What should I study? What if college isn’t for me? What are the best alternatives to college?
I remember how excited I was when I graduated five years ago. I felt that life was just beginning as I was about to move to Denmark to study Design & Communication.
I quit the business academy after one and a half year.
Since then, every year, I get questions from friends and people who follow me. Would you recommend studying design? Would you recommend studying at the same academy as you did? What to do with my life?
I don’t know, nobody knows.
Why Getting Advice to Go to College After School Might Be the Worst in Your Life?
First of all, people don’t want you to skip the college and succeed. They went to college. It was miserable and they tell you to do the same, so they don’t feel guilty for themselves for wasting their time. Most of the time this advice will come from your parents, family members and closest friends. They need to justify their decisions, so they feel good about themselves. You can’t blame them; they don’t know any other way of life.
What Should You Do Instead? What Are the Best Alternatives to College?
The key is trying different things and seeing what excites you. Only after getting into the business academy I found out it’s not for me. I decided not to study anymore. As a part of the academy program, I had to get myself an internship. I got in the digital agency in London and I was happy but only to find out that 9-5 job is not for me.
During my studies in Denmark, I had a part-time job. I was washing dishes on the weekends. It taught me so much about life, priorities and my real interests. I hated it so much that I pushed my freelance design business and landed a bigger contract. I decided to quit my job at the restaurant after two months and focus on my freelance business.
Do many things. It will teach you great things in life and will help you find your inner voice and life calling.
An educated man is not, necessarily, one who has an abundance of general or specialized knowledge. An educated man is one who has so developed the faculties of his mind that he may acquire anything he wants, or its equivalent, without violating the rights of others. – Napoleon Hill
Today, I’d like to share some of the most life-changing alternatives to college, academy or university. I wanted to make a list of 50 things to do instead of going to college but decided to stick to a few that I experienced myself.
Traveling is unquestionably one of the most enriching experiences in life. Every human has a wanderlust inside. For some, it burns more than for others, but it’s there. Everyone wants to explore, see and feel something new.
Traveling has been my life university for the last couple of years. I went to new places, tasted local food and adapted to different cultures. It helped me to become a more open and tolerant person.
I met and connected with hundreds of men and women. They were different than me. Their race, language, background, religion, and values were different, but we shared something. They had dreams, insecurities and desires of freedom, happiness and love.
Meeting people different than me entirely changed my attitude and perspective toward life. I started questioning my being as well as values and principles I follow.
A simple “hello” on a bus to Paris led to a beautiful friendship and creative collaboration. A simple question “Is it your first time in Bali?” on a flight to Bali led to an interesting discussion. I got to learn about surfing, active lifestyle and a daily routine of living on an island.
Traveling abroad you will face challenges every day. Whether it’s an expiring visa, late bus or a canceled flight. Your expectations will make you feel helpless, but that is alright. It is a simple test life is giving you. Once you are ready to sacrifice your ego, you will pass that test and will start a profound personal change. You will become more tolerant, happier, giving, loving and expecting nothing. When you expect nothing, you become grateful for every small thing that happens in your life.
Traveling will open your eyes. You’ll have to watch out for shady people or sneaky monkeys who want to rip you off. It’ll open your eyes spiritually too. You will understand that things that matter back home don’t matter when you’re away. These realizations will set you free.
Your tolerance for uncertainty will increase. You won’t worry about finding a place to sleep. After missing a flight, you’ll realize that is not a big deal. It might lead to an unexpected journey or friendship. Everything happens for a reason. Whether you look at things that happen to you are bad or not they are just your life path experiences. It will make sense at the end of the journey, so enjoy the ride.
When traveling, you’ll learn always to stay true to yourself and your values. You’ll help people in need, become kinder and won’t judge. After all, you have no idea what other people are going through.
The other day, I was waiting for my lunch at a restaurant in Thailand. I observed an old man getting fish and chips.
I thought, “Sir, you should eat healthier if you want to live longer, have energy and enjoy the rest of your days.”
