Should You Go to College?

Well, maybe. I don’t know if you should go to college, but I strongly encourage you to take time off before you enroll.

Use your time to start an online business. Live at home, spend as little money as possible, and find a side job if you need to.

How do you start?

Build your skills, identify a problem, and find a software-based solution. If you don’t know where to start, pick one of the following skills: writing, speaking, coding, or design. Then, start selling what you build. To find a business opportunity, ask yourself the following questions: 

  • What sucks?

  • What would make my life easier?

  • What’s the most annoying thing in my life? 

If you’re stuck, master a no-code tool like Zapier, AirTable, or Webflow. I don’t know what you should work on, but I promise there are thousands of opportunities in the world right now waiting for you to pounce on them. Find them by talking to business owners or better yet, solving one of your own problems. 

Learn by watching YouTube tutorials and taking online courses. If an online course is too expensive, ask for a scholarship. Show that you’re serious, and you’ll probably get one. Remember, the world is kind to young people who are driven and curious. 

I didn’t know what to do after I was laid off from my first job so I started making YouTube videos. I published a 4-6 minute video every day for 114 days in a row. My channel was a failure and my videos were terrible. But the experience taught me discipline and work ethic, and in 2019 I published more than 100,000 words online, which helped me start a successful business.

Don’t fall into the trap of consuming information. You need to build things too. Code apps, make videos, record podcasts, or design a website. Then, publish your work. Ship something new every week, even if it’s just a new feature on your website. If you don’t know exactly what to build, that’s okay. Just start making things. Taking action will teach you more about yourself in a month than years of contemplation ever will.

Focus on the product, not the business. Start small. You don’t need to pay for expensive software, and you certainly don’t need to hire somebody. 

As you read this, you have more power than you think. You have a computer in your hands, which means you have access to more information than the library at your school and instant access to people who will teach you more than your professors. As Naval Ravikant wrote: “The best teachers are on the Internet. The best books are on the Internet. The best peers are on the Internet… The tools for learning are abundant. It’s the desire to learn that’s scarce.”

The Internet is a classroom without walls — a portal to the entire world and a time machine where you can soak up the accumulated wisdom of humanity. 

To succeed on your own, you’ll need to drop the passive mindset you learned in school and adopt an active one instead. School taught you that learning came from sit-down-and-listen consumption. The philosophy: Go to class. Listen to the teacher. Repeat what they say on the test. That’s nonsense.

The truth is learning is a messy process. Wisdom is earned through action, and consumption is only the first step. You have to build too. If you can code, build a software product. If you can design, make websites for local businesses. If you can write, share your ideas online and people will help you.

But what if my college goes out of business from a lack of tuition dollars? 

You aren’t obligated to pay tuition. You’re a customer of your university, just like any other business. If the value they provide isn’t worth the tuition they charge, whether it’s just now or in general, don’t pay them.

What’s the worst-case scenario if I don’t attend college to start my own business?

Suppose your business fails. You spent six months working hard but didn’t make any money. You lived at home and didn’t make any frivolous purchases. Turns out, you’re going to be okay.

If you’re frustrated with college, you can always take a semester off and enroll in classes again if you feel like it. When you do, you’ll step foot on campus with a newfound appreciation for what it takes to build a successful business. Better yet, you’ll return to school as a more mature student with six months of work experience and a new skill under your belt. Like a fine wine, learning gets better with age, so you’ll enjoy your classes more too.

Whether you go to school this fall or not, the job market won’t be kind to college graduates for the foreseeable future. Coronavirus has already stripped more than 26 million Americans of their jobs, leading to an unemployment rate of more than 20%. Companies who fear another outbreak will be risk-averse.

But there’s another option: Start an online business so you can control your own fate. 

As you build your business, you’ll learn that real life is, in many ways, the opposite of school. In school, you weren’t allowed to use notes, the Internet, or calculators on your tests. In real life, you can work with unlimited notes, unlimited Internet, and unlimited calculators. In school, you were taught to learn in private, follow the syllabus, and write for the teacher. In real life, you learn in public, follow your curiosity, and write for a global audience

Learning is free. Writing is free. Coding is free. If you want to learn, you don’t need a university — you need discipline. 

In the best-case scenario, you’ll end the year with a path towards a profitable business and the money-making skills you thought you needed student loans to build. As a self-sustainable entrepreneur, your livelihood won’t depend on the goodwill of a corporate recruiter or your relationship with your boss.

The smartest people I know are mostly self-educated. They already know the secret: With an Internet connection and strong work ethic, you can teach yourself

Each week, I write two popular emails. Monday Musings is a collection of the coolest things I learn every week. Meanwhile, Friday Finds is a links-only newsletter where I only share the kinds of ideas you won’t find anywhere else. 

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