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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Three Alternatives to the Academic Paper Chase

Pursue Success on Your Own Terms

I often ask myself, “If I could do it all over again, would I go to college?”

Most of the time my answer is a resounding no. The only reason I ever respond with a yes is that I love to teach economics at the college level and to speak and write about markets and liberty; but the gatekeepers would never let me “in” without a degree: a piece a paper draping me with legitimacy.

If it’s the education alone you value, you don’t have to go to college to get it. Learning can be had for free. If it is the shroud of legitimacy you seek, then who am I to tell you not to go? If your heart is set on a certain profession, and the gatekeepers of that profession demand certification, then go ahead and chase that paper.

For example, you can’t practice as a medical doctor without a college degree and state licensing approval. Otherwise, you shouldn’t just mindlessly ride the conveyor belt to ever more schooling. Here are three alternatives to the academic paperchase.


Insider tip: there’s this wonderful new technology that gives you free, instantaneous, anywhere access to the world’s wealth of information and knowledge. It’s called the internet. I am being a tad facetious; however few fully appreciate the internet as the college-killer that it is. Everything a professor could teach you in class is already available for free online. You can learn it all without paying for buildings, salaries of professors, books you won’t read or use, and excessive administrators. You get to study whatever, whenever, and wherever you want. The possibilities are limited only by your passion and imagination.

Find your guru

You will shine in comparison to most of the students they have to deal with.

At most colleges you can walk directly onto their campus and into any classroom with little or no resistance and attend for free. Who is the master in the field in which you have a passion? Find this guru, go to where he or she is teaching, and attend every single lecture by this person. Introduce yourself, and explain that you will be attending and informally auditing the course and would like to do the same with their other courses. Explain that you are taking this path to keep your costs down and learn from the best.

Many professors are looking to mentor ambitious individuals who have a passion for their subject matter and will be flattered that you have chosen them. You will shine in comparison to most of the students they have to deal with. Build a relationship with them and request from them a letter of completion which you can then put in your education portfolio.

Gurus are often to be found at exclusive and expensive universities. Applying could mean a demoralizing rejection and an official “not welcome” message. Or if accepted, the cost of your education would go from essentially zero to tens of thousands of dollars.

Instead, you could be attending where many walked away after rejection. You could be saving an enormous sum of money which your peers sitting next to you would be stuck paying. Sure, this is still “attending college” but on completely different terms. This is the path Steve Jobs took. He did alright for himself.

Pursue your passion

My nephew, Brad Adams, entrepreneur and owner of Roadrunner Bags, did just this. Initially he succumbed to the ceaseless nagging of state and society and headed off to college. After a brief stint, he packed his bags, took off, and never looked back. From Alabama to New York City, to Canada, then to Los Angeles, he pursued his love of biking and sewing.

They have been provided a roadmap of how to start a business, and they won’t move unless everything aligns with that map.

He started making bike bags for his fellow cycling buddies and, with their encouragement, began selling them. This grew into a full-fledged business, and Brad is now manufacturing and selling his bags all over the world, without having taken a single business course. He has been in business now for five years, has his own manufacturing facility in downtown Los Angeles, and provides jobs to four full-time employees.

Brad recently told to me that he wished he would have gotten a business education. To which I replied with an astonished, “Why?” This shows how deeply “go to college” propaganda has affected us. No amount of success and fulfillment without school can abate it.

Why pay for business school when you can be paid to receive a practical business education, tailored for your interests? Many, perhaps most business students are doing exactly what they are taught, taking action only when the world aligns with their business school education. They have been provided a roadmap of how to start a business, and they won’t move unless everything aligns with that map.

If my nephew had been “trained” in business, he might have never started Roadrunner Bags. The business school roadmap might have said, “Don’t do it. You don’t have the capital. The market is saturated. You can’t manufacture and sell bags out of your apartment. You don’t have enough knowledge of the business or the market. Stop right there. Go get a job working for a bag manufacturer and learn the business.” Without such training, Brad was free to pursue the opportunity his circumstances and talents provided him.

College is not the only source of education and success. There are abundant alternatives that can get you where you want to go more directly. The academic paper chase is not the only way.

  • Brian Ogstad is a professor of economics, national speaker and writer, and entrepreneur.  Brian speaks and writes on liberty, philosophy, economy, and society.  His latest talk, entitled “Man, State, and Liberty” brings understanding and clarity to the ideas of man, the state, and the importance of liberty.