Five Misconceptions About Not Going to College

Three years ago right now, I was trying to figure out what on earth I was going to do with my life.
Three years ago, in December 2014, I was a senior in high school. I was homeschooled, immersing myself in recorded college lectures and books and self-directed learning, and I had no clue what I’d be doing six months in the future. I’d always had a bias for academics, so most people assumed I was college-bound, but college had always felt off to me. I didn’t want to go, but people told me that if I didn’t go, I’d be ruining my life. I was left spinning my wheels trying to sort out what was true and what wasn’t and trying to figure out what my next step was going to be.
Three years ago I was pretty much in the middle of a minor life crisis.
Looking back now, it feels like a the other end of a lifetime.
Flash forward to the present. I’m 21 years old, I have an awesome job at one of the coolest companies on the planet, plus freelance projects on the side. I’ve held multiple jobs, gained a wide variety of experiences, acquired skills, had grand adventures, grown immensely. I’m a very different person than I was three years ago. I’m a significantly better version of myself.
Three years ago, in about January 2015, that old version of me decided to take a risk. She decided she was going to go for it, see what she could make for herself — decided to go with her gut and see what she could do without a degree. And in that moment, the grand adventure commenced.
It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I’ve never regretted it for a moment.
And all those people who said I couldn’t be successful without a degree? They were wrong.
Five Misconceptions About Not Going to College (that I always thought were ridiculous but now know from first-hand experience are wrong):
1. You need college to be successful. Big, bold, terribly generic statement. If you don’t go to college you’re ruining your life.
They say, if you don’t go to college you should be written off as a loser. You’re unambitious, you’re not going anywhere, you lack vision and drive. You might work hard, but “working hard” means landing a managerial position at a fast food joint. They’re (usually) polite enough to refrain from saying it explicitly, but they all think it, and you can see it in their faces: if you don’t go to college, you’ll never amount to anything.
This is a terrible misconception, and it’s a horribly limiting belief.
First of all, let’s define success. Is it achieving your own goals? Achieving someone else’s? Meeting some general standard of accomplishment?
Success is relative, but regardless of what you’re striving towards, going to college doesn’t guarantee your success any more than not going stamps your ticket for failure. Going and sitting in a lecture hall doesn’t make you a success. When people talk proudly about their relative at Harvard, they seem to forget about that.
And on the flip side, when they talk in disapproving tones about the family member who didn’t go to college, they aren’t making an absolutist statement bound to come true. They aren’t imparting some great wisdom about the way the world works. They’re just revealing their own limited belief systems.
You can do anything you want, regardless of whether or not go to college. Don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise.
2. Nobody will take you seriously if you don’t have a degree.
The only time I’ve found this true has been in social settings — especially with family. People ask what I’m doing, I tell them I’m not in school, and they immediately put me in the aforementioned “going nowhere” box. It was worst the first year — everybody knew I’d graduated, wanted to know what I was doing. Their disapproval of my decision was almost physically palpable.
This has gotten significantly easier over time. As I’ve started building things, people focus on what it is I’m doing, not what it is I’m lacking. It’s human nature to judge people based off of the last way in which you remember them. It isn’t really that hard to shift from “college drop-out bum” to “writer” or “photo journalist” or “startup marketing manager” or whatever it is you want to be.
And at the end of the day, who cares? Your family and friends aren’t the ones hiring you for a job.
I’ve never ever had somebody not take me seriously in the professional world because I don’t have a college degree. A few shallow coworkers have disapproved, but no manager or boss has ever viewed it as a deficit.
Granted, I haven’t applied for a job that traditionally requires a college degree — the working experiences I’ve pursued have been different, just like my path.
But even if I did apply for a job that had “college degree required” on the listing, I’m confident I could get it. People care more about what you’ve accomplished than they do about your degree — or lack thereof.
3. You’ll make more money if you go to college.
I can’t make claims for everybody who hasn’t gone to college, because I don’t know the statistics, but for me this has never been a problem.
Let’s put it this way: I’m 21. I have a salary. Most of my peers are in school spending equal or more of what I’m making on an education, making their net worth a negative number instead of a positive one, while I’m working myself into a position for increases in income.I fail to see how I lose in that equation.

4. You need your college years to explore and find yourself. College is a time to figure out what you do and don’t like, experiment, find out what you want to be. It’s an important phase in your development.

This is the most truthful of the misconceptions — for a lot of people, this is really what college is about. I hold no harsh judgment of people for this. But you can do all of that exploration outside of college — arguably better.

I’ve traveled, explored new cities, drunk wine late at night and talked about the deepest elements of human existence, slept on floors, slept on couches, listened to other peoples’ music, explored ideas, listened to fascinating lectures, gone to conferences, worked different kinds of jobs, made art.

I don’t think I’m missing out on the exploration factor — exploration either of the world, or ideas, or myself. And without college to limit me, I can go anywhere I want, do anything I please, and not have to adhere to a school’s requirements and standards.

It’s been great. I’d highly recommend it.

5. You’ll regret not going.

Never been true for even a moment.

. . .

Photo by Mink Mingle on Unsplash.

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