Once he left, the owner of the restaurant came up and told me that the old man was 92 years old. He served in the Australian Army and fought in the World War II. That changed everything. I thought this man has seen and experienced so much in his life and just wants to enjoy his fish and chips. Who am I to judge him?
I remember when I was in high school. Once a year, I would attend a mandatory day of cleaning up around the school. At first, it felt unfair. Volunteering is all about deciding yourself but in this case; it was forced volunteering.
Now I understand they were onto something. I would connect with my classmates on a different level. We would share a mission that would help us unite and work together. After the clean up I would see visible results that benefit everyone. Who doesn’t like to live in a neat environment? This experience helped me bond with my friends, teachers and see how I can fit in and contribute.
That’s why I recommend volunteering. It opens your eyes and shapes you to become more thoughtful. It raises awareness of how problems are created. You start thinking about prevention instead of looking for quick fixes.
I’ve participated in many volunteering projects lasting from a couple of hours to months. Some of the best experiences include traveling to Latvia, Poland and Portugal. Working with passionate youth discussing identity, education and engagement problems. I volunteered as a mentor, host and organizer. I volunteered at AIESEC, the largest youth-run organization in the world. I volunteered as a mentor at the Startup Weekend Bali 2015. I volunteered to give a presentation at many events and more.
Take up volunteering. It is an excellent way to combine traveling, doing good and learning new skills. Join UNESCO, WWF, Red Cross, UNICEF or other non-profit organization. Non-profit organizations lack talented and determined people. You will reap enormous benefits such as connections, spiritual enlightenment and improved skills.
Another option for volunteering is your local community. Do you want to learn web design? Offer to create a website for a local organization. It will give you an opportunity to work with people and develop your skill set. Choose a field that can be later used as a case study when looking for a job.
Browse WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms). It links volunteers with organic farms and growers to find employment and stay for free. Get food and shelter in exchange for your work.
Check out Jobbatical, which is connecting top talent to employers for short-term gigs.
Find an internship. You might think I am crazy. How do you find an internship without a degree? Many companies don’t require a degree. Even if they need one, you can put on a show and prove that you’re worth it.
It’s especially true in the creative industries. Think of writing, designing, programming, video editing, photography, and marketing. These industries thrive on creative work. Approach a company in a creative way and present yourself as a valuable asset and investment. They will take you.
One day you wake up and decide you want to design at Airbnb. You find Airbnb job listings and see that nothing is open. You give up for that day.
Next day you think you should still email them and send them a general “Dear Sir/Madam” email. No responses, of course. Then you think you should connect with someone already working there. You stalk a designer on Twitter and Instagram and engage by liking and commenting.
Then you decide to ask a question. After you got onto designer’s radar, you send a private message. You ask questions about the job, what designers do, what is expected from them and so on. From that inside conversation, you know what they need and what you need to become to be a valuable asset.
You hone your skills by taking online courses, reading relevant books and blogs. You feel ready to pitch them again. It might or might not work.
Then you might think of doing something creative that would benefit the company. I find this particular story of Nina Mufleh a perfect example of creative proactivity. She designed her resume that resembles a host profile on Airbnb. It showcases what she knows about the travel industry. What she could contribute to Airbnb and what she thinks the company should pursue next.
She did her homework, invested hours of work and proved that she cares and most important can deliver. Then she pitched the CEO of Airbnb and got a job interview the same week.
This story might sound like a lot of work, but life works like that. People who put in work get what they want. If you think getting a degree like other 200 applicants will land you a job, I wish you best of luck. You need to show responsibility, creative initiative and capability to deliver.
I landed my paid internship in five minutes. I sent an email showing my work examples and previous projects. After five minutes I was invited to come to the office. Not the fact that I was studying in a relevant field, but my side projects helped me to get a paid internship. I asked the director why they chose me. He answered because of my proactivity and previous work experience. Most of that work was personal projects built outside classes.
