I thought my plans in life were so concrete.
From the time I was 10 years old until early this year, my plan was to graduate high school, attend Ball State University for four years, get my bachelor’s in political science and become a politician. The idea that I would dedicate myself to the political realm stemmed from my love of learning about the government and a letter I sent to President Barack Obama that seemed to seal my fate as a dedicated politician representing my fellow Americans.
In late 2013, in the midst of a government shutdown, I wrote to Obama, imploring bipartisanship and the end to nonsense bickering. I was inspired by Samantha Smith, the American school girl who, in the 1980s, wrote to the Soviet premier about why the tensions between the Soviets and the Americans. I did not expect to get a response back, but I did.
I ended up getting an interview by our local newspaper, which proclaimed in their headline, “Vote for Grayson Joslin in 2040.” I felt like I had gotten a sign to follow through on my political dreams.
Throughout middle school and high school, my peers and teachers referred to me as “the man who would be president.” I had a passion for helping people. In high school, my teachers suggested my work being the editor for our high school’s newspaper could be a stepping stone for me to seek out journalism in college.
I was surprised; I hesitated to give an answer. I had my whole life planned out; why would I change it on the doorstep of adulthood?
My senior year of high school, I had a guest op-ed in the Indianapolis Star about the importance of voting in that year’s election, and, in getting published, I felt a rush of excitement I hadn’t felt in a long time.
My work was on the pages of one of the most widely-circulated newspapers in our nation.
Right there, that should have been a sign that journalism was my true passion.
But I soldiered on, and in my first year at Ball State, I realized my love for politics was diminishing while my love for journalism was making itself more known. My experience in Ball State’s Student Government Association (SGA) made me realize that focusing on my political passions now felt more like a chore than something I actually wanted to do. My passion dimmed with each passing week as my enthusiasm for writing for The Daily News increased.
I still had passion for the government and what it does; however, I knew I couldn’t be on the front lines of those policy fights. The newsroom is my happy place now.
I came into this current year of my college experience as a political science and journalism double major; however, I quickly realized my enthusiasm and passion firmly were in journalism. Toward the end of September, I met with my academic advisor to discuss becoming only a journalism major while dropping political science to a minor.
What I heard in my meeting sent me into a shock.
She told me, with how many credits I had and how many I earned through dual credit classes in high school, I would be able to graduate a year earlier than usual. Instead of Spring 2025, I could be turning my tassel in the spring of 2024.
I was met with conflicting feelings of joy and dread; I was excited about the opportunity to be able to jumpstart my career by a year, but I would be missing important learning opportunities. After consideration, I decided to go ahead and commit to graduating in Spring 2024, and I am using this opportunity to tell people it is valid to take the road less traveled.
Me being in college is a new frontier for my family. My grandma and my mom went straight to the workforce after graduating; I am a first-generation college student, and it is a mantle I am honored to hold. With that being said, I always expected myself to stay in for four years and venture out into the world with a full college experience under my belt.
I am an only child who has been raised by my single mother with a supportive grandma helping out. I am one of 24 million children being raised by a single parent in the United States, according to Kids Count Data Center, and growing up, I faced an upward battle in my life, especially in an economic sense. My mom, my grandma and I have a very close emotional bond, something I am forever grateful for, and it encourages me to go farther in life.
My mom herself earns below the average for a household in Indiana according to the Census Bureau, yet we are able to have a house over our head. To add, my grandma is as tough as they come; however, she has been on disability since the mid 2000s and relies on her Social Security check every month. Money can be tight for us.
My mom persevered through many things in her life, and her dedication and spirit inspires me to become a better person. However, it hurts my soul to see my mom stress and worry about money. There was a time when she donated plasma after work to help us have extra money to enjoy more things in life. She even considered working a second job.
After my freshman orientation in the heat of July, my mom and I had a discussion on how to pay for college. I could tell how this would be a difficult few years for my mom and I, sitting in her Ford Focus in the McKinley Avenue Parking Garage. On the third floor, sitting in the car while the air conditioning got to work, my mom told me paying for college is not going to be a walk in the park, and even with many scholarships and grants I was grateful to have, we still had to pay a decently-sized bill out of our pockets. Additionally, an unfinished repair job on our home crippled us financially.
I want to look out for my mom. She has been selfless and her support to help me pay for college has been incredible. Seeing my mom worry about finances makes me worry, and I want to do whatever I can to remove that burden from her shoulders. College loans were the predominant reason why I made the jump to graduate early, not only for my mom, but also for my future self.
Journalist’s salaries extremely fluctuate depending on which part of the country someone is in. The highest median wage is $78,000 in New York, while Indiana’s average salary is almost $46,000, according to BLS Data. Being a journalist is not the comfiest job in the world when it comes to salary, with it falling below the national average wage of all jobs at $61,000 a year, according to Social Security.
With the overall total for four years of tuition, plus board and meals adding up to almost $85,000, even with a good amount of scholarships and grants, I will still have to pay a large amount of loans back. With me graduating early, it cuts down the amount I will need to pay off and frees me financially. It takes the average college student 20 years to pay off their student loans, according to One Wisconsin Now, and I don’t want my college loans shackling me as I try to move forward in life.
The sand falling through the hourglass of my college years quickens with my decision to graduate early. My plans have been thrown around like a toddler eating cake; I will be taking 18 credit hours for the remaining three semesters. There will be stress, there will be difficult nights, there will be less time, but I am confident this will be the right decision for me in the long term.
And it’s okay if you want to make this decision as well.
A tenth of college students, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, will choose to get their bachelor’s degree a year or more early. The reasons vary: financial, completing dual-credit programs in high school, or wanting to take a gap break. All of these reasons are valid; this is your future you are planning.
Do not let the traditional structures of college trap you into a four-year plan. Graduating in three years or five years does not make you less of a student than students who took the traditional four-year path. At the end of the day, there is nothing on the degree you receive that says how many years it took. Put yourself in the driver’s seat of your future.
After all, my journey to this point has already been the opposite of traditional; I went through almost a decade of my life thinking I knew what I wanted to do before I realized what my true passions were. Now, with a new plan for my future, I am more excited than ever to do what I am passionate about.
Contact Grayson Joslin with comments at Grayson.firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @GraysonMJoslin.