“College vs. Not College?” – It’s not the only question!!


It is really annoying when I propose that somebody not go to college and they think I mean NEVER go to college.

Considering I don’t know what the future holds for me or anybody else, I don’t propose ever simply ruling something out like that.

See, the question is not:

Should I skip college and instead do nothing with my life forever?

Nor is it:

Should I skip college and instead do this one thing that everybody does when they do not go to college?

Because that is the whole point of not going to college: there are a LOT of things to do instead. And… it just shouldn’t be a question of, “should I go to college or not?”

Here is how the question ought to be asked; you should see it all as looking at OPTIONS and then making a PLAN.

Say you want to study English, or Agriculture, or car repair. Here is how you would consider your options and make a plan:


“I really like reading books, writing about them, and writing books. I am not sure this is what I want to do for the rest of my life, but I think universities provide excellent outlets for things like this. SO, instead of making college either/or, I am going to look into taking some English classes, because I think that would help me both learn and make my decision about majoring in this in the first place. I will also take the extra time I will not be spending in school and perhaps join a book club or two, form a writing group, and start a story on a blog that I will eventually compile into a novel that I will self-publish. That sounds good for now. Good thing I didn’t rule out college altogether, and good thing I have a plan that involves a number of different and interesting outlets.”


“Sure, you can major in agriculture at a university, and that sounds romantic and grand and everything, but since my ultimate goal is to start a community edible forest, I think that is probably going to be the longest route to learning what I need to know in order to accomplish this. So, I have decided that I am going to accomplish my education in two years, like so: travel around for the first year, gain hands-on skills and knowledge on a variety of different food farms in the climate I want to start my edible forest in, meanwhile supplementing with tons of gardening and horticulture books; in the second year, I will apprentice under two different professional gardeners in two different seasons, meanwhile continuing my education in horticulture, permaculture, and starting to learn the laws of the community that I plan to build my forest in. After these two years, I will stop and see where I have gotten and reevaluate a new plan from there.”

Car repair:

“I’ve been fixing cars with my dad and older brother since I was 8; I know there’s still so much I don’t know, and while my dad always liked Chevys, I personally just can’t get enough of the Subaru. But I’m not ready for college just yet, and I think there is a lot that I could learn on my own before that. For the next year, I am going to scout around, find other Subaru owners, join the Subaru club in the next town over, and get as much experience as I can just toying around with people and their cars, plus becoming one with my own beautiful hatchback. Then after that, I will enroll in the 2-year vocational track at the technical college, which is really in-depth and I think I can really get a good, hands-on formal education as a mechanic – all the while still doing the Subaru thing in my spare time. After that… well, I could either become a specialist, or just be a normal mechanic that has a secret Subaru streak – let’s see where all this takes me!”


The reason I wanted to point out these differences is because sometimes I see trepidation in people who are trying to make an either-or decision about college. And there doesn’t need to be this fear or this feeling of taking a huge leap into a great void. You’ve just got to take some time, figure out what you want to do or at least want to try out, and start doing it. That might mean taking some classes, or getting involved in the community, or talking to somebody, reading a book, or taking a weekend trip to a different city… or all of the above!

Don’t know where to get started? Need help figuring out what you might be interested?

Check out my new book, Life Without College: The Method. There are several exercises in it that work you through your current interests so you can find the ones that really matter; and once you’ve done that, the rest of the book is set up to guide you through making a plan, executing it, and keeping track of what you’ve accomplished, just like my hypothetical English, Agriculture, and car repair people.

Check it out! And don’t forget to sign up for my e-mail list for further updates and resources. :)

stick it to the man

Boycotting College vs. Changing College

stick it to the man

We can talk all we want to about how college should stop doing this and start doing that, or how it just should not be a requirement, etc. etc. We have been talking all we want to for years now.

Are we changing anything yet?

In some ways, we are. Though we are still in the minority, the rise against higher education is happening. Some of us have started our own businesses, some of us are traveling the world. Some of us have sought life’s answers outside the doors of a university only to find, years later, they are led back to those doors, with tons more purpose and determination.

This morning I read two interestingly similar articles sent to me by my friend Todd and my mom, respectively: “My Fellow Americans, It’s Time to Boycott College” by Matt Walsh, and “4 Radical Ideas for Reinventing College” by Margaret Rhodes.

In the first article, Matt Walsh (a man whose ideals and ideologies I usually detest but we seem to be on the same side on this subject I’ve done my best to get over myself) details a story about his friend who couldn’t get into a field he had years of hands-on experience in because he lost every job prospect to a recent college graduate.

The entire post is very stand-up-and-rise-against inspirational/motivational stuff, but what he is proposing is, unfortunately, worlds away from happening, if ever – let’s literally boycott college. Let’s just not go, not advocate for our children to go unless they want to be a neuroscientist, and I guess by default all those lazy employers will realize, “oh man, all of my applicants only have real-life hands-on experience, so which one am I supposed to pick??”

This would be a fine and dandy notion to entertain if we could actually just convert the majority of would-be college-goers to not going to college and then go around explaining to businesses the drop in degreed applicants – it might take a few hundred years, but it could happen!

The second article explains how Design Students from Stanford University put together a video interview project with subjects from the school and from other backgrounds such as leaders of rehabilitation programs and people from varieties of different careers. (The second half of the headline of the article, “Drawn from Stanford Research”, is highly misleading, sounding as if this was an official academic study; and though it is absolutely not, the Design Students came up with good points regardless.)

