“Should I really go to college?”
Like the question, “Should I really go out and drink myself silly every weekend?” this wasn’t something I ever asked myself back in the day– college was simply a given. It was just “what you’re supposed to do,” another box to check off on this journey we call life.
Of course I should go to college. Of course I should get so drunk that I fall over my own heels every night. I mean, what in the heck else would I do?!
Regrettably, there was one question I failed to ask myself back in my late teens and early twenties– one question which is arguably THE most important thing one can ever ask in life. That question is simply, “Why?”
“Why should I go to college?”
“Why should I try to impress this D-bag?”
“Why should I do anything that I’m doing at all?!”
Enter Dale Stephens, founder of Uncollege.org and author of the book Hacking Your Education.
“One of the biggest problems our educational system has,” writes Stephens, “[is that] no one asks why you’re going to school. From elite universities to community colleges, systems tell people that if you check these boxes and do these things, everything will be fine. It turns out that checking off boxes has nothing to do with success in life.”
It turns out that checking off boxes has nothing to do with success in life.
- Dale Stephens, Hacking Your Education
Consider this: In 2011, The New York Times reported that 22.4% of college graduates under 25 were unemployed, and another 22% were working at jobs that didn’t require a degree. Ouch! The startling reality is that almost half of recent college graduates are unemployed or underemployed.
And when you add on the level of high student loan debt that many of us are coming away from college and grad school with, you may very well be asking whether higher education is worthwhile.
In Hacking Your Education, Stephens offers a smarter lens through which to view such questions. An effective education, says Stephens, is less about the degree itself than it is about knowing why you’re there and what you want to get out of it. It’s about your curiosity and willingness to learn, to get involved, and to build connections.
“Going to college is like joining a gym: It’s effective only if you put in the work. If you join a gym and never work out, you’ll stay weak. If you pay for college but never deeply engage, you’ll stay ignorant. People ask me all the time, who should and shouldn’t go to college? There is only one definitive answer of who shouldn’t go to college: those who don’t want to go to college.”
“What is scary is that people go to school because they think it will give them an insurance policy, and then when they graduate, the insurance doesn’t work,” writes Stephens. “Young college graduates expect to get decent jobs but are instead finding their degrees from Ivy League schools useless and resigning themselves to waiting tables or collecting welfare checks.”
Don’t use college as an insurance policy– invest in yourself. Take time to learn, travel, start projects, and do internships.
- Dale Stephens, Hacking Your Education
Stephens pushes the idea that educational success and fulfillment comes not through “checking off boxes,” but through a genuine willingness to learn.
In other words, it’s sometimes unnecessary to spend thousands of dollars getting a degree that guarantees you no level of “job insurance.”
Instead, says Stephens, an effective education can be hacked.
Inside his book, Stephens offers stellar advice on everything from contacting experts and building relationships with mentors, to starting businesses and learning through doing, to achieving the “college experience” without the steep cost of tuition.
He tells the story, for example, of Kirill Zdronyy, who spent nearly half a year living with students in the Stanford community, building relationships with professors and mentors, and sitting in on classes– all without spending a dime on tuition.
He tells the story of Laura Demig, who, at the age of 14, found herself running experiments in a lab and learning from top scientists– not because she had pre-existing connections, but simply because she had the guts to email experts in a field she was interested in.
He also tells the story of Megan Gebhart, who spent an entire year asking successful and interesting people to coffee and documenting it on her blog, 52 Cups of Coffee.
And of course, he tells his own story of leaving school at twelve to become an unschooler (a self-directed branch of homeschoolers), describing how his lifelong pursuit of “hackademics” has led him to start companies, snag top consulting gigs, and live a passionate, interesting, and fulfilling life– all without ever having graduated from college.
“While other kids my age sat in class,” writes Stephens, “I organized collaborative learning groups, found mentors, took college classes, lived in France, worked at startup companies, helped political campaigns, and started my own businesses.”
So here’s the deal: Unless you want to work in an occupation that absolutely requires formalized training (such as a doctor, lawyer, or therapist), your success and fulfillment in life and in work will depend far less on your formal education than it will on your level of real world application, engagement, and initiative. (This isn’t to say, of course, that you shouldn’t attend college — but it is to say that a formal education is far from the only path to success. It’s to say that you are responsible for your own education.)
After all, who do you think is more likely to find themselves on a promising career path: Someone who has pursued learning for the pure joy of it, built connections, and immersed herself in projects and endeavors she’s genuinely passionate about– or someone who’s spent four+ years memorizing and regurgitating information with little else to show?
The answer is a no-brainer.
The good news is that hacking a five-star education without the five-star price tag is well within your reach– all you need to do is have the drive, determination and self-discipline to become a “hackademic.” Opportunities to learn are everywhere if you know where to look, and they don’t have to come with a high load of student debt.
Dale’s fresh approach to “hacking your education” ought to be required reading for anyone considering college, grad school, or higher education of any kind, and indeed for anyone at all who wants to develop a rewarding and successful career.
Check out Dale Stephens’ book on Amazon right here: Hacking Your Education: Ditch the Lectures, Save Tens of Thousands, and Learn More Than Your Peers Ever Will
Do you think that getting a college degree is enough? Let me know in the comments below!
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[Image by betta design]