Missouri State University
Olivia West

Olivia West

Songs, textbooks and bookkeeping to boot

Twenty years, three albums, and thousands of miles later, Olivia West, a Nashville musician, sails to the top as a 100% online returning nontraditional student.

Olivia West is a 15-plus year veteran of professional music and a staple in Nashville’s scene.

She plays guitar, ukulele and mandolin, sings, and writes songs. She’s recorded three albums, and a Christmas album is in the works.

While the pandemic wreaked havoc on musicians around the world, she shifted and kept working.

“Last year, my fiancé and I recorded a jingle which is on the air in NY and a song for an independent film. Licensing and livestreams were the only income sources for musicians last year after the quarantine.”

After she leaves her in-home recording studio for the day, she walks across the house, opens her laptop and logs into class.

In addition to being a professional musician, Olivia is a full-time student at Missouri State University. She's in the College of Business, majoring in accounting.

How to get paid to make music

There are two distinct sides to Olivia.

“One is a Rockstar. She loves the stage and the fans. She’s extremely creative.

"The other side of me is the reason she shows up to her gigs on time, signs contracts and sends invoices promptly, keeps track of her thousands of creative property rights and files her self-employment taxes correctly.“

It’s that other, non-Rockstar Olivia that is helping her thrive as a COB student.

Musical from the start

Originally from Harrisonville, Olivia’s musical roots run back to childhood.

“I received my first paycheck at the age of 12 from the Truman Lake Opry in Tightwad, Mo,, where I sang three songs per show and clogged to the Orange Blossom special at the end of the night. I sang at all the Opries that Dad could find in Missouri and Kansas. That’s where I fell in love with the spotlight. When it was time to select a college, Missouri State (then SMSU) came to mind.

“My uncle and older cousin both attended SMSU. SMSU was the family school, so it was the first place I applied and was accepted as an Honors student in 1998.”

“This school has been so helpful. They have given me the opportunity to recover my inner-textbook worm.”

University life did not go as planned. A medical and mental health emergency derailed her semester, and the Honor student decided she needed to leave school. The pause on academics brought her back to music.

“I moved to Nashville at the request of a major record label, but they quit calling me back after we reserved the U-Haul. I found my feet in the songwriting community and have made a living as an independent performing artist for the last 15+ years. I homeschooled my kids on the road as we toured America. I didn’t get famous, but it paid the bills, which was a serious accomplishment for a single mom without child support.”

From songbook to textbook

The COVID-19 pandemic put a halt to all live performances. Olivia knew she needed to find something to focus on, and quick.

“I decided I wanted to finish college, and after decades of experience as a musician (which is just a form of small business) I was looking into degrees in business. As I was retrieving my transcripts, I learned that I could attend MSU online and they offered the majors I was interested in. That’s when I reapplied and became an extremely non-traditional returning student.”

She had some hurdles to overcome. Leaving school abruptly in 1999 caused problems with her records. As a nontraditional student, she contacted John Hall, an advisor in Adult Student Services.

“John Hall helped me find my way. He directed me to all the right forms to help me get rid of my academic suspension.”

Olivia has excelled as an online nontraditional student.

She earned a scholarship from the College of Business. She was STAR’s 2022 Outstanding Non-Traditional Student.

“The online learning experience has been fascinating. I miss being able to meet my teachers face to face, though I have had some great Zoom conferences and phone calls with several of them.

“Words can’t adequately express how grateful I am for the efforts of this university in extending their education services across the state line.”

Discover more

Check out Olivia's work on her website.

Visit Missouri State Online to explore online degree programs.