Our culture puts so much emphasis on a college education that it can be hard to see the alternatives. Even though I was unschooled as a child, I still headed off to college at the appointed time like everyone else. What I quickly discovered was that college was not right for me. I wanted to be out in the real world meeting people, exploring other cultures, and experiencing life as the vibrant and unpredictable cacophony it is. Sitting in an office chair listening to lectures about the world I wanted to be living in just wasn’t cutting it. Why read a textbook about Taiwan when I could go and explore it firsthand for far less money than a semester of college?
Soon after this realization I moved to San Francisco and started UnCollege to spread the word. I figured there were many other college students in my situation who didn’t realize there were other options. I began spreading the word about an alternate educational model in which students take their future into their own hands, say no to student debt, and set out into the real world to find mentors, learn applicable skills, and experience the world firsthand through travel, volunteer work, internships, and entrepreneurship.
Critics argue that skipping college is too risky but I think that graduating college with $26,000 plus in debt and a questionable skillset is at least as risky in the current job market.
Some say looking at college as a financial decision is narrow minded because college is not just an financial investment but a place to learn who you are and gain independence and life skills. While growing up is important, college may not be the most healthy environment for a young adult. According to a 2007 study by the Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse found that Forty-nine percent (3.8 million) of full time college students binge drink and/or abuse prescription and illegal drugs and 1.8 million college students (22.9%) meet the medical criteria for full blown substance abuse and dependence. As if that isn’t bad enough the Department of Justice found that over 40% of undergraduate girls engage in “heavy drinking” with that number rising to over 60% for those in a sorority. Alcohol on campus is responsible for “1,400 deaths from alcohol-related causes; 500,000 unintentional injuries; 600,000 assaults; and 70,000 cases of sexual assault and acquaintance rape” per year. Not necessarily the idealized coming of age environment envision by most parents.
Of course the most obvious argument is simply that kids need to attend college in order to learn the skills they will need in order to be valuable members of society.Unfortunately there are also problems in this area. According to recent study titled Academically Adrift, as many as 45% of students show “no improvement in critical thinking, complex reasoning or written communication during their first two years in college.”
Fast forwarding past graduation day paints a similarly dismal picture for college grads in the job market. According to a 2011 study by Andrew Sum of Northeastern University over 44% of college grads under 25 were unemployed or working in a job that did not require their degree.
Put all of these facts together and then realize that college is still the only socially acceptable choice for high school grads and I knew that I had to spread the word about an alternate path. In my book Hacking Your Education I explain a practical process for hands on learning outside the classroom. I explain how to find mentors, build a community of like minded self educators, and leverage all the new resources of the 21st century to learn skills, grow as a person, and eventually get a job doing something you love; all without setting foot in a classroom. With a bias towards action and experience over dry lectures, self directed education may be a better fit for many students than a traditional college experience.
If you are interested in learning more about uncollege and self directed learning head over to our blog at www.uncollege.org