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Why go to college at all?

Programs and initiatives that encourage students to not go to college.

Photo of Izabela Correa
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Although I know that the focus of the challenge is college affordability, I believe it is important to recognize that college is not always the right answer. 

As Sasha showed on her post Why Go to College?, "students are faced with high level of pressure by society and parents at the time of High School graduation". And I believe many of them don't really think if college is the right next step for them. They just do what society expect them to do; go to college. 

However, people can follow other paths and still be successful. There are many entrepreneurs who drop out college or even high school. Check a list of examples here, it includes even an American president. 

The idea of not going to college has been promoted by some programs and initiatives over the last years.

The billionaire, Peter Thiel, has a program called Thiel Fellowship, in which he pays students with promising ideas to drop out of college.

"The Thiel Fellows are given a no-strings-attached grant of $100,000 to skip college and focus on their work, their research, and their self-education. They are mentored by a network of visionary thinkers, investors, scientists, and entrepreneurs, who provide guidance and business connections that can’t be replicated in any classroom." ( 

Peter Thiel thinks his program is a viable alternative to what he sees as a largely ineffective university system where costs far outweigh benefits. According to him, "Today, everybody believes that we need to go to college, and people will pay-- whatever it takes."

Another program is the UnCollege and its Gap Year Program. The core principle of UnCollege is that people should be empowered to take control of their own choices for education. Their experience-based program teaches young adults the practical skills they need to succeed today through a blended approach of self-directed learning, accountability training, mentorship, and bounded risk-taking. (

So, I am not saying that college is not important. The point that I would like to make with this post is that there are other options. And while they have some drawbacks (as college also has), they are still valid. 

What is a provocation or insight that might inspire others during this challenge?

Is college the right path for everyone? Is possible to have a good education (and job) without going to college?


Join the conversation:

Photo of Anupriya Loganathan

Thank you for sharing this Izabela. This is so true and I completely agree with you that most of the students think that they must just get into college/ university right after their schooling as that's how it is been done in the society by all the people. I am a masters student as well as I work part time in one of the restaurants here in my suburb and my colleague who didnt go to uni after school worries and talks to me all the time if she is doing the right thing. This is because she sometimes thinks that society respects only those who have a degree. According to me, she is a polite person and way too well mannered than most of of my classmates with whom I have studied so far. So, it is not just college/uni that teaches you about life. Its definitely the real world work experience that is way too better than what these universities teach us.
I really hope this practice changes sometime very soon. People must go to uni or college only if they want and not just because everyone else is doing that.

Photo of Izabela Correa

Hi Anupriya! Thank you for your comment and for sharing your/your colleague story. I completely agree that real-life experience is a powerful source of knowledge. And that going to college doesn't mean that you are going to be a better than those who do not go. As, you said people should go to college because they want, not due to societal pressure.

Photo of Madeline Whisenant

I really like this idea. One of my best friends in college struggled all through high school and struggled to get into college. She put through these societal pressures making her feel like it was the right path. She realized that what she really wanted to do was cosmetology school, and now she excels at it. Another one of my good friends went to trade school to be a car mechanic. There are so many options besides college and I think financial aid to those options are important as well. Just another thing to consider.

Photo of Izabela Correa

Hi Madeline! Thank you for your comment. I'm glad that you liked the post and shared with us your friends' stories. People should feel comfortable in following alternative paths. And, I believe you brought out a good point. Financial aid are also important for these alternative paths.

Photo of Tori Adele Signorelli

Hi Izabela, you bring up a great point here. Being an advocate for education, I always tend to ruffle a bit at the question of whether it is valuable to go to college...I always hear "is it valuable for everyone to EDUCATE themselves?" an answer, I firmly believe is always, YES. However, what I am seeing come up in the research and in your contribution is, does the TRADITIONAL MODEL of education makes sense for everyone?

