Why I Am Not Going to College

A few days ago, a friend of mine asked me a simple question: “What gave you the confidence to carve out your own path at such an early age?” My friend went on to describe the fact that it takes a lot of courage in order to proclaim that you are not going to pursue the same path as everyone else. Indeed, my friend was not alone in asking this question.

In recent years, I have never indicated an interest in attending college for a variety of different reasons. As soon as I mention that I am not willing to prescribe to the traditional “one-track” system, people ask me why and outline a list of reasons why taking control of my own work is a bad idea at such a young age. In most conversations where college comes up, people feel the need to justify why they attended college in order to try to subconsciously allow me to gain further context into the benefits of attending college. I have a lot of thoughts about traditional education, and I have refrained from discussing them in public for a variety of reasons. The first being that I am comfortable telling my friends this fact because we share a social dynamic and they would likely always be there to support me, irrespective of my choices. The second reason is that I feel as if the topic has become part of people’s identities, which makes it very difficult to impart upon people my perspective without seeing fierce rebuttals. [1]

In this essay, I intend to address some of the common arguments that people have given me in support of college, as well as my general thoughts on the value of college education. This essay has been inspired by the dozens of people, as aforementioned, who have questioned my path, and I believe that compiling my thoughts into an essay will help me address this argument with those who decide to ask me about college in the future. The natural starting point for this essay is to describe my path, and to address the initial question: what gave me the confidence to pursue my own path?

Paths

When someone asks me what gave me the confidence to ignore all of the advice that I have heard about college and pursue my own path, I realize that this is not the perspective I have chosen to adopt. I have never considered my choices to be a bold move of confidence that was strategically planned in order to convince other people that I was better off outside of traditional institutions. Rather, I have been driven by my own passion for learning. I have dedicated the majority of my life to learning — whether that be through speaking with people, reading essays, analyzing books, or through another medium — because I am interested in gaining a broader understanding of the world. Over the last few years, I have started to develop a set of questions that I want to answer in my life, and my choices have been made based on what would allow me to answer those questions.

As I was maturing, people tried to justify attending college with a variety of different reasons, which I shall cover in more depth as this essay progresses. On a macro level, people believed that college was the only way to become successful — or at least the easiest way, which is in some respects worse to think about — and was a necessary part of life. I was lucky enough to be able to access the internet from a young age and read a lot of content that challenged the traditional path, and that said there were opportunities out there in the world you could access without having to go to college. As I learned about coding bootcamps, independent research, and more, I realized that the people who think college is the only way to become successful think that way because they have been a subject of the system, and have not pursued these non-traditional paths. The majority of the people who tell me that I should attend college are either an alumnus of a college, where they have been surrounded by people who believe in the institution or young people who are planning to go to college, because their parents have told them how important it is in order to attain a certain level of success.

Today, as I write, I am about to finish high school and pursue my own path as an independent researcher. In my position, I shall be conducting retrospective analyses of the life capital space and compiling my general thoughts about various aspects of the space into essays. I do not feel the need to justify why I have chosen this path, although for the benefit of this essay I shall do so. I made the conscious decision to pursue the path of being an independent researcher because I want to serve the public and make meaningful contributions toward a space in which I am deeply interested. Benjamin Franklin, who had but a few years of institutional education, never patented any of his inventions, for the reason that he believed his work was to benefit the public and to encourage more thoughtful discourse about the issues that affected society. I see myself in this position, driven not by specific paths other people have developed, but rather by my desire to have a real impact in the world.

When you are driven by your own learning, you do not recognize institutional gratification or the value of credentials — you work out of a passion for making the world a better place. The one way that I think about skipping college is that work that I do could have a real impact on the world, even if it is small, and I want to dedicate my life toward performing that work. I believe I am the first independent researcher in the life capital space, which further attests to the fact that I do not recognize any specific level of “confidence” in myself to say that I am pursuing this unconventional path. Rather, I understand the value of life capital solutions — to democratize access to opportunity and improve traditional institutions — and want to spend as much of my time as possible contributing meaningfully to the space. The validation that keeps me going on my path is simple — when one person says to me “in your essay, you mentioned…” If someone is willing to ask me about my work, then that means that I have had some impact on their life, and makes me realize that what I am doing is worth it.

Reasons

There are a variety of different reasons that people cite in their argument that college is a necessary part of life. I must first say that I do not blame people for using arguments that I shall outline further below, because most of them are only acting on the information that is readily available to them. The majority of people who say that you should go to college are either a subject of the system or have not succeeded because they did not attend college and do not want to see you make the same mistakes. Indeed, parents only want what is best for their children, and so they recommend the path that everyone else seems to have succeeded in — although they have not spent enough time researching alternative options.

