A Letter To My College Self

Dear young Shelissa, my sweet delicate girl, oh how you will grow so much in a short time. Here is a little of what is in store for you and tips that I wish you could have followed.
Welcome to college life, welcome to the beginning of your independent adult life. You've recently moved away from that small Florida town where you lived for about 9 years. You've made the brave leap to the biggest of all big cities, New York City. Sure you have almost no money and no family in the city, but don't worry you'll make it through. At this moment you should be incredibly proud of yourself, you overcame the first big hurdle in your journey. You are studying towards a Bachelor's degree in Art and French at the City College of New York and you have no idea that in a few years you will be working on an Master's degree at Columbia University, a dream school to which you never (until 2013) had the courage to apply. College and graduate school are an exciting time in your life, you have so much to look forward to! Of course there are some issues and lessons along the way.

By graduate school you will have learned some important lessons about money and saving. You have always been pretty good at spending wisely and saving up for unforeseen issues. However, adult life is hard and young college Shelissa is too dependent on loans and that refund check with leftover loan funds. You should have given back as much of that refund check as possible. A smaller loan is always better! No worries, you learn this later plus loans really saved your education. New York life is great for your self development and self discovery. It's going to be tough at time, there will be many tears, and money will be a constant issue but you make it through I promise!

You'll have a tough first year but you'll be able to sort it all out. You will bravely continue your solo life in New York and truly start being independent and "grown-up." I would love to tell you that it is all smooth sailing from there but unfortunately you'll still have a few hiccups and struggles. You do however manage to keep your undergraduate student loan debt very low considering the national average in 2012 was $29,000. Good for you!
In happier news, during your third year of college you'll study abroad in Paris, France for 18 months (yes there is a boy but that's a different letter). This is another crucial moment in the development of independent adult Shelissa. Your first month in France you'll get a job and start saving. At this point you'll be so much wiser with money, loans, and tuition. Also, by this time you have enough financial aid to cover your tuition without loans. You'll no longer look for refund checks to support yourself but supporting yourself financially takes A TON of hard work.

Paris will be an amazing time. You'll get use to making big decisions independently and without constant consultation from your family. Sure, you will still have anxiety issues and stressful moments but you learn to grow despite these struggles. Plus you'll see amazing artwork, architecture, and your French will be amazing(-ish)! Make sure you really soak it all up!

So my young Shelissa, soon after returning from France you graduate and feel ready for the workforce but it is going to be tough. Student loans are due 6 months after graduation and a little bit of panic will sink in when you realize that you'll now have to pay it all back.  At this moment you'll be wishing you never kept those refund checks.

Here we are now almost 8 years later, we've recently graduated from Columbia and we're now in another transition phase of job hunting. Columbia was HARD WORK. Writing your thesis, working, and taking classes became your whole life. Coffee was your lifeline and Google Calendar was essential to staying on top of everything. You were pretty close to flipping out at any moment and your anxiety was through the roof! But girl you make it through!                                                                                                             

It's 2016, we are now facing that same terror of surmounting our student loan debt just like in 2012. Grad school was EXPENSIVE but you managed pretty well and kept the loans to the absolute minimum with no excess refunds generated. You worked full-time the first semester and about 30 hours a week during all the other semesters to support yourself and pay some tuition (albeit only a small amount). This was very wise of us. ^_^  

My ramble and spoilers of your future is done, time for tips! As present day "adult" Shelissa that has now finished school and has been living independently for 8 years I have some tips that I wish you, young Shelissa, could know. 
  1. Retail therapy is not wise when you are broke. No you won't feel better by spending the last of your money on a flower shaped ice cube tray. (Although we do still own that and looove it!!)
  2. Cutting costs by not eating out is great but don't restrict yourself to only eating rice,beans, and potatoes. Diversify the food you eat girl!
  3. Financial matters are difficult, know your options and save, save, save. When the time comes to pay back your loan debt there are companies like Earnest that can help you sort it all out.**
  4. When you are with friends or taking a break enjoy it, let go of all the worry and stress a least enough to have fun.
  5. HAVE SOME FUN, and relax. You are not the only one in the world with troubles.
  6. Yes some people have parents that will pay their tuition, rent, and offer extra spending money. No, this is not your life but do not let it get you down!!  
  7. Similarly, focus on you not others. Don't try to make everyone happy, it's impossible. Also if people don't like you so what! You don't need them.
  8. And finally, internships are great but also make some useful connections! (We need a job right now!!)
Your university experience was a vital part of growing up for you. You'll never regret it. It made you 100 times stronger, way more independent, and capable of great things. I, present day Shelissa, don't have all the answers but future Shelissa has a wealth of knowledge that I am slowly discovering. Keep your chin up and look to the future, do not dwell on the past or wallow in the present.

with love,
Present day Shelissa

**Earnest contacted me and was the inspiration behind this letter to my younger self.


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