I will never forget the time my journalism advisor did something that few teachers would be willing to do to their students: she questioned my career path. "For some reason," she said with a puzzled face, "I can't picture you going into pharmacy."
While I was undoubtedly surprised to hear these words, I was not offended by any means. Since my childhood, I have always had a deep interest and flair for the written word. Beginning in the second grade, when I was chosen to read my short story about purple giraffes and polka-dotted caterpillars on the moon through the elementary school intercom, my utensil of choice has always been the ballpoint pen. As a high school student, I applied my passion not to poetry or fictional prose, but to the field of journalism.
Through my position as a staff writer and later Op-Ed Editor for my school newspaper (check us out at www.sheltongaelwinds.com), I have spent my upperclassman years attending numerous conferences and conventions throughout the country, soaking in the power of print like a sponge. Last summer for example, I was selected to represent Connecticut at the 2013 Al Neuharth Free Spirit & Journalism Conference, an all-expense paid scholarship program created by the late founder of USA Today that provides 51 rising high school seniors, one from each state and the District of Columbia, the opportunity to learn about journalism and Neuharth's passion for the free spirited individual.
The conference not only gave me 50 new friendships with 50 extraordinarily bright individuals, but it also instilled in me a burning passion for journalism, leaving me with an insatiable desire to explore this wonderful domain to the center of the earth. Since my junior year, the newsroom has been my second home, and this penchant to the domain of black and white can be attributed directly to my mother, who was herself a journalism student and writer for The Times of India prior to coming to this country.
Yet despite all this, I am not majoring in journalism or communications. I am majoring in biochemistry.
Now, don't get me wrong. I have always been a huge science nerd. I am curious about the world and its natural functions, and since my freshman year, I have flourished the most in the biology and chemistry labs. I have a deep interest in healthcare, and one day, I hope to become a clinical pharmacist and monitor drug therapy treatments for hospital patients. I enjoy working with people, especially when I know that I have the ability to somehow help them. But I am not going to lie to you when I say that my DREAM job would be a reporter for The New York Times or Time magazine. I would love nothing more than to compose stories regarding the environment and socioeconomic issues abroad. Journalists are in my opinion, the best of the best! I look at people like Brooke Baldwin and Wolf Blitzer and I feel an intense amount of jealousy (I do however, commend these individuals for working so hard to get where they are today. They earned it!)
However, given that my tuition feels are $50,000+ per year and that the field of journalism is highly competitive with a questionable return on investment (the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that as of May 2013, the median salary of a reporter is $37,090 and that the associated job outlook is expected to decline 13 percent by 2020), I am steering away from the journalism major and instead plan on participating in my college newspaper.
Indeed, a large part of my career confusion is due to the inexorable price of higher education, and that is where my peeved side comes in. According to the College Board, a "moderate" college budget for an in-state public college for the 2013-2014 academic year is approximately $22,826 per year. For a private college or out of state school, this "moderate" cost can be as high as $44,750 per year. Specifically, my college, the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, is listed as one of the most expensive public universities for out of state students in the country, ranked along with the University of Virginia and the University of California-Berkley. In addition, US News reports that the average student debt for 2012 climbed from $23,450 in 2008 to $29,400, and that more than 7 million borrowers are in fault of their loans.
I cannot help but find it bitterly ironic that while our federally government has made it clear that higher education is a priority in our country, little changes have been made to ensure that students can pursue passions without having to worry about having to move in with his or her parents at the ripe age of 22 or delay a family because of incurring fees. Our nation is the only one in the world where education is a business before it is an institution of creativity and innovation. This is a problem that needs fixing and needs it fast. How can we possibly tell our children to follow their dreams, only for them to later be scared away from it? How can I convince myself to go into journalism when I am uncertain if I will be able to handle the financial repercussions?
Some may say that I am ignorant for not following my gut and chasing my imagination. Others may say that I should have chosen an ordinary and cheaper school to follow my passions. But I am a hardworking student, and I purposely sought out a school where my peers would be the same way or even more so. But the sad truth of the matter is that in modern America, imagination is reserved for those who can afford it. I myself feel like I have betrayed Neuharth, who throughout his own life exercised the motto "Dream. Dare. Do." I feel like I have betrayed my English teachers, who continuously encouraged me to pursue a career in writing. Do I regret my college choice or the way I handled the application process? Absolutely NOT. But I am also waiting for the day when I can look at the 50 stars on our nation's flag and not picture a bill for $50,000.