The most common reason I have heard for attending college is that obtaining an accredited degree is necessary in order to apply for most jobs. I have a lot of thoughts on credentials which deserve their own essay, but the best way to address this argument concisely is to say that the world of work is changing, and credentials are becoming less relevant. In the programming space, there is a vast amount of coding bootcamps who provide high-quality computer science education taught by industry experts. One of the main reasons that these bootcamps have been formed is that there is a significant lack of talent in the computer science industry, and as technology becomes increasingly important in our lives, we need to start training more people in these critical skills. Bootcamps have started to offer their own form of credentials that are backed by their reputation, which they maintain by providing a high-quality service to their students. If a bootcamp does not help a student succeed, then they may find it harder to recruit students in the future. If a college does not help a student succeed, people will discard their experience and continue to attend that college anyway.

The second reason for the change in the value of credentials is that they serve one critical purpose — to predict one’s future performance. Final examinations are developed by institutions in strict alignment with a specific syllabus that is designed to reflect some of the main aspects of pursuing a career in that industry. Employers have historically looked at examinations as a way to predict how someone will do in their organization. Indeed, exams also signal to an employer the individual’s ability to conform with societal and institutional norms and to continue to study an area, irrespective of what other people may think about them. These credentials have been especially important for large businesses, who use them to ensure that they will introduce a certain type of person into their teams which they believe will be a good fit because they were able to complete a university degree.

However, as small businesses and technology startups continue to become more popular, the value of credentials has decreased. The primary reason for this is that tech startups, for example, simply cannot afford to wait for people to join their company — they need talented people to join now. Therefore, startups are not interested in the ability of a person to obtain a college degree. Successful startups grow at a rate where it can be difficult to keep up with demand, and the people they hire will have a direct impact on the core functions of the business as soon as they join. In large companies, however, the impact of the individual employee is smaller, and therefore they can afford to wait for them to get a college degree. Further, startups also value creativity and talent over everything else. If an individual is able to contribute meaningfully to the core operations of the business and bring the skills the business needs to grow, then they will usually ignore the fact that they have not attended college. Startups cannot wait for talent — they need to hire now. Startups are also competing with other startups for the same pool of talent, and the most flexible of them will likely be able to attract the best candidates. [2]

Another thing about credentials is that as more of them are issued, they start to become seen not as one’s rapid pursuit in academia of a certain subject, but rather as a necessity in order to succeed. As this happens, employers will start to look more for people who can provide value to the business, rather than those who have a degree — if so many people have them, what actually differentiates one candidate from the other? This ties very well into one major problem I have with institutions: they teach everyone to comply with certain principles which results in all students thinking the same way. I shall write about this in more depth further in the essay.

My friends have also made the argument that college is a “four-year deferment on life.” In essence, people believe that college affords you the opportunity to stay young for an additional four years, and prevents you from having to go to work straight away after graduating high school. The reason that I do not support this argument is that it leads to a corrupted perception of society in our youth. If young people see college as a fun experience where they can party, and also learn, without having to worry about the specific intricacies of being an adult, then when it comes time to transition, they are going to find it more difficult.

Indeed, as people go through college they mature and become more familiar with the specifics of living life as an adult. However, why should we wait for this to happen? I want to spend my time doing meaningful work and supporting myself as an independent, and going to college will merely delay me from my end goal. I have dedicated my personal time to developing skills such as personal finance and retirement planning — two skills that I believe schools should teach more prominently — because I am ready to move on, and I want to experience life to the fullest extent possible.

This will perhaps be the most controversial part of this essay, but I feel I should highlight the cost of attending college. My research in the Income Share Agreement space has allowed me to gain a firm insight into the fact that there are alternate ways to finance education, and that in the future there will most likely be more capital available for those interested in pursuing an institutional education. My problem lies not in the general access to capital, but rather for what you are being charged in order to attend college in relation to the specific value-add that they provide you. I agree that colleges can provide people with useful and in-depth lectures taught by experts which can help advance one’s own learning. However, those same lectures are often accessible online — or similar alternatives are available in the worst case scenario. Colleges used to be valued very highly for their libraries and access to academic resources — but you can find most books in a searchable format, or for purchase, online. The specific value that colleges offered has become less clear as technology has evolved to increase our access to information.