The Design Students took into consideration the thoughts and feelings they were hearing again and again in these interviews and came up with the “four smart proposals for reinventing college.”

Mostly, these proposals boiled down to all the stuff we’ve been saying for a long time. “Liberal arts” degrees don’t apply to everyone or ever major. Classes need to be less lecture, more hands-on. Picking a Life Path right out of high school is stupid (but high schoolers are the only ones who see this, and not the grownups?). Et Cetera.

Like I said, we’ve been saying things need to change. But are we going to change it? Yes? Then how? What are you going to do right this second to change the entire college-centered system of the western world?

*blink* *blink*

Now, I will grant you that those students at Stanford are indeed taking their findings and starting a true campaign for universal life-long learning.  The official website is set in the future ‘looking back’ on how the higher education system was transformed around the year 2025.  It’s really, really cute.

But.  Perhaps the whole notion shouldn’t be how we are going to change the world by reinventing college, or how we are going to change college by reinventing the world.

That is not going to work, and we cannot just go around in life expecting anything that doesn’t work for us to change around us so that we can have a better chance at success. The antelope doesn’t just loaf around thinking, “Well if things would just get better in the food chain I wouldn’t HAVE to be on the alert, I wouldn’t have to drop dinner at a moment’s notice an run for my life, I could eat in bloody PEACE for once in my life, why doesn’t somebody DO something???” No. That antelope fucking pays attention and RUNS LIKE HELL. So – life lesson from the antelope today: pay attention and run like hell. You aren’t going to succeed without a degree if you’re just waiting for the system to change – you’ve just got to go succeed anyway. It’s a hard, hard life in the safari – but don’t give up. You’ll make it.


Debt and the College Debate


The Rethinking College movement really took off in late 2010 / early 2011.  We were asking ourselves, why get bogged down with college as being the only path to success?  What if there was greater success to be found by taking nontraditional paths to achieve our dreams, maybe dreams we’d had since we were kids, dreams that the “American Dream” route of good grades = college = good grades = 40-year job = wealth = comfy retirement seemed to bypass?

We put our heads together to figure it out.  Many of us have written books, started websites and blogs, been in the media, explored the nations, acquired volunteerships, internships, and jobs we are truly passionate about; many of us have taken the time to figure out what we really love and decided to study it in college on our own; we’ve found love, happiness, gainful employment, functional living spaces in the places we want to live surrounded by communities of family and friends fully of love and support.

Wherever we are, we’re on the ever-evolving path to defining what success is for ourselves at this moment, and all because we decided to take a moment to wonder whether the Way You’re Supposed to do Things is really The Only Way.

Now the Rethinking College movement has made its way into the mainstream – hooray!  However, like most spirited ideas that become mainstream, the message has devolved into a watered-down version of the original message: it’s become all about the money.

A huge part of rethinking college is about money, don’t get me wrong!  College is no cheap potatoes – and even if everyone who went to college were able to fully fund it through Pell money and scholarships, that money is still coming from somewhere – TANSTAAFL, doncha know (apparently, most of that tuition is going towards football and basketball coaches, by the way).  

Since hardly anybody our age can realistically afford to pay for college, unless we have well-off parents who offer to pay our way, we must take out loans at an exorbitant and fluctuating interest rate.  To make matters worse, unlike back when our parents graduated college, there is now absolutely no guarantee of higher-paying work – or often any work at all – if you have a degree under your belt, even though for some reason Colleges and The World both keep saying there is.  So, that leaves today’s college graduates utterly penniless, too far into the hole to ever hope to climb back out.  A great education was gained in the process, yes, and there’s a lot to be said for that accomplishment.  But with no hope of ever being able to get out of the debt it put them in, making the college choice has merited itself as a mistake.

This is all very valid information that definitely needs to be made known.  However, the main reason it frustrates me is that it is presented just as that paragraph above – many statistics, anecdotes; college being labeled as a “scam” or a “Ponzi scheme”; and the whole situation being laid out as hopeless, with no light at the end of the tunnel.  The overall message now?  “Don’t go.  You’ll just get yourself into debt and it’s a waste of time anyway.”

Aw thanks, oh wise sage!

What I want to get out into the mainstream is that rethinking college is NOT necessarily all about avoiding debt, about whether you’re going to be making minimum wage anyway, or about guaranteed career paths.  If the motivation to reconsider the traditional path begins there, that is fine; but it is not supposed to end there.

We are young and we have time, energy, and resources on our side.  Let’s work like hell, save money if we can, read books, magazines, blogs, use the internet to find open education resources, find mentors, take ourselves on field trips, research ways to acquire hands-on experience, and store up and record everything we’ve learned.

Now is the time to search.  Search for ourselves, search in our hearts for what we most long to do.  Find new experiences that affirm what path we’re on or help us discover new and unexpected paths.

We can take action to make dreams a reality, step by step.

With the empowerment we now have, we can consciously make choices – is college the right choice for me?  Or is an alternative path?  And which one?

Now is the time.  The Rethinking College movement is about taking what time, energy, and resources you have, learning what you like and don’t like, and figuring out what you want and how to make it happen.  It isn’t all about money, and it isn’t all fun and games either.  It’s not about who is further ahead, who gets what they want more, who makes the most money, why that person gets everything they want because their parents help or why I don’t because all I have the money to do is pay rent because I value shelter over a career.  It’s about rethinking and redefining.  And we’re all here to help each other figure out how to do it.