College: (Definitely not) the best years of my life

As of August 11, I officially finished my four-year degree in Music Education at CU Boulder. To some people, this may come as a surprise, or some may simply ask, “Wait, why did you not finish until August? Didn’t you walk at graduation in May?” Well, the short answer to that question is that I had some credits to make up and ended up taking three classes this summer. The long answer to that question is…A bit more complicated.

So here’s the thing: I’m going to be ranting a bit in this one. Kind of reflecting, but…Ranting. Is there really a central, positive message to this blog? Eh…That’s debatable. Is it even that organized or planned out? Also debatable. I’m kind of just putting my thoughts about college on a page, recounting my experiences and everything. Don’t get me wrong, there were some great things about my college experience. I have a four-year degree from a public university with no student loan debt. And…Well. That’s about where all of my thoughts start to come in. And before people start getting into this and start telling me I should be thankful for my college experience and degree and everything, let me make it clear that I am thankful for all of those experiences and the support I had to help me receive my degree. But that doesn’t change the fact that I wish I had done some things better than I did. So while I will be recounting a lot of the things that I disliked about my college experience, I’ll take some time towards the end of this to talk about some things that I could have done differently and wish I’d done differently. So if you’re going to going to college in the next few years or thinking about going to college, I guess this could potentially be helpful for you.

But, mostly, I’m going to be ranting. Or reflecting in the form of a rant. So…There’s your warning.

From the very beginning, my decision to get a degree in music education was so that I’d have a “backup plan” just in case I wasn’t able to have a successful music career, a common fate for many musicians. I actually started out as a “double-major,” working on a five-year track that would get me a degree in both music education and performance. I ended up dropping the performance part of my double-major during my sophomore year.

Which, other than joining a cult for two years in college, was probably one of the worst decisions I made in my college years.

Here’s my first mistake: I wasn’t studying something that I really cared about and really wanted to do. When I first started college, I did honestly consider becoming a band director because of the incredible experiences I’d had in high school. But I found out pretty quick that a career in music education involves a lot of political, bureaucratic BS and has a never-ending line of hoops to jump through. Yes, that’s a strong opinion. Yes, that’s my opinion. And anyone who really knows me knows that I really don’t like brown-nosing. And I really don’t like jumping through hoops. And being a band director involves doing that for a long time before you can really do things the way you want to do them, and I definitely can’t wait that long to do that. (Side note: Don’t get me wrong, I think education and music education especially are incredibly important. Some of the most important fields to go into. I’m just not wired for it and can’t force myself to try and be wired for it. It’s just not for me. Students deserve a better teacher than I would be for them.)

This is about where people would start chiming in, “Well, why didn’t you just switch majors or something?” Well, this also requires a somewhat complicated answer. I was fortunate and blessed enough to receive a 75% music scholarship, which lasted for four years. By the time I realized that I didn’t enjoy what I was studying and wanted to study something else (or just switch from music education to either a Performance degree or a BA in Music), I was too far into my degree to switch majors without adding at least another semester, if not another year, to my time in school. Which, with in-state tuition for music students at CU Boulder coming in at nearly $6,500 just with full-time student status (meaning taking exactly 12 credits, no more, no less, when music majors end up taking at least 15 credits per semester on average), there’s no way I would have been able to afford paying for the rest of my education without my scholarship. And I’m incredibly grateful to my family who helped me pay for the last 25% of my school each semester, but that much money each semester would be way too much for us to afford.

So I had to finish my degree in music education if I wanted to have a degree at all. And for people that know me, they know that I have a really…Really hard time putting effort into things that I don’t care about. Not to mention that some of my professors over the years (one in particular) were very unsympathetic, impersonal, and very discouraging, always pointing out the things we weren’t good at and never addressing the things that we were successful at. I had no motivation to work hard for these people. (That’s a completely different subject. TL;DR version of my opinion on that entire topic: Tenure is stupid.) So the last year and a half of my degree was a case study in going through the motions. I put in the minimal effort that I could on everything that I did while still passing everything I needed to, knowing that I was working to get a degree I would never really use after I graduated. All I wanted to do was be done and get out as soon as I possibly could. And it all worked out all right.

…For a while. Until my last semester, anyway.

My final semester of my music ed degree was student teaching. Which is basically working a full-time job as a teacher for sixteen weeks without getting paid. And actually paying money to do so. Which is a great experience for people wanting to go into that field…Not so much for me. And any teacher, and especially music teachers, regardless of what age of students they teach, will tell you that being an educator is one of those careers that you absolutely have to LOVE in order to be successful in it, and even survive in it. And not only did I not love what I was doing, but I couldn’t force myself to love what I was doing either. I’m really bad at faking it. And my professors could tell. So, ultimately, I was being asked to make a certain amount of progress and improvement, which I clearly wasn’t achieving. I couldn’t. So, long story short, I actually ended up failing my student teaching semester and ended up not receiving my teaching licensure from CU. Which, since I have no intention of going into the teaching field, I’m honestly okay with.