I wrote about the importance of reading books and how it can affect your mindset and attitude in life. I can’t emphasize more how important it is to read. Passive consumption like watching or listening wastes a lot of information.
Reading helps you to dive deep, take notes and rethink what you are reading as the pace is up to you. Sometimes, I read the same sentence or a paragraph five or more times. I want to understand its meaning and connect the context with what I’m reading.
Reading activates your brain and brings up memories. You access all the relevant knowledge to help you comprehend the information you’re reading.
Reading can be entertaining and educational. That’s the beauty of it. Humans learn from stories; that’s why books are so compelling. You naturally try to imagine everything you read.
It comes from the beginning of the humankind. Think about the carvings on the rocks and ancient sculptures. Visual learners convert words to pictures and seek for possible connections in the brain. It connects your knowledge, experience and memories. While reading for fun might look like a waste of time, books are still sending you messages. The key to learning is reading what you are passionate about.
I would compare reading with the deep work. You know the feeling when you get into the zone doing what you like and time flies? You can get into the flow state by reading what aligns with your values, vision and aspirations. That way you learn the most and the fastest, as you are committed and present. It helps you remove barriers to receiving. No more boredom and mind restlessness caused by anxiety and worries.
As I mentioned in my article earlier, books are the ultimate mentors in life. The best minds in the world might not be alive anymore. Luckily, you have the access to their knowledge and experience. Today, you can open any book in a matter of seconds from anywhere in the world.
Invest in reading. Read books that interest you. Figure out what you want in life and learn from books that teach you exactly that. You will see the enormous power of self-education and the influence books can have in your life.
Here are some life-changing books I read. I highly recommend picking up one of them and learning more about habits, money consciousness, self-awareness, and success.
Start a Business
Starting a business today is easier than ever. Anyone can do it, a 12-year-old kid creating apps or a family with three children traveling the world. Becoming an entrepreneur is probably the best decision you can make. It will expose you the real world and will teach you how things work.
You will have to learn to wear many hats. You will need to become a fast learner. You will hear more rejections than ever before. You will learn to listen, connect, serve, negotiate, sell, build, hire, fire, lose and win. You will learn to enjoy the process rather than the journey.
An entrepreneur can’t survive without putting in the needed work. You need to hone required skills. This is where homework matters. You will see real results and correlations between hard work and desired outcomes. Unlike school, you can’t cheat. You may get short-term gains, but then everything will break. You will lose trust, customers, money, and dignity.
You might think you have an original idea; you will execute and nobody will care. Entrepreneurship will slap you in the face with immutable life principles. It will train to listen with empathy.
Starting a business is easy. Building a sustainable business that serves people and makes you proud is not easy. You may say that business school or MBA degree will prepare you for that. It might, might not. I met business school graduates who have the same problems as those who never went to business school. You see, it’s about doing not about knowing what to do.
All in all, I recommend you start a business and give it a try. It’s empowering when you need little to no investment to start a business. Check out The $100 Startup book that talks about businesses that were started with $100 or less.
The problem with the world is that the intelligent people are full of doubts, while the stupid ones are full of confidence. ― Charles Bukowski
Another motivating thing is that you have nothing to lose, it’s all about gains. You have no family, no debts, no mortgage, no restrictions. Don’t waste that precious energy. Especially if you feel that you can make a difference. The world needs you.
Enroll in Online Courses
Earlier this year, I was working in a cafe in Bali, where I met a mindfulness coach. We had hours of interesting conversations. At some point, she asked me the following question.
Tomas, my son, wants to learn design and doesn’t know which school to choose. What would you recommend?
First of all, I said, think if the school is the best option. You will end up with general knowledge. No real-life experience and a massive debt that will weigh you down for years.
As an alternative look into online courses, intensive training programs and self-education. The design is not a field that requires years of education to start working and being good at it. Like in any other field your job is to provide value for businesses or individuals.
Enroll in online courses. Some are free; some may cost you $20 or $5,000. But that is nothing compared to five or six figures in debt that you will accumulate in college. These learning experiences will have immediate feedback and results. You will understand what you are passionate about, what not and how it’s like to work with real clients. If you don’t like something, you can always withdraw and start over.