Based on the responses I have read, and the discussion that came up in the San Diego Meetup, I am starting to ask, does the traditional education model work for anyone? Who is it working for, at which institutions, in which countries and why? Based on my time living in Italy with friends from around the globe, I can further verify (as do the posts Anne mention below) that the US attitude toward the singular, linear education model and the emphasis of bachelor degrees (or int'l equivalent) is a unique one that is not shared by all other nations. Yet, the expectation that a person have a degree... whether or not it directly correlates to their job... is growing in the US market (yesterday I saw a post for a retail shop position at a yoga studio that specified, "someone with a degree preferred") so my next question is...why do employers seek those with a degree? Is it based solely on societal expectations, or do they sense/ see something different in candidates that are degreed vs. non-degreed? And to bring it back to your point, how can employer's expectations be met through alternative education models?

I would be interested to see some data on the alternative methods you listed above, regarding the satisfaction and successes (ie. rate of hire, salaries, etc.) of their attendees.

Photo of Anne-Laure Fayard

Tori, thanks for your thoughts. I tend to be like you when it comes to education. However, I think you reframed very well the question: is the traditional model working for all?
If you think of how historically college education emerged, it was for a very specific social group.
While I never asked myself whether I would go to university or not (because I just wanted to study what I was passionate about), I know several people in my family and among my friends who are smart people, who have a general education and an ability to critically think, but did not go to college and have a good job now.

I think you raised a great question regarding the demand for college degrees... esp. when I hear from students that when they applied with their degree, they are then asked for 2 years of experience, even for an entry level job! I also heard from various professionals and managers that students coming out of school don't have the right skills and can't perform in the workplace. Interesting set of contractions!

I don't have data though. Just anecdotal evidence. If you do find some data, please let me know.

You might find this interview interesting:

Photo of Izabela Correa

Hi Tori! Thank you very much for your insights and provocations.

First of all, I believe you reframed very well the question. “Does the TRADITIONAL MODEL of education makes sense for everyone?” This is very interesting; especially you think that this traditional model has been used for so many years and it hasn’t changed dramatically.

About the role of employees on the educational system, I completely agree wit you. Their demand for college degrees is one of the factors that pressure students to go to college. And you raised some important questions - Why do employers seek those with a degree? Is it based solely on societal expectations, or do they sense/ see something different in candidates that are degreed vs. non-degreed? - that I don’t have answers. I believe these are issues that should be explored further.

I asked two managers who usually participate in hiring process if they think college degree is important. The first one, who is 31 years old, told me that he didn’t look for the academic when analyzing a CV. He believes experience is what matters. The second manager, who is 56 years old, said that a degree and also the university where the candidate studied are very important. According to him, this information demonstrates the competences of the candidate.

This is a very small sampling and it is difficult to draw any major conclusion from it. However, one thing that caught my attention is the difference of age and opinion. This might be a cultural factor that it is slowly changing. But, we should do more research before claiming it.

About the data on the alternative methods mentioned on the post, I found some contractions (please check below). This might be a result of personal biases and marketing reasons.
1) Thiel Program
- In September 2013, Vivek Wadhwa wrote that the Thiel Fellowship had failed to produce any notable successes to date, and even its limited successes were instances where the Thiel Fellows were working in collaboration with more experienced individuals.
- In December 2013, Lora Kolodny wrote an article for the Wall Street Journal reviewing the Thiel Fellowship, where she wrote: "64 Thiel Fellows have started 67 for-profit ventures, raised $55.4 million in angel and venture funding, published two books, created 30 apps and 135 full-time jobs, and brought clean water and solar power to 6,000 Kenyans who needed it."
- A June 2015 article by Daisuke Wakabayashi in the Wall Street Journal described the Thiel Fellowship and credited it for being one of the influences responsible for making dropping out of college to start a company as an honorable choice.
- Some stories:

