And ten alternatives to attending one.
Photo by Glodi Miessi on Unsplash
I was sitting in my dorm room with two roommates. I hated them, and I knew it was mutual.
I was at my desk, thinking and writing. The top of the notebook page said, ?Should I stay in college?? followed by a T-shaped chart with ?pros? and ?cons.?
I never understood this: You graduate from high school at 17 (more or less), and you?re supposed to make a decision that will shape your whole future. It?s also supposed to be the right decision because the stakes are so high.
?Not that big of a deal,? you might say. But I would argue it is.
Choosing a college is an investment ? of money ($100K-$200K), time (2?4 years), and opportunity cost. Like any investment, it requires clarity of thought and at least some degree of rationality.
Would you let a 17-year-old make that decision?
You Can?t Be ?Too Late?
The most common argument I hear when I tell people that they can?t rely on a 17-year-old to make big life decisions is, ?Well, I don?t want to lose time.?
What does that even mean? How can you ?lose? anything, if all you?re doing is living?
I know a guy who tried hard to get into college when he was 18. He got kicked out in his first year. He applied to another college but got kicked out just before the finals. He eventually decided not to go to college, and to spend his time figuring things out, exploring his options and building a business.
Ten years later, he finally knew what he wanted to do (build cities), so he applied for a 2-year-long course in England on urban design and went to study there. At 28.
Instead of rushing to ?get a degree,? he took time to figure things out, fail (a lot), make money (mostly by building a business and playing poker on a national level championship) ? and then make a decision that would benefit his life.
It breaks my heart to see 22-year-olds graduate with massive debt, having spent four years studying something they aren?t interested in anymore.
An investment can turn into a liability if you rush it.
Business Schools are a Waste of Time (And Money)
Don?t ever go to business schools. At least don?t take an undergraduate degree in entrepreneurship (which are so popular nowadays).
I am telling you this because I spent seven months studying ?business? at the #1 undergraduate business school in the U.S.
Apart from the fact that ?entrepreneurship? is not a skill (the only skill an entrepreneur should have is figuring out what people want) undergraduate business schools are dangerous.
If you?re in your twenties, you should be enjoying life, not starting a business.
Paul Graham, the founder of Y Combinator, writes in his blog:
?Starting a successful startup is similar to having kids in that it?s like a button you push that changes your life irrevocably. And while it?s truly wonderful having kids, there are a lot of things that are easier to do before you have them than after.?
You Don?t Need College Anymore
Apart from the fact that college is a serious investment (the one which puts so many people in the debt trap they can?t even declare bankruptcy against) ? it?s also an unnecessary investment.
You don?t need it anymore ? at least, not always.
The job market is changing; the opportunities that the Internet is bringing us are endless. You don?t want to work for a company that hires you solely for your resume and a diploma.
You want to work for a company that values you as a human being, helps you grow, and can see through the bullshit that most people try to cover themselves with.
Thanks to the Internet, you can build any skill, essentially, for free. You can create a portfolio, find a few gigs on UpWork, and start making money from home. Or, you can ditch the ?Gig Economy? entirely and become an artist: write books, make blogs, and record podcasts ? join the ?Passion Economy.?
I know I make this sound easy, and it?s not. It?s hard and scary to take control over your own life.
But it?s the new world we live in. The school > college > job > retirement path your parents and grandparents followed is dead. The sooner you realize this, the better.
10 Things to Do Instead of Going to College
Below are ten alternatives to college, which you can do with 0 money, talent, or experience. It?s time to take control of your life.
#1. Start a business
When you?re young, that?s when you should put everything on the line. Why? Because the stakes are not that high.
You (probably) have nobody to feed but yourself, and you can live on very little. You (probably) don?t yet have obligations, debts, bills to pay ? and you will survive to go bankrupt once or twice.
You don?t need money to start a business. When I dropped out, I started a video production agency. It?s a cash-flow business, and you can charge clients upfront. Or you can start an online business, which is even easier.
Now is the time to build that crazy idea you?ve always had. Now is the time to try. Now is the ?safest? time to try.
You should start a business not because it will succeed, but because it will fail. That way, you?ll end up broke and with a lot of experience and knowledge. And if you think about it, that?s about all you get from a solid graduate program.