Think about it. Is it better to invest three months in learning something online? Finish a course or two, spend a couple of thousand dollars and realize it’s not for you.
Or is it better go to college for years? Spend hundreds of thousands, get an irrelevant degree that doesn’t guarantee you anything. Then get a job, realize you hate it but have to work for the rest of your life to pay off the debt and “make use” of the education. The choice is yours.
If you are interested in taking an online course, check out some of the resources below.
- Fizzle is an honest online business training and the community of entrepreneurs who won’t let you quit.
- The $100 MBA is one of the best online business training and community. A practical business training and community for $100.
- Udemy is an online education marketplace with limitless variety. It has over 7 million students enrolled in more than 30,000 courses.
- Treehouse brings affordable technology education to people everywhere.
- Tuts+ provides how-to tutorials & free online courses. Covered fields range from code to photography, design, business and more.
- General Assembly is an educational company on a mission to empower people to pursue work they love.
Why can online courses teach you more? Well, for a simple reason. They are results oriented and most of the time are concise and practical. Instead of listening to 10 hours of theory you get the exact steps how to do something. Applying the knowledge makes the best learning experience.
Another upside is that online courses are accessible anywhere. Save it on your smartphone or tablet and watch it while you commute, wait in line or have time to kill.
To be more efficient, I’d suggest to schedule time for self-education. Plan some time every day so you have it prioritized and won’t slack off. Just put aside an hour a day to watch a course and apply the knowledge you learn. An hour a day for a month will teach you more than years of college.
The benefits of choosing alternatives to college in most cases are enormous. You might be thinking that it’s a significant risk. You may end up with no degree, no job and will have to come back to college after wasting years trying to discover yourself.In my opinion, the best thing in college is networking and having fun, other than that you can get by yourself.
In my opinion, the best thing in college is networking and having fun, other than that you can get by yourself.
Debt forces people to work boring jobs. Even get a side job, completely ignore health to save money and pay off the debt. Having a massive debt takes away the joy of living. Forget about the spontaneity of selling your stuff and going away for a year.
I talked to so many people who would like to travel more, start their own business and do more of the things they like. But because of the debt, they are paralyzed. They act out of fear. All decisions are being made by fear and lack of self-confidence.
Think about it. The world evolves so fast that no formal education can prepare you for the real-life workforce. More than that, people tend to have more than one job in their lifetime. In fact, job-hopping Millennials (born between 1980–2000) are on track to surpass four job changes by the time they hit age 32.
What does that mean?
It means that only being open minded, proactive and self-educated will get you a job of your dreams. Ernst & Young says it will not longer consider degrees or A-level results when assessing employees. Other big companies will soon realize that diploma can be irrelevant. What will be relevant is how much value you can bring to the table.
Formal education looks ridiculous compared to the modern solutions, but people still trust it.
Say YouTube is an alternative to college. Would you pay $35,000 to watch it? All it would give you is old information, no refunds and no guarantees. And it would grade on how you perceive and interpret it. I don’t think you would use it.
Digital education is perceived as less valuable than physical, but is your knowledge physical?
Cheaper or free is seen as less of value. You think that paying $140,000 for an MBA is going to give you better knowledge than real life experience and lessons from experts who have done it?
I’ll leave my rants here with a statement I believe in. I love education. It is the only way to grow, transform and influence. But I don’t like when it’s generalized, inaccessible and privileged.Everyone learns differently. That’s why college may not be the best option for you.
Everyone learns differently. That’s why college may not be the best option for you.
Real Life Experience
Often talking to potential clients or an employer, you will be asked about the experience. If the company is conservative and narrow-minded, they might prioritize your education, degree plus your academic achievements. It’s fine if you’re interested in the academic field, this is how it works. However, applying to other industries, your real life experiences matter more.
