I've been saying that college is obsolete for a very long time.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.