#2. Go on a sabbatical
Don?t optimise prematurely. When you?re young, it?s essential to give yourself time to get lost. To explore. To travel. To waste time and do nothing. That?s how ideas come.
Imagine you?re a billionaire and take a year or two off the grid. Go travel around Asia, take odd jobs, and explore the world. You?ll always make more money later, but you?ll probably never have time to do this again.
#3. Start a blog
Anyone should blog. Even if nobody reads you, you should still blog. It will change your life. A blog is a platform, and it will give you so many opportunities besides ad revenue (which you can?t survive on anyway).
When I dropped out of a business college, I wanted to continue learning. I set up a YouTube channel and interviewed the top-10 most successful entrepreneurs of Russia and learned from them.
#4. Build a valuable skill
This is something I learned from Kevin Kelly.
Instead of buying into the ?find your passion? craze, build a skill that other people find valuable. It can be anything ? from bricklaying to SEO, as long as you get paid. For starters, you?ll get paid, which is a great achievement in itself. But building a valuable skill will also help you find your passion as a by-product.
My first job after dropping out was social media management. I knew nothing about social media marketing, but I had a realization, ?Oh my God! I am getting paid to learn!? ? which is a reverse of what you get in college.
I taught myself the ins and outs of social media marketing, which led me to start my own business and to use these same skills in my writing and blogging career.
#5. Learn and let curiosity guide you
Once you drop out, you?ll finally have the luxury to follow your true interests. No more, ?Will this be on the test??, you can now learn whatever you want.
The key is to follow your curiosity, even if it leads you to weird places.
Read all the books you wanted to read. Watch all the YouTube interviews you?ve always wanted to watch but didn?t have time to. Explore. See where it leads you.
#6. Build EQ
Specialisation is for insects, and productivity is for robots. Being human is about having emotions and connecting with other human beings.
I think that having a hobby is underrated. I?ve always wanted to play the saxophone or try doing improv comedy, and yet I was too busy to do all of that stuff. It seemed unimportant.
The beauty of having time to yourself is that you can indulge yourself in things that fill you from the inside. Steve Jobs took calligraphy classes because he was simply interested in beautiful fonts.
Who knew that many years later, he would use that experience to build beautiful fonts in the first Macintosh at Apple?
You never know.
#7. Get your health in order
And I mean not only physical but spiritual, emotional and mental health. It?s probably not in the best shape after 11 years of incessant education.
Exercise regularly, eat healthily and sleep at least 8 hours per day. Be grateful. Spend time with people who love you. And read as much as you can.
That?s something James Altucher calls the 1% rule ? improve at anything 1%, and by the end of the year you?ll be 37.7 times better at it (1.0?? = 37.7?)
If you?re healthy, nothing can stop you. You?ll come up with ideas, be brave, creative, and curious.
It doesn?t have to be something extreme, like going to Africa and saving children?s lives (although that would be preferable).
When I dropped out, I started working with StartupGrind ? a global community of entrepreneurs, and I helped to organise events in my city. I learned a ton about event management, and I made valuable contacts.
The key is to become a part of the community that?s more than just yourself. It?s important to do it for free, because that way, you?ll get so much more out of it.
#9. Do something stupid (and cool)
Now is the time to write a song, a book or make a movie. That?s how you explore your options, and that?s how you learn.
I would have never known that I might be interested in the media. I always thought of myself as a business person. When I gave in to my natural inclinations, did I end up managing a video production company and making an actual full-feature movie as a producer (I have no film degree)?
Relax, let go and let your creativity lead you places you would never have thought fit you.
#10. Move out
Move away. Learn a new language. Live in another country.
The benefits of living in another country are endless. You?ll learn so much about yourself by being in another (often uncomfortable) setting. And speaking a new language will make your world bigger.
I looked up my dorm window at the nearby tree. A squirrel was quickly crawling up the branch, holding something round (a chestnut?).
I looked back at my T-chart. Then back at the tree. Then again at the T-chart.
I got up and said, ?Screw it!? ripping the page from my notebook.
I already knew my decision. I didn?t need a stupid T-chart to tell me what to do. In 24 hours, I was on a plane back to Moscow. My (real) life has just begun.
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