Say you just came back from a six-month trip to Southeast Asia where you have been traveling and teaching kids English. Your attitude towards uncertainty, tolerance and gratitude will be sky high. Your experience in communication will be more valuable than if you were sitting in a classroom. You will be more qualified to come up with a communication plan for a new startup expanding in Southeast Asia.
By 2020, more than 40 percent of the American workforce, or 60 million people, will be freelancers, contractors and temp workers. It will happen in less than four years. Everyone will be agents and experts of specific things instead of experts of holding a degree and not knowing what they are good at. Today you can land your job in Argentina and the next half of the year spend in Singapore.
Real life gives you practical skills. You will learn effective time management. You will have to figure out how to optimize your time for a healthy work-life balance. Tracking time, analyzing and optimizing will help you get more done and have time for work, growth and fun.
I’ve learned to use tracking tools to analyze where I spend my time. I use RescueTime and Toggl, to better track my time. It’s ideal for improving self-awareness as it gives reports of your productivity. Exact numbers of time spent doing one thing or the other help me better plan my future.
When I see that number one thing I spend my time on is Facebook, it’s not a good sign and makes me make adjustments to my activity online. I installed StayFocusd, a Chrome extension that blocks distracting websites. I still use Facebook for business. I promote my work, connect with leaders and stay in touch with friends. But I also waste a lot of time just consuming content.
You will learn prioritization as you’ll have to figure out what you have to focus on the long and short term. You will notice that drinking too much on a Friday night might not be the best idea as you won’t be able to work on your business on Saturday.
You’ll learn to communicate clearly. Vague communication leads to misunderstandings, ruined relationships and a waste of time.
You’ll understand the power of meeting like-minded people. You’ll be amazed by the impact it can have on your thinking, network including professional success.
Once you are on your own, you’ll learn more about money. You’ll think of prioritizing, planning ahead and making wise investments.
The best investment in your 20s is, of course, education. Invest in books, courses, conferences, programs and other things that will make you grow.
It took me five years to realize that I need a budget. I need an emergency money and a clear plan ahead. I need to have a precise picture of what my money is doing for me and ensure it is working for me.
You can have the best skillset in the world, but no one will care if you won’t take the initiative. Being proactive is what you learn when you are on your own if you want to get results. Formal education institutions kill proactivity. You are judged by the same criteria. You think, why should I take initiative when someone else can do it?
I will study a week before the exam and will pass it somehow. All it matters is to get good grades and diploma.
After the school, you will notice that real education starts after your formal education. The most important skills are not the ones you learned.
When we have begun to take charge of our lives, to own ourselves, there is no longer any need to ask permission of someone. – George O’Neil
You’re responsible for your life, career and happiness. There are no grades, no judges, no final destination. You get to make up your rules, your curriculum plus your exams. Push yourself toward goals that fire you up. Go after the purpose that matters to you. Real life is about being proactive and allowing yourself to get things you want.
Let’s go back in time. Back in 2012, I was waiting for my bus in a cold and rainy Denmark. I was thinking a lot about the fact that successful people express gratitude daily. In every form, like spoken word, journaling, keeping a log or sharing it with other people. I thought to myself, how can gratitude lead to success and happiness? I couldn’t find an answer and started practicing it. For a day.
Then I forgot about it and started over again in 2014 when I embarked on the trip of my dreams. A journey around the world with my best friend Justas. I resurrected the daily habit of expressing gratitude. I became more aware of the everyday things I took for granted. I met fewer fortune people in developing countries and saw happiness in their eyes. They were happy to live. They had nothing. But they smiled and shared their food, their shelter and their happiness with an open heart.
I was shocked. I kept questioning myself. Why do I have so many worries in my life? Why do I make problems out of nothing and don’t tell people how much I love them?
Slow internet, lower hygiene standards, different cultural and religious views and diversity. Visiting Ukraine, Bali, Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand helped me to become more grateful. It opened my eyes and heart to become more thankful and loving person.
