Lyric Mandell, Mass Communication M.A. - University of Houston
Mandell is standing in front of the Valenti School smiling while throwing up the Coog's sign.

Lyric Mandell: 18-Year-Old Master’s Student

As an undergraduate student, Lyric Mandell majored in media studies at the Valenti School of Communication. After moving to Austin for an internship, her love for learning brought her back to the higher education to pursue a Master’s degree in mass communications. Even more impressive? She is 18 years old.

In this Q&A, we delve into Lyric’s journey and her experience being a young college student.


You are 18 years old and a first-year master’s student. How did that happen?

That’s the first question anyone ever asks me. I feel like everyone in the world should know by now.

I was four when I started first grade. Kids usually start first grade at six, but I went to a Montessori school and it was self-paced. I went to school every summer of my life because it’s just what I love to do. I love to learn. I love to experience learning, I love to be in a school environment. I felt like that was really enriching to my life, so I went to summer school and when I was done, there was a decision I had to make; did I want to continue to take high school classes and do them at a different rate or did I want to graduate and go to college? I talked to my family about it and we decided that I would give college a go, and I'm really glad that I did it.

Well, how old were you when you graduated high school?

It was a week before I turned 13, so at 12. I graduated in December and then I started community college that January.

Was it a hard transition being 13?

It  wasn't. People tend to think it was hard on me. I’ve always looked older. In the community college I attended, there was a dual-credit program for high school students, so I blended in. My dad walked me to class on my first day of college, it’s his favorite story to tell, and that was it. He never walked me again. I was able to pick it up. I made friends and became very close with my professors. It was a natural transition for me. I was able to assimilate and it worked out very well.

Did it ever become too much where you felt like taking some time off school?

I think everyone feels like that at some point during finals week. Although it was never because of my age. It wasn’t because of the work either. It was just because it was finals week and I had a million and one things to do. The beginning was definitely overwhelming, but once I learned better time management skills, I surpassed that phase. Eventually, you get the swing of things, and it works out from there.

Post-graduation, do you plan to continue with your education, or do you want to find a job in your related field?

I definitely know that a Ph.D. is in my cards. I find joy in learning, and I think it would be a disadvantage to myself if I didn't continue to do what I love. But, at the end of the day, I also really would love to pursue a career in something in the television and film industry or in the political science community. At some point, I want to go into that field. But a Ph.D. is in my future first. Then, I will either become a professor and go into academia or enter the work field.

What has been the hardest part of being an 18-year-old master’s student?

The hardest part of being an 18-year-old master’s student has nothing to do with my age and everything to do with me being in a master’s program. The most difficult part is adapting to the workload. It’s a very different style of learning, and your professors expect so much more from you.

But it is also very interesting. Instead of sitting in a classroom where people are lecturing at you, you're part of the table and part of the conversation. You’re constantly reading articles, dissecting them and discussing them with your peers. It’s how you learn. It's no longer just your professors’ one-sided opinions. It’s everyone's point of view. It’s a really different experience, and I’m very glad to be here.


Do you ever feel like you missed out on experiences because you were focused on graduating?

If anything, I think I gained experiences. I was exposed to things that I wouldn’t have been exposed to if I didn’t try to accelerate my graduation. I studied abroad in Verona, Italy in hopes of graduating sooner. I got to see this great country, and half of Europe because I was focused on obtaining my degree sooner. People are always shocked or laugh when I say this, but I think that I gained experiences as opposed to losing them.


Why did you choose to go into this field?

I went to a television festival in Austin, where writers, producers and directors from all types of television come together and create panels where they discuss films. While I was there, it clicked. This was a field I was interested in. It was what I wanted to do. So after that experience I decided to major in media studies, specifically television and film. Now I am doing my master’s degree on mass communications, which I can definitely tie in with my undergrad. I love communications. You shape it to what you need, and it’s very versatile. You can do anything.

Would you recommend students to follow into your footsteps and precipitate their education career?

I think that the most basic human instinct is finding what you love and pursuing it. I found what I loved and pursued it. I continued my education career and accelerated it because that’s what I’m passionate about. But accelerating one’s education career is not something that would suit people that aren’t crazy about school.

Even at your most miserable, during finals week when you’re thinking “This is terrible!,” you’re also realizing how much you have learned. I remember starting this semester thinking that I would gain a lot from my master’s experience. But I knew I was already a strong writer, and I was aware of my extensive knowledge, and so I wondered what more I could possibly learn.

After about a month I was looking back at my writing then and my writing now, and how much better the quality was. I can recall telling Dr. Harlow, “Oh my god, I knew I was going to learn something, but I can’t believe I’m learning this much this fast.”

I find joy in what I do, it was amazing to see I was learning and that I was growing as a student. So I think that I wouldn’t recommend people doing this if it wasn’t something they loved.

What advice would you give students starting their college careers?

Time management. I never realized how necessary it was to be successful in college, undergrad or graduate. The most well-rounded papers, the most well-rounded work comes from a little bit of time being taken into it. The paper you finished in a rush the night before could be great, but if you put a little more time that great could be phenomenal. So I think time management is something that I wish I could have instilled in my undergrad self, and I’m definitely still learning to do. You also need to be passionate about what you’re doing. Don’t pick something because it gives you money. You’re setting yourself up for your entire life, so if you hate it, that’s going to be your whole life.