2) UnCollege
- Dale Stephens was a Thiel Fellow.
- “UnCollege has raised more than $100,000 in funding from investors, including from the founders of Generally Assembly, a digital trade school, and Learn Capital, an education-focused venture capitalist firm based in Silicon Valley, which has also invested directly in Generally Assembly.”
- “The mentorship—which has featured leaders from Amazon, the Khan Academy and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation—and the self-directed learning aspects of the program are big parts of its value. They are designed to immediately link up students with people in the specific field they want to pursue, ideally through internships. Eighty-five percent of UnCollege students have a full-time job offer in their field of choice after the Gap Year. Two companies that have hired UnCollege "graduates" are education technology firm Fidelis Education and photography company”
- Some stories:

Photo of Tori Adele Signorelli

Izabela, This is great information! Your findings on age are also very interesting...worth some further exploration. I am working on collecting some relevant data, I'll let you know if I uncover anything relevant.

Photo of Tori Adele Signorelli

Hi Anne, I will certainly let you know if I find any relevant data. I agree that the demands of the workforce are contradictory...there seems to be a gap between education and job skills. I think the interview you mentioned brings up a good point about a mix of university and "boot camp" training. It makes me wonder if there is room for collaboration between universities and these non-traditional sources of learning. I know for example, some businesses have attempted partnerships with local universities to restructure curriculum according to real world needs, there could be something to that idea. I intend to explore that further. Another question that I've seen come up is graduate satisfaction. How satisfied are graduates with their educational investments, do they feel their degree was worth the cost? I was discussing this yesterday in the comments of this interview with a fellow San Diego Meetup member:
I believe there is a link between our conversation here and this problem of meeting student expectations. I'll let you know what I find.

Photo of Izabela Correa

Hi Tori! I am glad to know that you found the information to be helpful. :) Looking forward to see the data you are collecting.

Photo of Anne-Laure Fayard

Tori, I agree the interview you mentioned is relevant (I also commented on it :-) ).

Regarding satisfaction (and whether it's worth it), this is a topic that was discussed in our NY OpenIDEO meet up:

I also found this interview quite relevant:

Looking forward to reading your findings on this issue.

Photo of Darrick Hildman

Photo of Izabela Correa

Hi Darrick! Thank you for sharing this article. It has a lot of interesting information.

- "Postings for IT help-desk jobs are comparable whether they require a bachelor's degree or not -- but 60 percent of new postings for the jobs require a B.A. while only 39 percent of workers currently in those positions have a degree, for a 21 percentage point credentials gap. (There is little difference in the skills requirements in postings that require a bachelor's degree and not in other fields, too, such as many HR and clerical positions.)"

- ""This strongly suggests that, in such occupations, employers have come to rely on a bachelor's degree primarily as a way of screening applicants, in a way that may not be related to job duties themselves," Burning Glass says in its report. That is true even though the four-year-degree requirement often makes the jobs harder to fill: "help desk jobs calling for a bachelor's degree take 35 percent longer to fill on average than those that do not," the report adds."

- "Interestingly, Burning Glass finds that some fields are not seeing credentials creep. As seen in the chart above, most health care fields (except for nursing) are not demanding more degreed workers. Burning Glass's explanation? "What these positions have in common are strong credential requirements that exist outside the traditional higher education degree structure: state licensing requirements, certifications accepted industrywide, or specific measurable skills," the report states. "Employers have specific criteria to use as a yardstick when hiring, so there's not as much incentive to apply the less-specific screen of a bachelor's degree."

- "In the absence of other reliable mechanisms that people bring with them, employers will gravitate toward the college degree as a proxy for someone's work readiness," Sigelman said.

Photo of Denny Wong

Thank you Izabela for reporting the key info. of from the article. The more telling one IMHO is this :

- "In the absence of other reliable mechanisms that people bring with them, employers will gravitate toward the college degree as a proxy for someone's work readiness," Sigelman said.

If we follow this premise, it means as a society as whole we need a better way to showcased our skills, competences and experience than using college degree as a tool for close proxy of what we can achieve in the near future (or had achieved if we are hired to do the same job).

