A lot of people assume I'm some self-entitled, spoiled rich kid using daddy's money to fund a 4-year holiday — but they couldn't be more wrong. The annual price tag that comes with a liberal arts education is far more than my family's household income, and it is for this very reason that I am grateful for financial aid and Amherst's need-blind policy. Despite this, I still have a fair amount to contribute; an amount that is no drop in the bucket for my single-income family.
Because of the discrepancies in American and New Zealand academic years, I graduated high school in November 2015 and have since been on somewhat of a forced gap year until Fall 2016. On the bright side, this means I've had the opportunity to not only rest up, but work. I currently have three jobs, with a few odds and ends on the side that I might not be so proud of right now, but would make exciting chapters in anyone's autobiography. I'm a tutor, a waitress and a freelance writer all while volunteering weekly and attending classes at a university I'm not even enrolled in.
When I first decided to start tutoring, I figured it would be a cushy job and I'd be raking in the cash. As per usual, I was wrong. By nature, I am an anxious person and often end up flustered if I'm not over-prepared. It took me so long to be satisfied with my lesson-planning that the money ended up not being worth the effort. Even still, I enjoyed being able to help students unlock their full potential. There were a few that I was happy to go the extra mile for, knowing full-well that their parents weren't necessarily wealthy enough to be paying me as much as they did without some sacrifice. Others were incredibly obnoxious and expected me to hold their hand through their homework.
I enjoyed traveling to parts of the city I had not previously ventured into; prior to this I had no business being in the affluent side of town. I often tried to get there half an hour early so that I could explore local thrift stores and collect pieces that the wealthy called garbage.
I enjoyed being able to help students unlock their full potential.
Though I had not grown up with much money, I understood the etiquette of cash-handling and knew that it wasn't proper to count money in front of my employer. One particular Saturday morning, I accepted my payment in a thin white envelope and didn't think much of it. Safely home, I was ready to bank my earnings into my stash of savings I had kept in an old lunchbox under my bed. It was only then that I realised I had been shortchanged a whole $20 bucks despite the fact that their four-story house probably cost a sweet fortune. Needless to say, I was never invited back. Tutoring taught me that the wealthiest were the most greedy with their money, but I guess that's how most of them got rich in the first place.
2. Waiting Tables
I also worked as "front-of-house" (a glorified "waitress") at a coffee shop in the middle of a university campus. I enjoyed the free coffee and being surrounded by staff who were hungry to experience life; a dishwasher in cookery school, a waiter saving up to travel the world, a 20-something trying to pay rent on the flat he and his girlfriend had just moved into, the list goes on.
I met rude customers who made too many assumptions about why I was working full-time at a coffee shop and quickly concluded that they were above me.
I used elementary-school math to stack up my breaks so that I could sneak into Econ101 and Anthro102 classes. By law, I was entitled to a 30-minute meal break and a 15-minute rest break, but because the manager was always satisfied with how well I worked, she didn't mind me taking an extra five minutes as long as it was quiet. That meant I had 50 minutes to spare. Even though lectures were an hour long, I knew it took at least 9 minutes for overeager freshman to settle down at the beginning of class, and that the next 6 minutes would be a recap of the last 20 minutes of the previous lecture, and also that the last 5 minutes weren't worth my time if I wanted to hear more than restless foot-shuffling in the countdown to the end of class. With that, I had 5 minutes to grab lunch, 5 minutes travel time and a solid 40 minutes of intellectual stimulation.
I enjoyed working nights because it was usually quiet, the ambiance was vaguely romantic (I felt a bit like Hilary Duff in "The Cinderella Story" and secretly hoped someone athletic and good-looking would rescue me), and I wasn't run off my feet with three plates balanced on each arm. However, doing nothing often became exhausting and I had to switch to busy morning shifts if I wanted to tutor in the evening.
