3 Ways To Think Differently About College

It's acceptance letter season—but before students say yes to their dream university, consider these thought-provoking alternatives.

You know that Steve Jobs and Bill Gates are college dropouts, but the founders of WordPress, Tumblr, Facebook, and Dropbox? They're millennials shaping the Internet landscape—and don't have tassel-turning to thank for it.

There’s plenty of conflicting information about whether or not a college education is worth the high price tag, and it doesn't help that the true, lasting worth of a college education is difficult to measure.

Regardless of the connections made and experiences gained, the increasing cost is hard to deny: by the time loans are paid off, the return on their investment often looks pretty depressing—especially when millennials believe they can change the world. Thirty-six percent of grads are instead are stuck in mal-employment—unemployed or underemployed in jobs that don't require a degree—and saddled with debt that snuffs their fearlessness.

When many graduates are working in jobs where their degree is just an expensive piece of paper, what’s the best channel for their entrepreneurial optimism—before they enroll?

Think differently about traditional paths to success with these ideas:

Take a MOOC

Massive Open Online Courses don’t have a minimum age, and are an inexpensive way to learn what makes a good career path, before blanketing the future in debt. Many offer mentorships, feedback from professors and connection with peers, so you're not going at it alone. There are thousands of online courses running now—browse through these, to get started:

Lead Like An Entrepreneur: Taught by Babson College professors, this entry-level course on entrepreneurship teaches feedback skills, helps form goals, and more.

Codecademy: Learn JavaScript, HTML/CSS, Ruby, and more.

Technology Entrepreneurship: Stanford University teaches startup launch theory and matches teams with Silicon Valley-based mentors.

RepairClinic: Tinkering teens can learn to take apart and reassemble common household items—and who knows where that could lead. Hoverboards, anyone?

Find a growth-community

A large part of the value of college is in connecting with a diverse group of people, and thinking differently about the world. But some campuses are bubbles—students sit in a classroom with the same peers for four years. Is there another way to make connections?

Programs like the Thiel Fellowship ask that question and more—but it turns out that putting students’ futures in an incubator instead of a higher ed institution didn’t bring forth the next Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. It does, however, make one think differently about networking as a young person.

Not entirely dissimilar to Thiel’s program (but with less of the ick-factor surrounding paying a kid 100 grand to drop out) are programs like Enstitute and Praxis, which match young people with real-world apprenticeships or offer short-term courses. It’s yet to be seen where these students will take their experiences, but they’re ambitious case studies in college alternatives.

Consider a trade

The fastest growing occupations that don’t require a college degree, according to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, range in salary from $29,000 to $46,000 per year (with the odd exception of elevator technicians, which rake in $75,000 per year). These jobs are projected to grow at a rate of 20% or more, with between 10 and 49,000 new jobs by 2022.

[Image: Flickr user Justin]

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