But all this is flawed because we know past history does not predict future success ...

So what are we measuring or hope to achieve? And how to value this?

Photo of Katerina Bohle Carbonell

Hi Izabela, I didn't took the time to read all the posts, but I think it boils down to providing high school students with the right information. In some communities, going to college is the ticket out of poverty. But that might just be because they do not know any other people who could offer them the experiences to get the right skills and knowledge.

I think the idea of university should be to make people ready to do the job they want to do. Motivation to learn is crucial. attending because of social pressure is not right. In Germany it was (and maybe is still) common to do a social year after high school. That year teaches you a lot about yourself and your interests.

There is nice work done on how kids from lower socio-economic classes are less aware of the resources they have in their network (this is called social capital). By teaching them that they do have more resources than they think, making their dreams real isn't anymore that farfetched.

I also think we need to make school (k-12) less boring so that students want to keep on learning. They need to be taugh that learning can also occur outside of a classroom. In my eyes, the whole educational system needs to be changed..

Photo of Izabela Correa

Hi Katerina! Thank you for your comment. I believe one of the main points, as you said, is that students shouldn't feel pressured to go to college. I think the one year break is an interesting approach. It allows students to explore their interest, grow personally, and have more access to information.

And as you I believe the whole educational system needs to be changed.

Photo of Alex Di Blasio

Hi Izabela, this is a very interesting topic, I actually decided not to attend university after completing high school, mentally I did not feel prepared for it, further education didn't excite me and I felt that a lot of my time would be wasted, especially if living on campus. Luckily I did not feel pressured into going to university and instead was fortunate enough to find full time employment. During the three years it took my friends to complete their degree I had gained three years of real-world job experience and when I changed jobs I found I could command a higher salary compared to people fresh out of Uni because they saw the experience as more valuable. However, after a further 4 years of work I decided that I had reached a cross-over point, where attaining a degree would prove prudent for my career. Because I had over five years of experience in my field it meant I could go straight into completing a par time postgraduate degree which my employer partly subsidised. I genuinely think - for me - not going to Uni straight from high school was one of the best decisions I've made. Hopefully this anecdote only further reinforces your thoughts.

Photo of Izabela Correa

Hi Alex! Thank you very much for sharing your story with us. It is amazing! :) And it indeed reinforces my thoughts.

I was glad to hear that you didn't feel pressured into going to university. And also that you could find full time employment without having a degree.

I think employers play an important role on the students' decisions to go to college. Many of them believe they will only have a good job if they have a degree.

Could I ask you what field you work? I am wondering if there is some fields that are more traditional than others.

Thanks again.

Photo of Alex Di Blasio

Hi Izabela, I work in the Technology industry(I don't like to pin myself down to one title), but have grown a passion for business in general. My Masters is in business and IT management. I vividly remember, in high school, my teacher asking which Universities I had applied to, I simply responded "None" - they were clearly unimpressed. For some reason I never had a fear that I wouldn't be able to find a job without having a degree, maybe it was naivety, or maybe it was just because I didn't have a grand plan; go to uni, get a job at this company, earn X amount.... Another interesting aspect to consider is 'robot recruiting', linkedIn probably being the most prominent. It is one thing for a recruiter to manually go through a dozen candidates where their personal perception decides, it's another for a machine to trawl through thousands of potential candidates. Maybe this will be a good thing? Allowing for more than just surface level information to be gathered from a CV. What impact may this have in the future for people deciding whether they go to Uni or not?

Photo of Izabela Correa

Hi Alex! Thank you for replying and giving us this extra information. I also don't like titles. Because of this, I asked you the field that you work. :)

My belief is that not having a degree is more acceptable in some industries, such as Technology and Art, than in other "traditional" fields. However, this is just an assumption and I should do more research to see if this is the case.

