I know I’ve been doing a lot on college lately. But I view it as a stepping stone for how the life we live now diverges from the life we could be living (and the life I hope my kids will live). I’m in the process of writing a book on this where I hope to give some more views not on just college but a better way to spend your entire life, every moment, being educated and learning from experience. Here’s an interview I just gave to a newsaper which clarifies my views a bit more:
> When you say that parents should not send their kids to college, do you mean that they should not go to college indefinitely? Or come back to college later in life?
Kids at 18 have no idea what they want to do in life. The world is a very big place. Its bigger than five classes a day on philosophy or chemical engineering. Most kids at 18 don’t relish philosophy but they relish the experience of freedom and being out of their parents’ home for the first time in their lives. There is nothing wrong with this. Young adults have a lot of energy and should use it. But the problem is that college costs have risen 1000% in the past 30 years while healthcare has risen 700% and inflation has risen “only” 300%. Colleges have made use of the myth that you can’t get a job unless you have a college education. So young people feel a rush to get that college out of the way so they can get a job and “begin” their adult lives. I think kids should begin their adult lives at 18 by experiencing what else the world has to offer other (see my eight alternatives to college) than a classroom (which they’ve all just been locked in for the prior 18 years). A rose needs space to bloom.
Then, later, if they’ve thought about the debt burden they will place themselves and their parents in, they can choose to go to college. Right now student loan debt is greater than homeowner debt and credit card debt in this country. Thats a lot of debt. Whereas previously we’ve created generations of innovators and creators, now we are creating a generation of young people mired down in hopeless debt. When will they get to live life?
> When did you come up with your theory? How did you come to think of your theory?
A lot of people say, “Oh, James Altucher went to college so he shouldn’t be talking about this”. Well, why not? I saw what people were doing in college. I know now how much I learned in college and how much I learned in other experiences in life and which is more relevant to me now at the age of 43. And, btw, it was much cheaper when I went to school than it is now. So when did I develop this theory? Almost immediately when I realized college had nothing to do with any successes or failures that I had in life (and I had A LOT of failure despite college). And also, it took my 8 years to pay back my student loan debt. Now it takes kids 30 years to pay down that debt. Its not fair to the youth of our country.
A) you learn very little that you use in real life
B) you are so burdened by debt that you can’t use your new-found
knowledge to create real freedom and joy for yourself
C) a young person can use their energy in many other ways than just college.
> Do you think that nothing well worth learning is taught in college? Or is it the fact that students might not be willing to learn?
There are many things worth learning in college. And not every person in the world should avoid college. But the best colleges cost a lot of money and its a burden for young people. And most things that you can learn in college you can learn for free outside of college thanks to the Internet. For instance, computer programming is best learned on the job. English literature is best learned by reading the books you are passionate about. Writing is best learned by having real experiences, writing every day, and reading the great writers who inspire you. Philosophy is learned by having real experiences and reading the philosophers or religious practitioners who inspire you. Imagine learning all of these things because of real world experiences, and then not having any debt. Also, when learning is not force-fed to you you develop a real love and knowledge for how to learn on your own and thats something you keep for the rest of your life. Most young people don’t learn this.
> Do you think you learned anything when you went to college? Or do you think you could have learned more if you chose not to go to college?
I went to college from 1986-1989. I was paying for it with debt so i graduated in 3 years. I took six courses a semester so Icould graduate early. And I took courses every summer. I also worked about 30-40 hours a week at jobs so I could afford my expenses outside of tuititon. Even then i graduated with enormous debt. I majored in
Computer Science and learned how to program. I thought I was a very good programmer when I graduated college. I prided myself into thinking I was the best since I was sure I was better than any of my classmates. While I was in college I programmed computers to play chess, I wrote papers that were published in international conferences on artificial intelligence, I got As in every practical programming-related class (other than Fortran, ugh!), and then, by the way, I got a full scholarship to go to graduate school for two years. Then, when I finally had a job in the “real world” at HBO, the television network, my programming was so bad (awful!) I had to go to courses offered at AT&T for two months in order to get my programming in shape. And even then I was still nowhere near ready to do real programming in the real world. It probably took about another six months of daily effort to learn how to really program. I had the passion for computers and I’m sure if all I had done were those AT&T courses right from the beginning I would’ve been fine.