In sum, there are a lot of different ways to acquire knowledge without attending university. In fact, if one pursues their own education, then they are able to develop a more unbiased view of the subject matter because they are not confined by a traditional curriculum. Although many people choose to ignore this, colleges filter out a lot of useful information. [3] One can acquire a lot of information about a subject merely by using the internet to watch courses or listen to podcasts, to read books and essays, and to spend time producing work based on their findings. There is no rule book on how to learn — people should learn at their own pace based on their personal interests.

Interestingly, if you are driven by your own curiosity and learn in your spare time, you are more likely to retain the information that you have learned. This is primarily because you have voluntarily decided to learn that information, and you have spent time discovering it yourself, thus allowing you to develop greater neural connections between different areas of the subject. If you were to ask a college student a random question about what they had learned in their second year, they would likely have to do a lot of thinking before yielding an answer.

Culture has also been an argument commonly used to justify attending college. Many people say that there is no substitute for the college culture — it brings people who are passionate about learning together. There is indeed no adequate substitute for the college culture, and I don’t believe that there ever will be a direct substitute to the college experience either. I believe in order to understand this argument further, it is important to first break it down into its two major components: environment and; networking and community.

Most college alumni describe there is a unique environment in colleges where people all share such a desire for learning that it inspires people to do more with their lives. The fact that colleges bring together curious young people who are all interested in a specific subject matter is the main reason that this happens. I do believe that the environment in colleges can be intellectually stimulating, and the commitment to learning makes other people strive to learn more about their subjects and try to impart their newfound knowledge on other people. Walking around a college campus has a unique feeling because everyone is committed to a common goal — mastering a certain subject.

My main concern with the culture of colleges is that people have all been exposed to the same syllabus that contains the same information, and so there is less room for “contrarian” opinions. If you were to interject into a discussion between college students about what they were learning with a fact that was not included in their course, they would be quick to find some reason why you were wrong and to exclude you. This is because, ultimately, colleges teach people to think the same way and force people to acquire a set of mental models regarding education that make it difficult for them to step outside of their comfort zone and explore new perspectives toward what they have learned. There is also a subconscious pressure for people to comply with what everyone else is doing, and most college students are scared of being socially excluded if they are unable to see eye-to-eye on a specific topic that their college friends hold a firm opinion toward. [4]

As I shall write further in this essay, while colleges can teach people important life skills, they also impart upon people a skewed vision of being an adult and creates some artificial social constructs. The fear of exclusion present in colleges prevents people from taking the calculated risks that could pay off and allow them to have a meaningful impact on the world, and so a lot of economic value is actually stimulated in colleges. To analyze this from a different perspective, diversity is one of the main reasons why the U.S. has succeeded — the country has welcomed people from all backgrounds who were willing to challenge the status quo. Attending college has the potential to make people comply with these artificial social constructs that make it more difficult for them to transition to adulthood. Indeed, many successful people have been unorthodox and peculiar in some way. One example that comes to mind is that an investor who had a meeting with Steve Jobs once remarked about how he did not care how he presented himself. Colleges have the potential to create a singular view of what is socially acceptable and what is not, whereas if you do not attend college, you are not subject to such social constraints — you have the freedom to be yourself. Authenticity has been downplayed lately, and I think a lot of that can be attributed to the fact that being yourself is not nurtured in institutions like colleges to the extent that it should be.

The second aspect of culture is the network and community aspect of colleges. This differs from the environmental factor because it does not refer to the specific pressures that people face and reiterate due to the general environment. Rather, people believe that colleges are the best way to acquire a strong network of interesting and intellectual people. I will address this argument by stating the fact that I have cultivated a strong network of people from around the world who occupy various occupations — professors, investors, authors, neuroscientists, and more — through my writing and general research work. Colleges act as a magnet for smart young people who have a passion for learning, but your potential scope of networking is limited. Indeed, one can also network with the professors and the teaching staff, but that is still a limited scope of people. One can acquire better networks if they set their mind to it merely by making positive contributions to their field of interest. If you have a unique insight on a particular issue, people will want to talk with you, irrespective of whether or not you possess a college degree.

On a similar note, I have also heard a lot about college being the best place to gain inspiration for your work and to discover what you are truly passionate about. I have written about what you should do with your life in some depth in previous essays, and I firmly believe that college is not the right way to discover what you are passionate about. College is a means of acquiring more information about what you are already passionate about, rather than discovering yourself and finding what you want to work on. [5]

Colleges can be very intellectually stimulating and help people find a specific niche that they could explore in more depth, but their purpose is not to help people find their passion — it is to teach people about what they are already interested in. The most effective way to gain inspiration for your work is to explore by learning — spend as much time as possible reading and writing about things that interest you. It may be difficult for you to accurately articulate exactly what you want to work on in your life, but nobody expects you to have a clear vision of what you want to do with your life. Your best ideas will be developed by thinking about what you have learned and what you are curious about, irrespective of whether you have been the subject of your own educational pursuits, or a specific educational institution.

