Innovations: The case against college

Aug 18, 2011

"Are you a swashbuckler, autodidact, creator, entrepreneur, sojourner, or polymath? You should join the UnCollege movement!"

As thousands of students prepare to begin college, UnCollege aims at "changing the notion that going to college is the only path to success."

Chat with UnCollege creator Dale Stephens about encouraging young people to pursue their own success outside of the college world. Ask him questions about the philosophy behind the social movement, and anything else you'd like to throw his way.

Read: The case against college

I imagine you're curious about education outside of institutions.  It's difficult to think of education outside of school -- but that's what I'm challenging you to do.  I'm happy to field any questions about me, my background as an unschooler, the Thiel Fellowship, what I'm doing with UnCollege, the forthcoming book, or anything else that you're burning to ask.

Do you know of any grad schools that are open to admitting Un-College students? I realize this may differ from department to department and even from year to year as different faculty members serve on the admissions committee. But have you heard of any trends?

One graduate school that serves non-traditional students in Goddard College in Vermont.  They offer low-residency Master's programs and willingly admit people without Bachelor's degress.  However, they are hardly a standout.  Even big-name schools admit people without undergraduate degrees -- I know two people in Stanford's current MBA class who didn't go to undergrad.  Of course, these are anecdotes, but it can be done.   It's a matter of proving that you have the same experience and expertise as anyone else.  This is fairly easy for graduate school because often you are required to work in the field before returning to grad school.

I would expect to see a lot of informal salons and study groups springing up to fill the needs of uncollege students who would otherwise be signing up for seminars. Part of education is discussion and collaboration with colleagues. Is this happening?

I'm advising a startup working in this space that has huge potential -- there is infinite value in real-world interaction.  One startup to watch that has already launched in -- they allow you to take classes taught by anyone, anywhere.

I am sure you've been asked this, so let us readers know. Dale: do you think you might change your mind later in life? May you be willing to consider getting a degree?

College isn't going anywhere -- if I need a degree I'll know where to get one.  For me I doubt I would go back specifically for a degree but rather for a subject that's best pursued in university.  For example if I decided I wanted to study neuroscience going to a univeristy would probably be the best way to do that -- but I doubt I'd do it for a degree.  

What is the best way for a middle-schooler and high-schooler to prepare for UnCollege?

It's not about preparing for UnCollege -- it's about preparing for life.  I encourage you to try out unschooling, the learning philososphy upon which UnCollege is based.  We learn by doing, and the earlier you can start, the better.  Even in middle school and high school get out into the real world -- find internships, volunteer, start a small business.  It's never to early to begin exploring the world and understand what it means to build the future.

I'm an entrepreneur in my mid 20's and decided several years ago to drop out of college to start a business. Thus far my business hasn't been very successful (as in not making a lot of money). All of my college educated friends are starting to get really well paying jobs and I'm stuck not knowing what to do. Should I go back to school or stick with it?

Is success defined in monetary terms?  Something to consider when evaluating your  'success.'  Might it also be the case that your college graduate friends are in fact unhappy because they were forced to take a high paying job to pay off debt?  They might be envious of you for your freedom to change the world without attachment to an institution. 

May I ask you where you went to high school and do you think your high school education was a good one. Also, do you think that high school may be a waste of time for some high risk youth and they would better be served if we put them to work in jobs?

I didn't go to high school -- I was unschooled!  While my peers sat in class I engaged with the world.  I found mentors, started businesses, took college classes, helped build a library.  I essentially hacked my education.  I had a fabulous high school experience largely because I didn't go to a traditional high school.  I think it's silly that we expect everyone to know exactly what they want to do in life at 18.  If others want to choose alternate paths -- more power to you!

I agree that one doesn't necessarily need a degree, but you do need a plan. I never obtained a degree, but I had a viable plan that has a led to a good stable career. Now in my late 40s I'm considering going back to school to get a degree just for fun.

I absolutely agree that you need a plan.  Knowing yourself and what you're going to do is absolutely essential before you pursue any type of higher education -- whether you're inside the classroom or out.  

Has the UnCollege considered applying for educational accredidation? If would be a hoot if you could actually give a degree if you follow the plans mentioned on the website.

UnCollege is a social movement, not any type of education institution.  There are in fact institutions that award degrees for non-traditional experiences.  One very innovative institution is Western Governor's Univeristy --  They award competency-based degrees.  That means that you can take any class and elect to take the test the first day of the course if you can pass it. 

What should an individual who wants to become a doctor or a lawyer do in your UnCollege movement?

I don't recommend keeping cadavers in your garage -- you should probably go to med school.  I will point out that med school is already following an uncollege philosophy -- as a student you have a residency and practicum -- so on and so forth.  In most states you don't have to have a JD to be a lawyer -- you just have the pass the bar.  You can easily become a lawyer by apprenticing with a lawyer and then passing the bar.

Will you, or did you, send your kids to college?

I don't have any kids yet -- I'm 19.  If I do have kids in the future (which I doubt) I'll encourage them to hack their education.  Whether that means they go to college or not that's their choice -- everyone learns best in different ways.

How would you recommend people use LinkedIn to their advantage? I am on it but seldom use it and I don't know, as you seem to recommend, how to use it.

LinkedIn is a very powerful networking tool.  I use LinkedIn as a tool to keep track of the connections I make.  A really valuable way to use LinkedIn is once you build a network to gain introductions to companies and people you want.  For example, if I wanted to talk to someone at Facebook, I would go on LinkedIn and see which of my connections are connected to people who work at LinkedIn.

Is it possible to espouse the UnCollege principles while still in college? Find education everywhere, even your classes? What would that process look like? (There's an article on it.)

Absolutely!  That's what my book, HACKING YOUR EDUCATION is all about. It'll be published in early 2013.

In This Chat
Dale Stephens
Dale Stephens leads UnCollege, a social movement that aims to turn conventional wisdom on its head when it comes to the role college plays in one’s overall success. At 19, Stephens is a Thiel Fellow and currently working on a book about “hacking your education.”
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