Let me clarify (as I have had to do with my family for the last year...) by saying that I'm not going back to school yet.
Instead, I am taking a gap year from school.
A gap year?! OH! Isn't that what kids do when they don't get into the schools they want? Or just want to travel around the world without any responsibilities? Or stay at home at work at Starbucks or something...
Maybe, but not really. Students in Europe, Australia, Israel and other areas of the world have long embraced gap years as a way to mature and better prepare to get the most out of their college experience once they do go back. In Israel, where citizens have to serve a minimum of two to three years in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), many people go straight from high school graduation into their years of military service, and end up becoming way more mature, disciplined and prepared to absorb more of the benefits of higher education when they do go to college (which is then paid for in part or in whole by the IDF). In other cultures, apprenticeships are more common than undergraduate schooling, where young people can test out various career paths, learn from experiential experts in those fields (not just methodology experts... a.k.a. a decent chunk of college professors) and actually get paid or at least break even on their time in training. Then, if degrees are required, they go back to school, but again, this time they are better prepared to benefit from such schooling.
Personally, I have my own reasons for not going back to school right now...
1. No 18-year-old should ever be trusted to make a smart, $100,000 investment.
Actually, there are a few exceptions, but 99.99999 percent of 18-year-olds in the U.S. (where this debate point is most prevalent) are not ready to make an intelligent investment of that magnitude. For most of our society, that is the second most expensive, singular investment a person will ever make in their entire life (home ownership being first), and that investment shouldn't be made to "find yourself." Too many people decide to go to school without ever thinking critically about why. Why do they need to go to school? Why is this a good investment of my money and time. How will this affect my future for the next five, 10, 20 years if I have to take out student loans?
Unfortunately, most people going into school choose a major that they haven't fully explored or experimented with. If they want to be a lawyer, they most likely haven't spent even one full day shadowing a local lawyer to see what it's really like...and now they are ready to sacrifice the next four to eight years of their life and $100,000+ that they don't have in order to become a lawyer.
Wealthy people reading this... Would you ever invest in a company without doing due diligence?
Hundreds of thousands of families do this every single year....they make the second biggest investment of their child's life without helping their child figure out an exact plan of action for getting the most out of that investment (and yes, plans can change, but something needs to be in place at those stakes!).
And, for the lucky families that can afford to send their children to school without having to take out student loans, is college the best investment of your hard-earned money if you or your child hasn't gone through serious thinking, experimentation and planning before depositing those zero's you spent your entire life accumulating so you could, "give your children the best you can?" Will their lives work out even if you make that investment and they don't use that degree? Probably. Can you perhaps give your kids that same $100,000 (or $50,000, or $25,000 or even $10,000) to start a business that will either make them a lot of money and give them financial and time freedom, or give them the most incredible learning experience of their lives?
Look, I'm not saying don't go to school. But perhaps take a year off to test out various internships, online courses, jobs, etc before you make the second biggest investment of your life. Do your due diligence. When you go back, if you decide to do so, you'll get so much more out of your educational investment.
And that's smart.
Speaking of smart...
2. The best teachers are OUTSIDE of any one school.
Before the Internet, if you wanted to learn from the best teachers, you had to get into the best schools.
Good thing we live in the 21st century...
Now, you can find the best teachers in various subjects online regardless of where they are in the world. And, because most of them have more incentives to teach outside of educational institutions in the forms of blogs, businesses, books, etc...
And the best teachers in life are probably outside of the school you or your child just started studying at.
When I want to learn something, whether it's how to start a business, how to write a book, how to lose weight and get healthy, how to have a better (ok, well right now, a...) relationship, or whatever, I can reach out to experts in those fields no matter where they are in the world. And, if they are too busy to answer, or I can't get access to them, there's always books to read, articles to decipher and courses to take made by some of the smartest minds in whatever area of query or interest you have that will cost way less than the useless, boring, grade-driven class you're taking at school right now to satisfy some rigid credit schedule (and/or to meet that cute girl that sits two rows in front of you... I won't judge).
In fact, I recently asked some of my "teachers," friends and mentors (by the way, having mentors in life is so, so, so important) about what they would have taught their 18-year-old selves in order to be more successful, and I received some of the most valuable pieces of advices from Tony Hsieh, a half dozen NYT Bestselling Authors, a couple professional athletes, an Olympian, the founder of the Make-A-Wish Foundation and others... for free, without a grade, on my own time and on subjects I really care about!!! (Admittedly, three people on the list were college professors, but none of them said "going to college" was the key to success at 18, and they all teach at different schools).
