Hacking Your EducationMillions of college student are at stake. And it’s not just their debt that’s on the line; now, more than ever, it’s their livelihood. It’s these hidden costs, I believe, that are so great, that the public domain is willfully choosing to ignore them, because to admit, would be to admit “we were wrong.”

When Fatima al-Fihri founded the first degree-granting college back in 859 in Fes, Morocco, she effectively created, years later, a paradigm: that a college degree was the only stamp of approval you needed to stand out against the rest.

If only things were that simple.

Getting a typical degree doesn’t make you unique – if anything, it makes you just like everyone else. When thousands of MBA’s are applying to the same dream jobs, why does your degree make you different? The truth is that it doesn’t, yet, many students believe that a degree, a high GPA and a pinch of luck are all it takes to live their dreams. Yet, with unemployment rates rising for graduates, realizing that a college degree wasn’t enough will be hard medicine to swallow.

On top of this, there’s a crippling misrepresentation of learning.

Learning in school is not the same as learning in life. Times have changed. Yes, schools have certain elements intact, like repetition. But in the real world, where information is a touch screen away, why memorize? It’s been proven that creativity is essential to the 21st century worker – so why is it being replaced by institutions with dry bubble-in score sheets? And when the brain is neurologically proven to learn when engaged in active project-based learning, than why are we hitting students with passive lectures that go on for hours?

A college degree has not only spread an illusion, but it’s also misconfigured learning. The worst part, though, is that these factors aren’t talked about. Debt is the national discussion, but an American education, consisting of a linear path from kindergarten to college, has been nearly synonymous with ‘learning’ for so long, that it gives the wrong idea to students as to what the future can hold. When students face difficulty with employers, it might be too late before they realize that it was precisely their education that was stopping them.

With medicine, law, and engineering, your GPA matters, and the collegiate hoops you go through do as well. But, in nearly every other profession, it’s what you accomplish outside of college, which counts for experience. Running a startup, a non-profit, undergoing apprenticeships, and creating art for a real, unpredictable audience is what will catch the attention of employers looking to hire. Not starting the key club on campus, or being President for Student Government (keep in mind, you are one of thousands of Student Government Presidents across the country).

As an AA session might tell you, admitting that you have a problem, is the first step to solving it. There are costs, to personal expectations and learning, which many students don’t have a conceptual grasp over. Yet, when students show up with no job, lower standards, and tons of debt, it worries me that they’d never even think to blame college for the ordeal that they’ve gotten themselves into.

For them, the costs are hidden. And, for many, it might remain that way, for the rest of their lives. Colleges haven’t admitted that there is a problem. Will you?

Dale Stephens was homeschooled and then unschooled. Now he leads UnCollege.org. His first book is Hacking Your Education.

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