Colleges are often attributed to being the best way where you can acquire critical life skills — understanding relationships, working in a collaborative environment, for example. While college indeed is a good way to acquire life skills — your peers will hold you to account for your actions and expect certain things from you (i.e. cleaning up your dorm room, or being prepared for a group project) — it is not the only way to acquire life skills. In fact, college may not be the best way to acquire life skills because of the artificial environment that students live in — their main priority in life is not to earn money, but rather to keep up with their assignments and stay on track in school. Skills like relationship building, working in a team, and cultivating virtues such as frugality are developed over time.

As you experience new things, travel to new places, embark on new projects, and work for someone else — or indeed start your own company — then you will acquire these skills over time. I have acquired strong communication and literacy skills, for example, through hosting productive discussions with others on subjects that we both care about, and writing essays and long-form content, respectively. Interestingly, if you decide not to attend college, then you will be forced to learn these life skills at an accelerated rate because you will be working in the real world, not the college incubated version of the world.

To put these reasons into perspective, you should ask yourself the following question: what would you miss by attending college? Would the culture really be worth it, or are you ready to pursue your own path? What unique knowledge could college provide for you that would be difficult to acquire otherwise? Does college really constitute a unique experience now so many people hold degrees? These are only a few of many questions you could ask yourself regarding the true value of education in your life.

Expectations

The very fact I felt it necessary to compose this essay shows that non-conformists are subjected to additional expectations. Many people consider college to be a “safe” route in many respects, primarily fueled by the fact that they see a lot of successful people have attended college, and assume that every individual who attends college will attain a certain level of success.

The prima facie reaction toward those who decide against attending college is that they are taking a big risk, and so must meet certain outside expectations. I believe this to be caused by the fact that our opinions on college — as much as we like to deny it — have become a part of our identity, and so it is difficult for many to comprehend the fact that some people decide not to pursue college. Interestingly, most of the successful people in the world are those who have taken calculated career risks knowing that if they fail, they will lose everything, but if they succeed, they have the ability to realize significant upside. The main expectation that other people will have of you is that you will need to succeed, otherwise they will forever cite the fact that you did not attend college as the reason that you were not as successful as you could have been. Before I continue, I feel that success should not be measured in terms of money or wealth, but rather one’s contributions to their field of interest and personal advancement.

The best way to live up to the additional expectations imposed on you if you have not attended college is to continue to output your work, irrespective of its nature. The main advantage that you have over those that have decided to pursue college is that you are not constrained by institutional boundaries, and thus you can work more swiftly. People who avoid college should try to make public as much of their work as possible, even if it does not seem material to the overall development of the industry. The time and energy that you have invested in doing work — however small — will be recognized by others, and it is almost certain that at least one person derives some benefit from your work. Indeed, the more work that you put out, the more that you can shape the industry you are pursuing as a whole. To start, your contributions may be minimal, but as you continue to acquire knowledge, you will start to develop your own set of unique insights which other people will be interested in discussing with you. In sum, always produce, and iterate as you learn.

In addition, not being subjected to institutional boundaries means that you have full autonomy over the nature of your learning. You have the ability to take whatever direction you think will provide you with the most value, which means that you are more likely to discover a vast array of perspectives because your learning is self-driven, rather than dictated by a syllabus. It is important for you to step outside your comfort zone as much as possible and expand your interests into different subject matters. By doing so, you are able to gain further comprehension over what you are learning about which will allow you to draw connections between different subjects and apply your knowledge more effectively. In college, however, it is very difficult to study other subjects in addition to your core major because of the time commitment required, and the restrictive nature of the syllabus. Use your curiosity to your advantage and acquire as much knowledge as possible, which will help you meet the external expectations imposed upon you.

The expectations of you to succeed should also push you into producing high quality and noteworthy work. In addition to the aforementioned advantage of the speed that you have by not attending college, stating your intentions to not attend college means that your peers will hold you to full account. You will always be compared against college students, and therefore there is a strong pressure for you to yield a good result. You should use this pressure to your advantage and consider it as a way to stay on track towards your goals — because if you don’t succeed, others will see you differently. Oftentimes, this pressure is invisible, because even the people that say they support you are often hiding the fact they are scared of the risk you are taking. The incentive for college students to perform and output high-quality work is to earn a degree, but if they fail in one endeavor, they likely still have years before they need to write their dissertation. However, for those who have decided not to attend college, every piece of work matters and will have an impact on your career.