About 'robot recruiting', it is a powerful tool indeed. I'm just wondering if it can really eliminate personal perception. Thus, at the end, the inputs are given by the same recruiters. I have heard about stories in which the company after receiving the electronic CVs delete all that are not come from "prestigious" universities. They don't even check them. :( So, while technologies can be extremely helpful. We still have to change the culture and the assumptions of the selection process. This is certainly something that takes time. And as you story shows, it is already happening. :)

Photo of Abraham Castro

Some fields of work that would probably seek employees from outside the TRADITIONAL career path might be the newer/developing fields. Technology is a great example because it is in such high demand but here is a few list of others that might also have the same demand and no education required:

Photo of Izabela Correa

Hi Abraham! Thank you for sharing these insights! My assumption was exactly that newer/developing fields, esp. related to technology, are the ones that most accept candidates without a degree. Thank you for the links.

Photo of Alex Di Blasio

I've also heard stories of recruiters filtering out CVs of people that do not have a degree - scary stuff! My fear is that robot recruiting will only exacerbate this issue, resulting in final decision makers never seeing CVs from a diverse range of candidates. Especially in the Technology industry there are a number of alternate routes a post-high school student can take - one being apprenticeships, the company I work for employ a number of IT apprentices allowing them to gain real-world job experience while simultaneously being trained. I think as you've mentioned a number of times it really comes down to a cultural and societal mindset which needs to evolve.

Photo of Izabela Correa

Hi Alex! I am glad to know that you company offers apprenticeships, because I think this is an awesome alternative. I believe that learning by doing can be really effective. Check Heidi's post about apprenticeship in Japan:

Could you share more how this program works in the company that you work for, please? How long is the program? Does the participants have a salary in the beginning? Etc...

Thanks a lot!!!

Photo of Darrick Hildman

Photo of Izabela Correa

Thank you for sharing Darrick. This is indeed an interesting study.

Photo of Alex Di Blasio

Hi Izabela. Yes, happy to share some information, however, the apprenticeship scheme runs out of our London office (I'm based in Sydney) so don't have 100% overview of its mechanics. However, from my understanding, we receive candidates on placements from a company called JustIT, they also provide direct training for the apprentices as well, they can take courses and complete exams to receive certifications in different technical areas, HTML development is one example. The apprentices are paid while working for us, from the JustIT website it states people can earn up to £1000 pounds a month(around $1500USD at today's rates). In Australia we partnered with some Universities to facilitate short-term internships (around 8 weeks), unfortunately, these weren't for technical staff as 8 weeks just wasn't enough time to achieve anything. The internship acted really as just a taster of work-life and people were obviously already attending Uni.

Out of interest Izabela, what are your thoughts on progressing something to the ideas stage, based on people's feedback has it provided any inspiration for potential ideas?

Photo of Izabela Correa

Hi Alex! Thank you very much for sharing with us this information. It was great to know more about the apprenticeship program.

About my thoughts for the ideas phase, I have few of them focusing on different problem statements. But, for this post, in my opinion, it would be great to explore ways (1) to increase apprenticeship opportunities, (2) to make students are aware about alternative forms of education and (3) to clarify what are the employers expectations.

Photo of Trevor z Hallstein

This is a great question. At its most basic level, college graduates earn more over their lifetimes than folks without a college degree. Given the world we live in, this has implications for large dispersions in quality of life.

"Looking at cumulative earnings over the entire career, the typical bachelor’s degree graduate worker earns $1.19 million, which is twice what the typical high school graduate earns, and $335,000 more than what the typical associate degree graduate earns."

This is from

Photo of Izabela Correa

Hi Trevor! Thank you for your comment. As you said, the motivation of many students to go to college is a consequence of employers' demand for professionals with college degree. And we should reflect about this also. Why are they requiring it? For which positions? Etc. Check Anne-Laure comment below and also the links posted by Darrick. There seems to be interesting contractions about this "requirement" that should be explored further.

Photo of Denny Wong

Great post Izabela and good comments. Thank you for sharing.

