I've been saying that college is obsolete for a very long time. I dropped out in 2000, because even back then I could see that it was a really poor value proposition. I didn't predict this because I'm some crazy genius, but because I'm willing to discard emotional attachment and stare plainly at the facts.
School is outrageously expensive, leaving graduates with a debt (or net expenditure) of tens of thousands of dollars-- sometimes even one or two hundred thousand. There are some things that are worth that amount of money, but for many people school isn't one of them. In fact, apart from very specific cases, I think that school is a bad thing, not worth doing even if it was free.
That's not to say that school has no benefits whatsoever. It does, and although I left with zero additional skills after my three semesters there, I had a good time and benefited from the social aspect. The problem is that you can't just compare college to doing nothing at all. You have to compare it to what you COULD have done.
Let's say that when you turn eighteen, it's a good idea to take four years to develop yourself. College is one way to do that. If we were to construct an alternative way to do that, what could it look like? One of the biggest weaknesses of school is how inflexible it is, so one of the greatest benefits of designing your own curriculum is that you could come up with one that uniquely suits you. That said, here's a plan that I think would benefit many people MORE than school would. Let's call it the Hustler's MBA.
1. Learn poker. To an outsider, poker seems like a form of degenerate gambling. It can be, but that's not its nature. One of the most valuable skills I've learned in life is how to assess hundreds of factors, choose the important ones, evaluate them to make a decision quickly, and then execute that decision. Poker teaches this extremely well. So does pickup, incidentally. Poker develops your logic like nothing else I've experienced, and it develops your math skills to a lesser degree. It also teaches a skill I can't quite define, but would best describe as learning how hard you can push. I've found all of these skills to be very useful in life.
Poker will cost you money at first. Let's say $5000 in the first year. After that you'll be able to make between $45-60 per hour for the rest of your life. That's about $85,000 per year, which adjusts for inflation because as money is inflated, the stakes to keep the game interesting will go up. You will also receive "raises" because you'll always improve as a player and be able to play better stakes. If you're dedicated to poker, getting this good is virtually guaranteed. I've been through the process and it's not particularly hard. Can school guarantee you a job that pays this well?
Besides being able to make $85k/year, you could also play for six months and make $40k a year. Ultimate flexibility. I don't think that poker is the best career in the world, because it doesn't give back to society, but I do think that it's an excellent backup plan. Knowing that I can always support myself playing poker gives me the freedom to work on big projects without fear.
2. Travel a lot. For the first year, learn a foreign language that interests you. Start with three months of Pimsleur tapes, then get a local tutor. That should cost about $1000 for the first year, and will yield results FAR greater than a class in school. After the first year your self-education will be paid for by poker, so start traveling for three months every year. That should cost around $8k at the most, probably more like $5-6k. When traveling, education comes to you in the form of perspective. You understand other cultures and other people, and will get to practice your foreign language in its native setting. I would also combine travel with watching documentaries about the history of that place. I learned a lot about Rome after visiting, and now I'm kicking myself for not educating myself first.
3. Read every single day for at least an hour. Books get lumped in with other reading like magazines and blogs, but they're actually far more valuable. The amount of value an author compresses into a book is often astounding. There are books I've paid $10 for that have completely changed my life. If you read for 1-2 hours on average, you'll read around a hundred books per year. I do this now and find it to be one of the most valuable uses of my time. Read at least 50% non-fiction, but fiction is good, too. In school you would probably read 12 books a year at most.
4. Write every single day. Write blog posts, work on a book, write how you're feeling, or write short stories. I don't think it really matters. Writing every day helps you develop and refine your thoughts, as well as learn to communicate with others. Almost any field you'll go into will require communication, so you may as well get good at it. After you write, record a video yourself explaining what you wrote. This will help with public speaking and conversation. After the first year at the very latest, start publicly posting your work. This teaches you to ship and to integrate feedback.
5. Learn to program, even if you don't want to be a programmer. Programming develops logic and efficiency, amongst other things. Even an intermediate understanding of programming will allow you to be a creator. Programming languages are the languages of the future, so even if you aren't a programmer yourself, there's a good chance you'll be working with them. Speaking someone's language is nice when you're working with them, right?
6. Do something social. College is really excellent for making people social, and it's the one aspect in which don't expect my plan to exceed school. If you're a guy, consider getting into pickup. If you're a human, take group art classes, yoga, dance, or go to meetup groups. Social skills are some of the most important skills you can learn, and they can only truly be developed through social interaction. This interaction has to be in person, too... online chatting can be beneficial, but it's not enough. Traveling will help you be social as well, especially if you stay in hostels.
7. Eat healthy. When you eat healthy, your brain functions better and you're safeguarding its longevity. Developing yourself is at least as much about good habits as it is about learning skills. And like all habits, the earlier you start, the better. I'd say that the minimum to shoot for here is cutting out all sweeteners and refined grains. Besides the obvious health benefits, eating healthy will help you build discipline, which is an absolutely essential life skill.
8. Follow curiosity and spend money on it when necessary. These things that I've included so far are the baseline-- the new liberal arts education. They leave you plenty of time in your day to follow whatever you're interested in. Don't force it and try to learn investment banking because you think it would make a good career. If you're interested in butterflies, learn about butterflies. The rest of the curriculum is enough to make sure that you'll always be able to provide for yourself and will be a well rounded person, so consider this section your speculative learning. Maybe you'll find something you're passionate about, which will become your career, or maybe you'll just become a really interesting person who knows a lot about a lot of things. Either way is fine. Don't be afraid to spend money on tutors, classes, equipment, seminars, or travel.
