you are at college. But I do think it is worth considering taking a little time off to figure out a potential plan before plunging in.

--You need money for food, shelter, heat, transportation, and medical care. Beyond that, it is never as important as fulfilling your soul. Listen to your soul, and not anyone who tells you otherwise. This is true for all aspects of life.

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