I believe that your network is your net worth. The more people you know, the more opportunities and influence you have. And it’s not just mindlessly connecting on LinkedIn or Facebook. I’m talking about deeper connections. Connections where both parties serve each other with mutual support and respect.
Since I left school I met thousands of people, some of them taught me a lesson or two and disappeared. Some of them stuck around and became my best friends. Some of them turned into lovers.
With the power of the Internet, I met dozens of people virtually. These connections led to work opportunities, collaborations and friendships. I was lucky to meet Matt Mullenweg, the founder of WordPress, currently powering over 26% of the internet. An engineer at Facebook, investors, politicians and celebrities. I was fortunate to be interviewed by Forbes, Fast Company, appear on many podcasts and blogs and even TV shows.
My virtual connections influenced me so much I owe my current digital nomad lifestyle to them. It led to work with Forbes, The Huffington Post, The Next Web, TIME, New York Observer. I am invited to talk at schools, events, coworking spaces, and conferences.
Everything is possible because of my connections. I can’t express how grateful I am to everyone who helped me in one way or the other.
When I moved to study in Denmark right after the school, I was a bit scared. First, I never lived in a city. For 19 years I was living in small countryside villages varying from 30 to 300 people. So the idea of moving to another country was scary.
When I left, I realized it’s fun to be outside of your comfort zone. I started experimenting with different things. I joined football games and found a group of people playing basketball. Joined AIESEC and practiced cold calling and sales. Enrolled in Danish classes, attended events for young entrepreneurs, took a part in Startup Weekend. I applied for jobs and visited job agencies. I got a job as a dishwasher. I went to the student parties, pubs and night clubs. I talked to girls. I failed a lot and had fun.
These experiences taught me more than classes at the academy. It made my skin thicker and increased my tolerance for criticism. I became more self-aware after a dozen of people pointing out to me that I’m a “selfish a**hole”. I started listening to my body and quit sugar, balanced my diet and lost 10 kg. I started running and completed two half marathons. I kept writing and publishing online. I got better at every aspect of my life.
Volunteering, traveling and starting a business increased my self-confidence. I can start a conversation with a stranger and feel good about it. I am confident introducing myself to extraordinary people. I believe in myself and visualize positive outcomes.
The boost in self-confidence allowed me to be more bold, reliable and laid back. I can connect with people I never thought I would be able to connect. I can charge more in my business. I can tell people how I feel. I can prioritize my time and let people know they are not included in my plans.
Patience is the most underestimated virtue. I’m always getting emails from people who want to become bloggers overnight.
They start a blog and after a month cry that nobody reads it. You have to earn it. Your ideas might not be that good, your skills might be too weak, you might be looking for your voice. It takes time. If you start a blog and hate the process, it won’t last.
You must enjoy it so much that you are willing to invest your time and blog even when nobody reads for at least year. If you’re onto something, you will start seeing results and responses. More people will read and connect with you.
You’ll figure out a way to fund your passion. Guest blogging, product placements, reviews or hell knows what offer you might get. But if you start whining right away you better question your attitude and remember that no one owes you anything. Nobody has to read your blog. People are selfish. If your work gives them something, then they will stick around.
Listen to Albert Einstein. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
Patience is a useful virtue but to some extent. Be aware of yourself and your environment. If something doesn’t work for a long time and you don’t feel it’s right, take action right away. Identify what’s wrong, come up and examine solutions and begin the change process. You are the master of your fate, the captain of your soul.
Whatever you choose in life, be patient.
If you made it all the way to this point, I am proud of you. You’re committed to self-education and spent the last 20 minutes reading my thoughts. I can bet you’re going to succeed sooner or later.
My goal with this article is to show you that there are life-changing alternatives to college. You don’t necessary have to go to college to succeed and live your dream life.
We’re living in exciting times where anyone can learn anything. With the power of Internet, you have access to unimaginable amounts of information. You can turn your life and career into an extraordinary journey. But the decision is yours.
If you feel scared and lost, leave a comment below or send me a tweet. Share your concerns and I’ll help you find a way to move forward.