Without (or Beyond) College: 24 Tools For Success

resources to skip college, careers with no college, collaborative success,

Free to explore options. Image: iateyourbubbles.deviantart.com

What doesn’t add up

It’s easier to teach an old dog new tricks than it is to change old mindsets. Like the one that insists that all the years up to 18 are preparation for college. After that a bachelor’s degree or higher must be obtained because college is THE ONLY route to success.

This dusty way of thinking relies on old figures showing that college leads to high-earning careers. That’s true for people who become doctors, engineers, and lawyers. Oh wait, that’s not so true for lawyers now either. New law school grads can’t find jobs  and their average student debt hovers close to $100, 000.

Equating college with success doesn’t take today’s realities into account. In thirty years the consumer price index has increased two-and-a-half times while the overall price to attend college has risen sixfold.  Today’s students can’t simply work their way through college. This was possible back in 1970.  A student could easily work 14 hours a week at a minimum wage job to pay for an education at a public institution. Today a student would have to work full time at minimum wage, leaving very little time to fit in those classes.

So students go into debt. The average graduate gets a diploma along with more than $25,000 in debt. Payments are expected to begin right after graduation or the student will begin accumulating additional interest as well as penalties and damaged credit. The pressure is on to find a job.

Except the job market sucks. While a greater share of 18- to 24-year-olds are in school than ever before, the employment rate is worse. Half of today’s young college graduates are either jobless or underemployed in positions that don’t require a degree. Since the 2008 recession, the largest job growth has been in the lowest paying jobs. Some of the biggest projected employment openings are in low paying, lower-skilled positions such as home health, waste hauling, and transportation.  The problem isn’t just in the U.S. Twenty-five percent of young people are unemployed in the Middle East and North Africa, more than 50 percent in Greece and Spain.

What does add up

In the real world, grades and tests actually don’t correlate with adult accomplishments.  We know there are fresher, more interesting ways to learn. Our experiences teach us to pursue success on our own terms. That has to do with crafting a life based on our passions, our integrity, and the unique vision each of us brings to the world. That’s true whether we’re lifting a hoe or a conductor’s baton.

The college highway is actually one of many roads to the future. People everywhere are finding ingenious and collaborative ways to flourish, with or without a degree. Here are some of those ways.


Learning Empowerment Tools

1. ZeroTuitionCollege (ZTC)  is an online community of self-directed learners. If that’s not inspiration enough, it offers information for travel, building a portfolio, finding a peer community and much more. ZTC was founded by Blake Boles, author of Better Than College: How to Build a Successful Life Without a Four-Year Degree, a manual with thought-provoking and empowering information on each page.

2. It’s My Life: A Guide To Alternatives After High School is a free e-book put out by the American Friends Service Committee. It includes a rich array of information about apprenticeships, service work, travel learning, and careers both inside and out of the mainstream.

3. UnCollege is packed with information and advice, like “How To Learn Anything” (complete with downloadable sheets to write your own personal learning plan). UnCollege was started by Dale J. Stephens, whose book Hacking Your Education will be published next year.

4. Intern Match helps you locate paid and unpaid internships in your area of interest.

5. BackDoorJobs connects you with short-term job adventures around the world.

6. Volunteer Match helps you get experience doing what you care about.

7. Idealist lists all sorts of internships, volunteer opportunities, and jobs.


Learning Exchanges

8. Trade School is a barter-based learning space, meaning you don’t have to pay to learn.

9. Citizen Circles are small groups of people who meet to learn together, with an emphasis on collective learning and action. No fee.

10. (un)classes are casual ways to meet and learn from people in your area.

11. Skillshare is like the eBay of local education. You can learn what you want from someone in your community as well as teach others what you know. Fee. 

12. P2PU is a grassroots global community working together to learn by completing tasks and providing feedback. Free.

13. FreeSkool is whatever participants create. Some are informal gatherings to share knowledge, others are networks brimming with activity happening in parks, living rooms, and community centers in IthacaSanta Cruz, and dozens of other cities in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. Check out piece in Shareable about how to set up a FreeSkool


Collaborative Solutions

14. Share or Die: Voices of the Get Lost Generation in the Age of Crisis is co-written by 20-somethings who are developing collaborative consumption networks and connecting via “lattice” rather than scrambling over each other to climb the corporate ladder. Get this book for free by “paying” with a tweet.

15. Generation Waking Up empowers young people to connect and create a thriving, sustainable world.

16. The Sharing Solution: How to Save Money, Simplify Your Life & Build Community This book helps people find practical and legal solutions for scaling down their work hours, possessions, and expenses by sharing everything from childcare to cars to living space.


Free and Nearly Free College Online

17. Coursera pairs with top universities to offer full courses to a global network of students.

18. Khan Academy has a free and ever growing library of 3,200 videos in the sciences to humanities, along with exercises to help learners practice what they are seeing.

19. University of the People is oriented toward awarding degrees to students all over the world, using online courses and charging only an admission fee. It has accepted 1,500 students from 130 countries

20. Academic Earth offers free online classes using video lectures from leading university professors. It’s possible to sign up to earn an online degree, fee unknown.



21.  Better Than College: How to Build a Successful Life Without a Four-Year Degree by Blake Boles

22. Hacking Your Education: Ditch the Lectures, Save Tens of Thousands, and Learn More Than Your Peers Ever Will by
Dale Stephens


23. 40 Alternatives to College by James Altucher

24. DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education by Anya Kamenetz

The Future Belongs to the Curious from Skillshare on Vimeo.

13 thoughts on “Without (or Beyond) College: 24 Tools For Success

  1. Thanks for such a comprehensive list, Laura. I’m printing this off for my rising high school senior. Also, spreading the word for others.


  2. Laura, this is amazing and so comprehensive! I can’t wait to explore all of your recommendations. (after my daughter’s wedding next week!)


  3. Laura,
    This is what I’ve been looking for. I’ve found out (quite recently) that college doesn’t guarantee a job anymore. I’ll be sharing this with my classmates ASAP.


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