9. Start a business after two years. With a full two years of self-education under your belt, you should have something useful to contribute to society. School makes you go from sheltered learning mode straight into real-world career mode. I think a better way is to have a transition, and to couple productivity with learning. Having that habit will ensure that you continue to perfect your craft as you get older. Your business can be anything-- a tech startup, publishing books you've written, giving speeches, making clothing and selling it online, whatever you're into. Read some business books before starting it and try to make money. One of the most common complaints I hear from graduates of traditional school is that nothing they learned was actually applicable to real life. Everything you learn from starting a business IS.
This is a modern curriculum that, on average, will produce people better prepared for real life than college. Obviously, it won't work if you want to be something that requires certification like a doctor or lawyer. The beauty of it is that it has a negative cost (you will make money due to poker, and hopefully your business), and can be funded initially with $5000 for poker. A few months into the second year, you will have paid off the poker debt and begun to self fund your life.
Will this work for you? There's no guarantee, but I see people work pretty hard at school, and if that same effort were put towards the Hustler's MBA, I think the chance of being self-sufficient and prepared for "real life" is about 90%. I'd estimate that non-lawyer/doctor college is somewhere around 50-70%. So, like anything, this plan is not totally foolproof, but I think it's a lot better and cheaper than the alternative.
There's a big taboo around telling people not to go to college. I find myself adhering to it, not ever suggesting that younger members of my family should drop out or skip school entirely. But maybe the time has come for us to look at college objectively, really quantify what goes in and what comes out, and evaluate it on its merits alone, rather than its historical value or its societal aura.
If you're new here and liked this post, you may enjoy my book on traveling as nomad, Life Nomadic.
I dropped out of school during my sophomore year of college. I was a little bit scared to do it, but I followed through because I was certain that I didn't want to get a normal job or do anything else that would make use of a degree. Dropping out was one of the best decisions I've made, and it pushed me towards the life that I really wanted to live.
However, just because dropping out was right for me doesn't mean that it's right for everyone, or for you. I think that the school system is trending towards obsolescence and is a far worse value proposition that it was in previous eras, but that doesn't mean that it's worthless or that it's not the right choice for a lot of people. You might be surprised to find out that when people email me to ask if they should drop out, I tell many of them that I think they should stay in school.
When I talk about dropping out of school, by the way, I mean dropping out of college. Unless you are home schooled or have a very good plan for learning useful life and social skills, I think that at least completing high school is a good idea. I also think that taking some college is a good idea for many people. Going for a semester is a fairly small investment of time to figure out if it's a good fit for you, and you can also completely disregard course guidelines and take interesting things like Chinese and scuba diving.
If you're in high school or entering college, the most important thing you should realize is that you alone are responsible for your education and your life, and that you should use the next four years in the best way possible. Forget about labels like graduate and dropout, and focus on what is best going to prepare you for the life that you want to have.
I currently go to college, and if it weren't for the fact that it is so cheap due to scholarships and financial aid, and because my parents really want me to graduate, I would have probably dropped out already. It's been said by various bloggers and other minds already : College just isn't an effective place to get the skills required to succeed in life. Unless you're going for a profession that requires a lot of credentials, or need access to institutional level equipment or processes to get your research done (such as say an electron microscope) College just doesn't work. Here are the main problems.
1. Its expensive. I want to mention this one first and underscore it substantially. College isn't cheap, even a state college can end up costing 10-15 thousand dollars a year. or about 40-60 thousand dollars for your diploma. And its not only that, you have to look at the differential, in other words you can't compare going to college versus not going college, you have to compare going to college, with what you give up to go to college. Not only could you have used that time to make 40-60 thousand dollars working minimum wage, gotten some real life work experience, but that gave you money. Thus the actual cost of going to college, comparing it to a minimum wage job, is actually 80-120 thousand dollars. And this is for state 4-year colleges, if its private, I hope you have a scholarship or have very rich parents.
But, it doesn't stop there, College isn't just expensive in dollar terms, but also in terms of time. It is very easy to feel very time-deprived in college, and it can be hard to get side projects done do the cognitive switch penalty (every time you shift attention you have to spend time rebuilding attention or refocusing) When you have 4-5 classes spread around a couple of subjects, maybe a club or sport, a social life, and want to tack on a side project such as a startup, or maybe something like learning some programming, poker, or just relaxing, your time really starts going through the door. You spend countless minutes doing the minutiae like going to and from class, having to meet up with groups, email professors, switch from math, to politics, to a film class, to psychology, then you want to go exercise, maybe go out to eat with friends and still have time to maybe watch a TV show or read up on a passion of yours. It all takes a large toll on your attention.
2. It doesn't train you. Everyone talks about getting an education left and right and how important it is to be educated. Then you go to college and all the professors talk about how important it is to be in class. The truth is I've noticed 90%+ of classes teach you things you could have learned just easily, or probably even better, by just buying 3-5 books on the subject on amazon, and watching a couple of documentaries on the subject. The fact of the matter is humans get better at what they do most, not at what they are taught to do. But wait, isn't that the same? No. A person who spends all day analyzing tennis matches and tennis players gets better at doing just that, analyzing tennis matches and tennis players, they don't get better at tennis. The same goes for college. if you spend all day studying management strategies you get better at doing just that.