Parents are also an important factor to consider when contemplating expectations for your future. All parents have something in common: they want to see their children succeed. They want to make sure that their children have a full life filled with exciting ventures and the ability to make a difference. My parents have been very supportive of my choice to not attend college because I have been upfront and clear about my thoughts on the topic for a while. However, they will likely still feel that college is the best option, even if they are not willing to say such. I think that a lot of this is because, in conversation, it is easier for parents to say that their child is going to college than their child has left high school to become an independent researcher. The culture of attending college also affects parents — if your children don’t pursue college, people will ask why. Your parents will hold very high expectations if you do not attend college, which introduces a new pressure for you to manage. This is a great source of motivation: prove to your parents that your individual path was the best possible option for you.

At the start of this essay, I mentioned two reasons why I decided to write this essay. Upon further contemplation, there is a third reason I feel merits mentioning: I do not want to see ambitious people being told that pursuing a non-traditional path is a bad decision. Indeed, I have been told by many people that my intellectual nature and desire for learning would make me a good college student. However, for the reasons mentioned in this essay, I have chosen to ignore that sentiment and continue on my path. My thoughts on education have become part of my internal compass — I understand that going to college will not have a substantial impact on allowing me to achieve my goals. For others, however, they may feel like the pressure for attending college is so great that they should do it anyway. If you are an ambitious young person who is driven by their own learning, you should spend some time introspecting and ask yourself: will college allow me to achieve my personal and professional goals?

Before concluding, I should highlight the fact that I believe that in some circumstances, pursuing college is the best path for an individual. For example, if you are interested in pursuing a career in law or medicine, then I recommend that you attend college because degrees are traditionally required in order to advance in those industries — and with good reason. In addition, college can also be a good path for people who are interested in conducting academic research in the future and do not mind being subjected to some institutional constraints. Researching in a college will provide you with access to a variety of great resources that can help you advance your work — assuming that academia is truly the path you want to pursue. I should note though that most young people with whom I have spoken have not been interested in pursuing a career in academia.

I do not know what is going to happen in my future, and perhaps in twenty years, I will reread this essay with a different perspective on education. There is one thing that I will know for certain though: my work has already had an impact on others. This year alone, I have spoken with dozens of people who have read my essays and research, and have been inspired by the words that I have penned. What makes me truly happy in life is being able to contribute toward the public’s understanding of the life capital space, hence my decision to pursue independent research. I made my decision about avoiding college based on the fact that I can make more of an impact outside of traditional institutions. My work has inspired dozens of people to think about life capital differently and has allowed me to expand my network to include many of the people who I formerly idolized, and now consider to be my friends. To answer my initial question, what gives me the confidence to subvert the norm and pursue a non-traditional path is simple: I am driven by having a positive impact on others, and feedback gives me the validation I need to continue.

Notes

[1] I think that a lot of people feel the need to do this because they are so used to the system that they believe that attending college is almost mandatory. They do not understand that there are other paths available because they have not pursued another path, and indeed, they have been immersed in an environment with people who think and feel the same way as them in college.

[2] There is also the argument to consider that many startup founders have not attended college themselves, or indeed have attended and then dropped out. They would find it very difficult to hire talent if they required college degrees from every employee, even if they themselves had not earned one. I also think that a lot of startups are starting to value non-conformity as a useful skill for their employees to have — they will not be afraid to go against the status quo if it results in a better outcome for the business.

[3] I will not blame colleges for this because they are constrained by time — they have to teach a lot in the space of four years. However, colleges should still do more to expose people to new — and also contrarian — perspectives of the subjects they teach so that people are more prepared to engage in an argument about what they are studying. In addition, doing so will also make it easier for people to justify their college education more articulately because most people thus far have resorted to a set of reasons which I have been able to summarize in this essay.

[4] Previously, colleges were a unique experience because it gave a select few of those passionate about learning a refuge away from society and the ability to focus on learning. As college degrees have become more popular, the experience of going to college has become less unique — most people are going through it now.

You will go through more unique experiences by not going to university. The first reason for this is that because so many people are going to college, you will be the outlier and therefore will go through a different path than people are used to seeing. Secondly, you will be forced to interact with more people and produce more work in order to stay competitive, which will lead you to even more unique and exciting experiences that college could not have provided to you.

[5] You can get a 4.0 GPA without coming up with an independent thought, but rather learning and reciting the content you have learned. If this is true, then why are colleges seen as the best place to gain inspiration for your work?

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