While you may or may not have access to those type of people on a daily basis, going to various events in the field of work you're interested in, reading books, getting internships, or simply following the blogs or Twitter feeds of people you aspire to be like and learn from gives you access to a global knowledge pool that no college can match -- not on a value basis, and certainly not on a cost basis.
3. College ISN'T the best place to build social skills
If you really want to build social skills, put yourself in a position where you are forced to make friends. By taking a gap year from school, or traveling by yourself or moving to a new city, etc, you are forced to make friends or you will be miserably lonely (and it sucks!). While many people praise college for the social skills it helps you build, going to school limits you to one group of friends because you physically have to stay in one location for four years or more with the same people (unless you move schools, of course, and then you're quite literally the new kid on campus), of the same general age, of similar socioeconomic status (everyone covered tuition somehow, through scholarships, deep pockets or a mix of the two, right?) and the same general intelligence level.
College won't teach you the social skills necessary to hold business conversations with people who are way older, richer and smarter than you. It won't teach you how to have a conversation with anyone of any age at any time. It won't teach you how to write (one of the most important skills to have in business) or communicate effectively (text-speak doesn't cut it in the real world). Sure, you'll learn some social skills, but putting yourself in a position where creating your own social life with little resources around you, such as taking a gap year or traveling solo, will help you accelerate the pace at which you build lasting social skills that will be applicable during your time in school as well as during the rest of your life.
4. College is competitive.
Sure, your "bigs" and your "littles" (or whatever the hell you call each other in Greek life) may be there for you now, but you're still in a school. With grades. And rankings. And there's hundreds of thousands of kids just like you across the country who alternate their days between studying, getting trashed and testing out college hook-up culture (but not MY child...C'mon, let's be honest, parents). And all those kids are going to need jobs after graduating.
If you do something like start a business or take a gap year, suddenly you're minimizing competition. Sometimes, you can even enter a collaborative environment where you are making partnerships, mentorships and communities where everyone gets ahead through collaboration. Taking a gap year can be a great way to quickly remove yourself from competition and give you the opportunity to create experiences and offerings to others around you where you are in a class of your own.
And when you're in a class of your own, you won't lose...No one else can "win," and success becomes more than a zero-sum game... So everyone can "win."
In college, you can't fail. You don't have permission to do so. If you fail a test, you're screwed. You may not get the grade, the job, the lifestyle you want. And that's terrible. Failure is sometimes (and more often than not) necessary to grow and mature, and unfortunately, college won't foster the permission and room necessary to truly fail and benefit because of it.
5. You don't NEED a degree in some (read: "most") fields of work.
Similar to the point above, if you're solely dependent on a piece of paper to get a job and advance your career beyond that point, you're screwed. Unless you want to be a lawyer, doctor, professor or other profession where it's an absolute requirement to have a degree, most jobs can be hacked without one.
Even though I'm destined to be an entrepreneur in my own life, which definitely doesn't require a degree, I still have had multiple, very respectable jobs already without ever stepping foot in a college classroom. Because I went about getting a job differently than most, I was able to work for two Silicon Valley tech start-ups and as a consultant for one of the world's top business authors and speakers before graduating high school.
I hacked my own jobs. I did free work, and got paid later. I sent the cold emails no one else thought of sending. I got sh*t done.
I was never asked to show a shiny piece of college parchment so I can get some sort of stamp of approval from my various bosses before I started working. I just started working.
If you're going about getting a job like everyone else, you probably won't have much luck anyways. So, instead of placing all your focus on that piece of paper, focus on the skills you could be building for yourself using college resources (or during time away from school), the connections you could be making in the community and with the higher-credentialed faculty on campus or the classmates that could hire you in 10 years when they've become the VPs or founders of the companies you want to work for, or the internships that a school can help you get. Those things will be way more valuable in landing you a job in the future whether or not you take a gap year and whether or not you ever graduate.
- - -
Again, no one said I won't go back to school eventually...
However, I am going to take a gap year first to grow personally, professionally and socially before deciding to go back to school or continue my journey and projects in the "real world."
And, not only that, but I will be documenting all of my experiences on this new blog called "The Gap Year Experiment" so you can see whether I land on my feet and thrive during my year off, or crash and burn miserably.
As I take a gap year and learn from some of the world's foremost experts about everything from building passive income streams and gaining muscle as quickly as the world's top bodybuilders to racing cars and travel-hacking, I'll share my insights so you can take control of your own education, whether you're considering going to college one day, are thinking about taking a gap year, are already in school or are in the workforce.
At the end of the day, what's one year anyways?
Well, it could be... everything.
This article was originally published at www.gapyearexperiment.com.