Sometimes you have to throw a kid in the water to teach them how to swim (or let them drown). Thats the way to learn. Not being force-fed from textbooks written twenty years ago and being taught by professors with little real world experience. Its a shame also that unless you have a PhD a college won’t let you teach (in most cases). PhDs are often the most intellectual but have the least real world experience. And for that great experience we have to go into massive debt now.
> Do you have any advice for students who are in college right now and feel like they aren’t getting anything out of their education?
Yes, take a year or two off and try some of my eight alternatives. I’m writing a book now with over 40 alternatives and explaining my views in greater depth.
> Are there many people who disagree with your thoughts? Agree? How do people react when they first hear what you have to say?
I think many people agree and don’t say anything. But the people who disagree get very very upset. Its like I’m questioning their religion. I can go right now in the center of Times Square in NYC and shout, “Jesus is Satan!” and people would just walk around me and think, “ok, its free speech”. But if I shouted, “don’t send your kids to college”, WHOAH!! Lock this guy up! Take away his kids!
I’ve even had death threats based on this opinion. People have a huge life attachment to the fact that college is a part of life, the same way that birth, marriage, parenting, and death are. Its not. Its a relatively modern invention (for the mainstream American, its about fifty years old the idea that most kids should go to college, after 6000 years of civilization). Unfortunately this modern invention has been so abused by college administrators that the next generation of kids we graduate will be mired down in debt, and STILL need to learn the skills required for basic jobs that they want to do. Lets not forget, nobody learns how to be a doctor in college. Thats pre med. They learn a little in one or two years of medical school, but then they really learn when they are a resident in an actual hospital. And then between debt, insurance, and the burdens government is now placing on doctors, how will they ever pay down their burdens? The entire system needs to change but the discussion has to happen somewhere. Hopefully it will be here.
> Anything else you’d like to add?
I began my career at the age of 23, after I left graduate school. And then I began a career from scratch again when i was 26, and then 28, and a totally new career when i was 33. And then a completely new career when i was 36. And now I’m 43 and I’m still open to changing careers and doing new things in life. There’s no rush to start a career at the age of 22. Life changes as you go out in the world and experience things. Failures happen, seeds grow and take years to turn into a tree. Give yourself time to plant those seeds, to learn from your failures, to experience new things in life. The earlier you start to do this, the wiser, healthier, and more balanced you will be. You will be more capable of making decisions on career, family, and life in general.
Its also important that people stop using the statistic: people who went to college make more money. This is a very true statistic but anyone who takes Statistics 101 in college should know that correlation is not cause-and-effect. It could quite possibly be that over the past 30 years, people who are more achievement oriented (and hence more likely to make more money) were more likely to go to college. A better test would be if we take 2000 people who got accepted to Harvard today and divide them randomly into 2 groups: one that goes to college, the other that doesn’t, and see what they are earning 5, 10, 20, 30 years from now. (Some people will then say, “but money isn’t everything” and I strongly agree, but this is just to counterbalance that one statistic that seems to suggest money is everything)
Don’t discount the value of spending time experiencing the world before you make the enormous financial committment of going to college. It will teach you the beginnings (and JUST the beginnings) of what might be important to you. It will teach you how to survive, it will teach you about people other than from your own age group and socio-economic demographic, it will teach you about the 99% of opportunities that happen in the world that have nothing to do with college, it will teach you how to stretch your mind to learn how to sell and communicate, and finally it will show you at an early age that failure, choices, and life is a spectrum and not a ladder. Take advantage of that when still young and I can guarantee you all of life will bend down and support your endeavors.