I think we tend to agree that the current education as it is is reaching it's limitation of one for all (degrees or centralisation) instead of all for all (skills or decentralisation/personalisation).

Hence, I believe it is not whether we need education or not - but rather as some of the commenters point out - (1) do we need school/university to learn or (2) is the current education system adapted for all? or (3) is it still valid?

And what are we doing about it?

Photo of Izabela Correa

Hi Denny! Thanks for your comments. I agree with you. I believe education is fundamental, but college/university, esp. in its actual model, might not be the answer for everyone. And, as you said, I think an important question is "what are we doing about it?"
Thanks again.

Photo of Denny Wong

Hi Izabela, I think if we are in such forum (OpenIDEO or others) we (most participants) somewhat/how share some common feelings or vision. This is great - I am happy to be amongst like minded people.

Like you I believe, it is time to provide the students/us/our younger generations more alternative (than the existing one) education or path to accompany them in their/our life journey to a better tomorrow. For self, our communities and the world. I also believe the education system as it is now, is ready to change (with risk to be left behind) and most importantly, the larger local communities is ready and receptive for this change. It is exciting time ahead.

Since I try to be the change I want to see, I am working towards launch an 'alternative school or space where students can learn 21st century skills through experiential learning and doing.

In the name to provide alternative paths toward self-discovery and betterment - to live our life to the fullest potential. So, that was the WHY, the next steps is the How and What ;-)

I am very excited to see where this conversation leads us, as a group. Thank you for sharing.

Photo of Anne-Laure Fayard

Great provocation Izabela. I'm glad you followed up on Sasha's point.
It's also something I've been wondering reading about people's various expectations (and frustration) about college. I also wondered about the tension between the "everyone needs a college degree" and the heroic figure of the entrepreneur (drop out)? Another tension is college degree vs. the acknowledgement of the role of experience, apprenticeship and the maker culture more broadly.
I think it is worth exploring that question as we try to reimagine college costs because it might mean thinking of different educational models as well. Like you, I am not saying college is not important, or is useless (I will even claim that we should still nurture fields that don't seem "economically" relevant because they are important for society, but that's another debate). I'm just wondering if we are not trying to put everything in the same basket and that there might need for differentiated models.
See also these posts:
and a positive model:

Photo of Izabela Correa

Hi Anne-Laure! Thank you for your comment. I am glad that you liked the post as it was also inspired by our conversation yesterday. :)
I completely agree with you. In certain way, the system generalizes the needs of the students adopting a "unique" model. College is important, but it may not be for everyone or for every field.
Thank you for sharing the other posts.

Photo of Abraham Castro

I agree with this post. Sometimes society places certain expectations on success and most people try to enroll in college to succeed. This, however, might cause certain people to deviate from their true aspirations. Some entrepreneurs have dropped out of universities, or have never even gone to college. Do this make them more prone to failure?

Maybe Universities could create incentives in order to help people choose their path by tailoring education to them. Kind of like a Build-a-career path self study program.

Photo of Izabela Correa

Hi Abraham! Thank you for your comment. I saw your post about Freemium Education. I believe this is an interesting idea to be developed in the next phase.

Photo of Jesse Charles

At one point, I considered starting my own non-profit organization so I could take advantage of the Government's 10 year loan forgiveness for state and non-profit workers. The best idea I had was to start an organization that educated high school students about alternatives to college.

It is kind of laughable at face value, but when we start thinking about it, it's a voice high school students are not getting, and I think they should. As I was just writing my personal experience post, I realized that it didn't seem like I had a choice. College is presented as the thing you have to do unless you're a screwup.

Photo of Izabela Correa

Hi Jesse! Thank you for your comment. This is exactly the point. As you said, students think they don't have a choice. But, they do have. And they should be aware of it. Going to college should be a conscious decision. Otherwise, students will spend a lot of money and won't probably get the most out of it. So, the question could be: how could we show students that there are other options besides college?