By Leo Babauta
The question of college is one of the top 3 questions people ask when they first hear about unschooling (including me):
Well, more on math soon, but today let's talk about college.
I'd actually like to answer two questions today: can they go to college, and should they go to college?
- How do they learn to socialize? (Here's how.)
- How do they learn math?
- Can they go to college?
Let's start with Can.
Can Unschoolers Go To College?
Yes! OK, next question.
What? You want more info on this question first? OK, brainy, let's dive in.
First of all, lots of homeschoolers of all kinds, and definitely plenty of unschoolers, have already gone to college. So yes, it's absolutely possible.
Colleges are increasingly aware of homeschoolers, and how awesome they often are, and many colleges actually seek out and welcome homeschoolers.
There's a great book that I highly recommend if you're seriously interested in this question: College Without High School: A Teenager's Guide to Skipping High School and Going to College. This book will answer all your questions.
But I'll answer what I know here:
- The SAT: Pretty much everyone should take either the SAT or the ACT, as far as I know. It's not hard to find study programs for these. I recommend taking at least a few practice tests, on paper and online
- Letters of recommendation and personal essay: Always a good idea. Parents can write letters of recommendation, but it would be much, much better coming from a mentor, someone the student worked with, a volunteer organization, a coach, etc.
- Transcript: Unschoolers don't really have a transcript. You can compile a portfolio of things you've studied and worked on, but having tangible things to show is important. Incredible projects you've worked on, web apps you've created, a band you played with, websites you've written, are all good. Justin is taking online college courses. And you can take extra SAT subject tests to show proficiency in subjects. Other people go to community college to get a transcript. There are lots of ways to do it. Many methods have worked for many people.
- Research: Do a bunch of research on the colleges you want to go to, and read accounts of homeschoolers that have gotten into those colleges. There are plenty online. You might consider visiting the colleges and talking to the admissions officers to get an idea of what might work best.
Justin is planning on applying for college at the end of this school year, so he's doing SAT prep, online college courses, and some personal projects (3D animation, writing and programming) to get ready. He might do more (volunteering, maybe a job) but that's a good start.
Should Unschoolers Go to College?
I find this a fascinating question, because it's so similar to the question of whether kids should go to school. If high school is unnecessary (as we believe as unschoolers), why shouldn't college be unnecessary too?
My belief is that college is not necessary for many people these days. That wasn't as true when I was a kid (30 years ago), but the world has changed drastically. Now many incredible jobs and businesses can be had without a college degree. In fact, I'd argue that real-world experience is far, far more important than a degree, and a degree is too expensive compared to the benefits for many people.
- My business (blogging, writing books, creating online courses, etc.) doesn't require a degree at all. I have a degree and don't need it. The best things I learned all came from jobs and personal experiments.
- Programmers can learn their skills online. Computer science degrees are nice, from what I understand, but not necessary.
- You can learn 3D animation online. Or website design. Or UI design.
- Starting your own business doesn't require an MBA. In fact, I know people with an MBA who say their degrees are almost worthless.
- My cousin is a chef, and he said his culinary school degree isn't necessary, and in fact was incredibly expensive. He advises my daughter to not go to culinary school, but to get real-world experience instead.
- Artists, photographers, writers, musicians, videographers, etc. don't need a degree.
Of course, if you want to be a doctor or lawyer or nurse, you do need a college degree. So it all depends on what you want to do.
And there are real benefits to college: you do learn a lot in college, and you take some time to figure out who you are and what you're interested in, and you make friends and develop a network that can last a lifetime.
First of all, the real reason many kids go to college isn't because it's necessary, but because it's the safe thing to do. They are afraid to go into the real world, so college becomes an easy thing to do before they have to get a job. I think this is wrong, because you're just (kind of) wasting four years, and if you started with a job or creating your own thing or starting a business as an 18-year-old (or even a 16-year-old), you'll be much better off than if you'd waited four years. I also think it's wrong to spend $100K (or whatever the degrees cost these days) when you're just afraid of taking the road less traveled.
Second, while it's true that college provides some benefits like a network of friends and time to figure out who you are, I think there are ways to figure out how to do this without college. In college, this stuff is provided to you, handed on a platter, and you don't need to figure things out. But figuring things out for yourself is really valuable.
So what could you do instead? How about:
- If your parents are willing to pay for college, what if they paid you the same amount (or less) to start your own business or create your own thing? This would be a better learning experience than partying for four years in college. Parents often pay for room and board, along with tuition. What if they paid for your room and board outside of college, and some money to start a business?
- Start a business. Even if you go to college, you should do this. Or at least start creating something you love. Write a screenplay. Start a Youtube comedy channel. Write a book or blog. Create some websites or programs. Start as soon as you can, and teach yourself what you need to know. These days, there's no excuse, because it's all online.
- Make friends. Making friends in college is really valuable, but you can make them online, and meet them in person, and work on things together. Find a cofounder. Do a project together. Travel and meet people.
- Do interesting things. Learn. Share it with people. Sell something. Find yourself in the process.
This entire thing could cost way less than college, be way more valuable, and make you more employable in less time than someone who comes out of college with a degree and little to no experience.