This last semester, I was asked by my high school photo teacher to come back and speak to some of his students. I spent the time leading up to it putting together some of the stuff that I really wish someone would have given me a head’s up about to help out some kids who are just getting started. I wouldn’t have listened to most of it, seeing as I was kind of a punk back then, but I hope this generation is a little more together than I was at the time.
It gave me the idea for writing some advice for students for the site, and I was encouraged by my friends to write more. So, here we have the original list of Lessons I learned the Hard Way.
The best way to get better is to just keep working at it. Photography students, that camera need to be like an extension of your body. You can’t afford to miss anything because you had to stop to look for a dial or play with your options. The more you commit what you’re doing to habit, the more brain power you have to focus on what you’re creating. Everyone who’s not a photo student, think of some parallel to the stuff I wrote up there and apply it to whatever it is you’re doing.
Start Saving Your Money Now
Chances are you don’t realize this now, but crap is expensive. Once you’re out on your own, the food, gas, rent, electric, and all those miscellaneous purchases add up fast. That’s not even mentioning all the one-off purchases you’ll have to make, and what you’ll need on case of emergency. Seriously, if your laptop dies or something breaks on your car, you’re pretty much screwed. Trust me, work what you can, and save what you can. You will definitely need it.
Oh, and this goes double for photographers. I don’t know if you’ve priced out gear lately, but just buying an on-brand lens can set you back hundreds, maybe thousands. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t have some fun with your money, but priorities are a must. Next time you’re about to make an entertainment purchase, just ask if it’s really something that you want/need more then something bigger down the line. Trust me, the little purchases add up. It was only once I realized just how expensive it was to just get by that I really got the hang of managing my money.
Send Applications Early
I was a huge procrastinator in high school, and it repeatedly bit me in the ass toward the end of senior year. By the beginning of junior year, you should already be at least looking at schools and scholarships. College bureaucracies are a nightmare, and trying to deal with them when you’re already past deadline is its own special brand of Hell.
I can’t stress scholarships enough either. Your school guidance office should have some on file, but this is by no means the limit of what you have available to you. There are plenty of sites online that are essentially scholarship databases, and you can usually find something there. I mostly used Fastweb, but I hear there are better ones out there. Keep in mind too, that even if you don’t qualify for a big scholarship, a bunch of little ones can be a big help too.
There’s also the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).It’s federal loan money that’s dispersed based on financial need. This was a huge help to me since my scholarship options were limited. Fill this out with your parents as close to January 1st of the year you graduate as possible.
Writing & Math are Your Friends
I’m not saying that you need to be writing fantastic epics when you’re not solving equations that would have Einstein pulling out his troll-hair; I’m talking basic skills here.
It doesn’t really matter what field you’re planning to go into, communication is going to be very important in some way or another, and your writing plays a big part in how people perceive you. If all someone sees of you is your writing, and it’s riddled with terrible spelling errors and bad grammar, you’re going to look like an idiot. This goes double for writing out cover letters and resumes. It doesn’t matter how qualified you are; most employers will sent an application straight to the incinerator if the writing is bad.
Not to mention, if you’re planning on college, all of your classes are going to have you writing papers to some degree or another. You’d think this would be common sense, but I’ve had to work with student who didn’t understand how a paragraph works on a college essay exam. Oh, and for Orwell’s sake, spell check will not catch everything. Get someone to proofread your stuff.
Same goes for math. I’ve never used trigonometry outside of class, but I rarely go a day when I’m not grateful that I learned how to do algebra in my head.
This is a Great Opportunity to Find Out What You Suck At
For the longest time as a kid, I wanted to become an engineer. When I was 16, I was able to enroll in a special curriculum that let me take college level engineering classes through the high school. And I SUCKED at it. It took all the effort I could give to scrape by with C work. However, I as poorly as I was doing in my math, physics, and computer classes, I was excelling in my English and photography classes.
I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to see how poorly suited I was to engineering in high school before I spent loads of money and time on it in college. I probably would have wound up at a totally different school entirely had I stuck with engineering.
The moral of the story here is that you’ve got more free time now than you probably will for quite some time, so take advantage of that to look into what you may be selecting for a career path in the future. If you find it’s just not working, best that you learn earlier rather than later.