Morning shifts were fun. I enjoyed seeing the usual suspects lining up for their morning fix and quickly grew to remember orders. Angus, with his unironically ripped denim and skinhead haircut, always asked for a long black with three shots of espresso and a dash of cold milk on the side. He never ordered to go, but always drank as if in a rush; knocking his coffee back a split second after I'd set it down on the table. Sarah M, preppy-chic and probably vegan for the sake of being trendy, liked her soy flat white with soy milk, but couldn't tell the difference if I'd forgotten to relay the message to the baristas. To her, and many other thin white girls double-majoring in philosophy and psychology, our coffee cups were an accessory donned only by the most elite. The woman in the paisley scarf's name fails me, but her convoluted way of describing what was simply a bog-standard latte always irked me. Though I was often too shy to talk to the baristas, we shared a kinship in rolling our eyes at difficult customers.
I met rude customers who made too many assumptions about why I was working full-time at a coffee shop and quickly concluded that they were above me. I met chatty tourists who somehow plunged into conversations that led me to mention I was headed for Amherst College; such conversations were met with surprise, quickly followed by delight.
Truthfully, I loved my job at the cafe the best. I've learned a lot about people, reflected on how I treat others, picked up plenty of new skills, and hung out with some pretty incredible staff.
3. Freelance Writing
I think it's great that Fresh U pays its highest contributing writers rather than exploiting eager freshman. I used to edit articles on fiverrr.com for a measly sum of cash. Writing had always been a hobby of mine and everyone loves a hobby they can squeeze money out of, so this seemed like a feasible option for me. I also had a brief stint ghostwriting but grew tired of writing things that I could never proudly claim as my own. I spent most nights with my morals in limbo and ended up concluding that the pay I was receiving in exchange for dirty deeds probably wouldn't be able to cover the cost of the therapy I'd be needing in the future.
4. Odds and Ends
On New Zealand's version of Craigslist, I found an ad from a man named Thomas who was on the lookout for 8 adult-sized ladybird onesies – "red with black spots please, don't bother wasting my time if they're black with red spots".
For successfully finding and delivering his custom order to him, I was paid rather generously for my time. I was also offered a ride home in his beat-up Mazda; an offer I politely declined. A month later, I received a card in the mail from Thomas with photos that spoke the success of his ladybird-themed dinner party.
Aside from this, I've done a couple of less exciting one-off gigs working as an usher at expos and conferences.
I've always loved volunteering and being active in my community but I'm not in the financial position to drop my responsibilities and head off on a trip to Sub-Saharan Africa for three months, so I dedicated Thursdays to helping out at a community law center. The journey by bus took 2 hours: ample time to ghost-write. Charging high prices for tutoring meant I could afford to spend some time helping people in need at no cost.
In conclusion, all of this money-making comes at a cost. It means I don't really have time to see people outside of work, and taking coffee orders constitutes my daily dose of social interaction. Many of my friendships have taken a hard beating and I feel distanced from people I used to see on almost a daily basis.
At its busiest, my typical day looked something like this: Waking up at an ungodly hour to beat the morning traffic to the central city, all the while praying I could find a seat on the bus so that I could haphazardly slap concealer below my eyes to trick customers into thinking the caffeine in the coffee we served still had an effect on me. Halfway through my shift, I'd attempt to squeeze in some good ol' educational content before finishing up at the cafe and catching a bus to tutor for an hour or two. By the time I get home, I am far too tired to spend time with my family other than to purge an account of my emotions that day during the evening meal that I am always ten minutes late to. I get out of washing dishes because, after a solid eight minutes of allowing dinner to digest, I have locked myself into my room to begin another hour of tutoring over Skype.
Two Saturdays ago I got quite fed up of working, and spent an irresponsible amount of money on a lottery ticket which gifted me nothing but disappointment. However, I am now only a couple of weeks out from boarding my flight to Amherst, Massachusetts and have earned enough to pay for my first two years of college, so always remember that some things are possible if you dig deep and work hard enough. The financial road to college may end up being a long and difficult one for you and I both, but I'm hoping it'll all be worth it in the end!
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