So, to make up for those credits I lost, I ended up taking three courses this summer, which costed over $4000 in additional tuition. But I ended up finishing classes in August and ended up finishing a four-year degree from a public university without taking out any student loans.

Some people would call this a success story of sorts. I made it through, I did the hard thing, I got my degree, and I won’t be paying off student debt for the rest of my life. Others might consider it a failure. I wasted four and a half years of my life and thousands of dollars getting a degree I won’t really use in a field I don’t care to go into.

And here’s my response to both arguments: Yes.

While I did make it through and I ended up receiving my degree, I often feel like I could have done a lot of things better, or at least differently in such a way as to really enjoy my college years. They were far from the best years of my life because I made some basic decisions that ended up making myself miserable. If I could go back and do it all again, I wouldn’t because I’m sure the experiences that I did have have helped make me who I am today.

BUT. If I could go back and do it all again, knowing that I’d be in either the same place or even a better place than I’m in now, here’s some things that I’d do. Here are some of the things that I wish I’d done differently, or at least better. (Future college students, here’s where you can start paying attention).

I wish I’d started off at a community college or something to save money. People laugh about going to community college and everything because it’s…Well, community college. But guys, seriously. I WISH I had knocked out all of my core credits (math, science, history, etc.) before going on to finish my degree at CU. Then, not only would I have saved money doing that, but it would have given me a chance to focus exclusively on my degree once I got to CU. I spent a lot of time writing papers and doing homework for classes that I just had to get out of the way to finish my degree, when all I really wanted to do was focus on music. If I’d gotten these “core credits” taken care of beforehand, I could have taken exclusively music classes during my time at CU. And I most likely would have been at the University for a shorter amount of time, saving myself even more money.

I could have networked better. While the people I was interacting with at CU weren’t really the kinds of people I need to be connected with in the field I’m in now, I still could have networked a bit better. This is something that will apply more when you’re studying in a field you care about and want to go into. Whatever field you’re wanting to go into, if you’re interacting with professionals in your area of interest, build a network with professionals in your area of interest. I can’t stress this enough. If you’re studying education and want to be a teacher, build a network with teachers, professors, and public school staff in the area. If you’re studying music and want to have basically ANY chance of getting a gig after you’re done, build a network with professors, performers, and professional musicians at school and locally. There’s something to be said about “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” Knowing people in your area of interest plays a significant role in getting jobs nowadays. So you need to know people. I don’t know many people in worship ministry, which is what I’m doing now. My network is small, and I’m just now starting to try and kind of build a network. Here are my two biggest recommendations for starting to build a network in college:

  • First, just talk to people. Ask questions of people who know more than you. It goes a long way in showing that you want to learn more and grow and that you’re teachable, which is one of the most important qualities people look for nowadays.
  • Second, I’d honestly recommend starting a LinkedIn profile while you’re still in school. Even if you don’t have a ton to put on there yet, you can start building your network while you’re there and start adding people as you go through school. Knowing people is so important for getting a job.

And I’d say this is the most important thing: I wish I had studied something that I care about. I simply can’t stress this point enough. If I was truly invested in what I was studying, I definitely would have done a lot better in school. I’m a bad student as it is, and so when I don’t care about what I’m doing, things take a very negative turn. So I’d encourage you to study something you care about. I wish I had gotten some sort of degree in worship ministry. I feel like I’m learning a lot of things now that I could have been learning over the past four years. And if you don’t know what you want to do yet, that’s okay. That’s when I’d really recommend starting at a community college or something like that. If you aren’t even sure what you want to do, please don’t start at a full-on university. Or you’ll end up spending thousands of dollars on classes that you don’t know if you need to take and could end up being at school even longer than you need to be. And if you start off going to community college, just getting an Associate’s Degree IS NOT A BAD THING. It’s a degree. And it can be a good start to receiving a higher-level degree if you want to! And you can still choose to study anything you want after getting your Associate’s. Please, please, please study something you care about. However long it takes you to figure that out, just take the time to figure it out. Don’t spend potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars on school if you don’t know what you’re wanting to do. It could end up just being a waste of time and money.

Those are a lot of my thoughts on college. I wish I’d done some things differently. I have some strong opinions and thoughts in here, and I’d love to hear others’ thoughts on them. Thanks for taking the time to read this.

Rant over.



P.S. – Before people start trying to crucify me for all of this, again, I want to make it clear that I’m incredibly thankful for all of the support and encouragement that I had through my college years, financially, spiritually, emotionally, all of those things. I ultimately am thankful that I made it through my college years and ended up receiving my degree. That doesn’t change the fact that I wish I had done things differently and wish those years in school were spent better than they were. While I am thankful, it doesn’t change the fact that I wish some things about my experience could have been a little different.