Have an Awesome Career Without a College Degree

They say there are two certainties in life, right? Death and taxes. In truth, there are three things: Death, Taxes, and Annual College Tuition Increases!

In this day and age young people really should consider whether attending a four-year college is truly worth it. After all, you can still make a living and carve out a decent life without a degree.

One person with a lot of advice to give on this subject is Blake Boles, author of the book Better than College: How to Build a Successful Life Without a Four-Year Degree. Boles teaches young people – in his book and through other means – that you don’t need a college degree to be successful.

Check out our exclusive interview…

Help us get to know Blake Boles a little bit.

I went through California public schools and straight into college, determined to become an astrophysicist and discover extraterrestial intelligence.College Students photo Two years later I hit my first quantum physics course and realized that I didn’t love math nearly enough to become a good physicist.

Luckily, at the same time, a friend handed me a book by former schoolteacher John Taylor Gatto that called into question all my assumptions about schooling. I decided that opening new avenues in alternative education was a better personal mission than looking for life in the stars.

After redesigning my major to do self-directed learning full-time, I graduated and immersed myself in the world of “unschooling.”

Down and down the rabbit hole I went!

What is your “day job” if you have one?

I run my own travel and education company for self-directed teens: “Unschool Adventures” (www.unschooldaventures.com). I started this in 2008 when I was fed up working for other people. Through Unschool Adventures I’ve taken teens across South America and the South Pacific, led writing retreats where each person composes an entire novel in one month, and trained young adults in the leadership techniques related to self-directed learning.

What motivated you to write Better Than College?

The 2008-9 recession brought with it a new wave of criticism of higher education and tuition costs. There was (and is) lots of truth in these claims, but the critics almost always fail to propose a viable alternative to four-year college for bright, passionate young adults. My experience working with hundreds of teen unschoolers showed me that self-directed learning can fully replace the college experience, and it can save you a ton of money in the process. I gave an Ignite talk describing what you could do with $20,000 instead of going to college, and the crowd’s overwhelmingly positive reaction told me that I was on the right path.

Give us a summary of the book in a nutshell. What are the main takeaways?

Four-year college is often a valuable experience, but its costs (both money and time) are quickly outpacing its benefits. Instead of mindlessly marching toward the next educational milestone that someone has set for you, consider what you might do with your precious time and money instead of college. I suggest a five-fold path of self-directed learning:

  1. Build self-knowledge
  2. Give yourself assignments
  3. Create and share value
  4. Find support
  5. Market yourself

Do these five things well, and you’ll gain more than any college can offer.

You’ve got an interesting definition of Higher Education described in your book. Talk about that formula.

Higher education is not the same thing as a college degree – it’s the capacity to self-direct your life. Someone who is educated can define her own vision of success and pursue it, even in the face of difficulty. College is one possible path to a higher education, but it’s certainly not the only one.

How has your book resonated with people so far? Your concept is not in line with the traditional, “I graduated high school, now I go to college…” ideaâ?¦

Very positively. Most people agree with the ideas in the book. The implementation of the ideas, and the overcoming of social expectations (of parents, friends, and sometimes employers), are the more difficult parts.

Clearly, some people will be worried that if they didn’t go to college, then they won’t get a job, won’t make a living. How can someone follow your advice and still do OK financially?

Get very, very clear about how much the jobs that interest you actually require a degree and how much they value previous experience, tenacity, innovation, and other things that you can pick up outside the classroom.

If you absolutely want to keep the doors to becoming a doctor, lawyer, or other licensed or highly traditional profession open, then yes, please go to college. But if your interests lay in technology, the arts, entrepreneurship, working with your hands, or the countless other fields that value experience as much as a degree, then going straight for that experience instead of spending four years and tens of thousands in college can make you far better off financially.

You talk about “self-directed learners.” Expand on that concept.

Are your dreams and motivations your own?Blake Boles photo Do you control how you spend most of the time in your day? If you’re stumped by a hard question, do you have the tools and attitude necessary to answer it for yourself? If yes, then you’re a self-directed learner.

The opposite of a self-directed learner is someone who goes through school or college (or graduate school!) because they’re expected to. They’re very good at following orders, they don’t think too personal dreams are very important, and their biggest fear is rocking the boat.

We know about Gap Years. Did you have a Gap Year experience yourself? What are some solid ways to use a Gap Year in your opinion?

I didn’t take a gap year myself, but I did get the chance to do some extended travel before and during college that was immensely beneficial.

Gap years are useful to the extent that they involve self-directed learning. If you’re trekking solo across China, reading extensively and trying your hand at multiple new jobs, you’re probably growing as a self-directed learner. If you’re bouncing from one party town to another, you’re probably wasting your Gap Year.

Tell us about your Zero Tuition College website and how it ties to the book.

Meeting other people who are taking unique, self-directed paths through life can be difficult. The Zero Tuition College network is a place for self-directed, college-aged young adults to find each other. It’s also a place for potential mentors and students to meet. The site is 100% free and always will be.

Do you have any other big projects in the works?

What I’m most excited about right now is a new 5-day program for 18-22+ year olds I recently launched: The Trailblazer Gathering. Trailblazer is designed for self-directed learners both in and out college – a sort of hybrid conference, retreat, and giant adventure. The event occurs in Asheville, NC – visit my website for details.


Book Title: Better than College: How to Build a Successful Life Without a Four-Year Degree
Websites: www.ZTCollege.com, www.Better-than-College.com, www.BlakeBoles.com (blog)
Facebook: www.facebook.com/blake.boles
Twitter Handle: @blakeboles


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