When I was 19 I won some money in a chess tournament. Instead of using the money for my college tuition, I decided to drop out of college and buy a car. I bought a used 1982 Honda Accord. I drove it around for a few hours, since they let me drive it right out of the lot.

But when I saw my girlfriend and everyone else taking their classes, I got a little jealous. I returned the car, canceled the check, and entered my sophomore year of college. But I regret it now.

Whenever I suggest that people shouldn't send their kids to college, a lot of very smart people invariably ask: "Well, what else should they do?" And this amazes me. I guess it is really hard to figure out what people of the ages 18 to 23 should do during the most vibrant, healthy years of their lives when they grow from being a child to an adult.

So I thought I would help out by coming up with a quick list:


Start a Business

There are many businesses a kid can start, particularly with the Internet. On another post I will list possible types of first businesses. But if you always focus on the maxim, "buy low and sell high," you'll start to generate ideas.

Many people say: "Well, not everyone can be an entrepreneur." It's amazing to me, also, how many times I've addressed this in writing, and yet people who've read the exact articles still come back to me and say: "Well, not everyone can be an entrepreneur."

First off, there's no law against being an entrepreneur. In fact, everyone can be an entrepreneur. So, what they really mean is: "Not everyone can be a successful entrepreneur." And, as far as I know, there's no law against failure either. When someone loses a tennis match or a chess game, how do they improve? They study their losses. As anyone who has mastered any field in life knows: Studying your losses is infinitely more valuable than studying your wins. I failed at my first three attempts at being an entrepreneur before I finally learned how to spell it, and I finally had a success (i.e., a company with profits that I was then able to sell).

Failure is a part of life. Better to learn it at 18 than at 23 or older when you've been coddled by ivory blankets and hypnotized into thinking success was yours for the taking. Get baptized in the river of failure as a youth so you can blossom in entrepreneurial blessings as an adult.

What do you learn when you are young and start a business (regardless of success or failure)?
  • you learn how to come up with ideas that will be accepted by others;
  • you begin to build your bullshit detector (something that definitely does not happen in college);
  • you learn how to sell your idea;
  • you learn how to build and execute on an idea;
  • you meet and socialize with other people in your field. They might not all be the same age but, let's face it, that's life as an adult. You just spent 18 years with kids your own age. Grow up!
  • you might learn how to delegate and manage people;
  • you learn how to eat what you kill -- a skill also not learned by college-goers.
Travel the World
Here's a basic assignment. Take $10,000 and get yourself to India. Check out a world completely different from your own. Do it for a year. You will meet other foreigners traveling. You will learn what poverty is. You will learn the value of how to stretch a dollar. You will often be in situations where you need to learn how to survive despite the odds being against you. If you're going to throw up, you might as well do it from dysentery than from drinking too much at a frat party. You will learn a little bit more about eastern religions as compared with the western religions you grew up with. You will learn you aren't the center of the universe.

Create Art

Spend a year learning how to paint. Or how to play a musical instrument. Or write five novels. Learn to discipline yourself to create. Creation doesn't happen from inspiration. It happens from perspiration, discipline, and passion. Creativity doesn't come from from God. It's a muscle that you need to learn to build. Why not build it while your brain is still creating new neurons at a breathtaking rate, rather than learning it when you are older (and for many people, too late).

Make People Laugh
This is the hardest of all. Spend a year learning how to do stand-up comedy in front of people. This will teach you how to write, how to communicate, how to sell yourself, how to deal with people who hate you, how to deal with the psychology of failure on a daily basis -- and, of course, how to make people laugh. All of these items will help you later in life much more than Philosophy 101. And, you might even get paid along the way.

Write a Book
Believe me, whatever book you write at the age of 18 is probably going to be no good. But do it anyway. Write a novel about what you are doing instead of going to college. You'll learn how to observe people. Writing is a meditation on life. You'll live each day, interpret it, write it. What a great education!

Work for a Charity
Plenty of charities do not require you to have a college degree. What is going to serve you better in life: studying French literature or spending a year delivering meals to senior citizens with Alzheimer's or curing malaria in Africa? I have an answer to this. You might have a different one. Which is why I'm listing eight alternatives here instead of just this one. And, by the way, if you do any of these items for one year, two years, ten, then maybe go to college? Why not? It's your life.

Master a Game
What's your favorite game? Ping pong? Chess? Poker? Learning how to master a game is incredibly hard.

I've written before about how to do it, but let's start with the basics:
  • study the history of the game;
  • study current experts on the game, videos, books, magazines, etc. Replay, or try to imitate in some way, the current masters of the game;
  • play a lot: with friends, in tournaments, at local clubs;
  • take lessons from someone who has already mastered the game. This helps you to avoid bad habits and gets someone to immediately criticize your current skills.
Mastering a game builds discipline, lets you socialize with other people of all ages and backgrounds but who have similar passions, and helps you to develop the instincts of a killer without having to kill anyone. Nice!

Master a Sport
Probably even better than mastering a game because it's the same as all of the above, but you also get in shape.

If anyone can think of any other alternatives, please list them in the comments. We only have the life we have lived. But as I write this post, I look at these alternatives with longing, I know that when I hit "Publish," I'm going to sit here quietly while the sun goes down, wondering "what if . . . ?"

Here are my related posts on why kids should not go to college. Don't Send Your Kids to College, 10 More Reasons to Not Send Your Kids to College, Living Life is Better than Dying in College, Advice I Want to Tell My Daughters. I am looking to expand this list from eight to 40, so will post again at JamesAltucher.com when I have the updated list. Additionally, I hope you follow me on Twitter, where I am happy to engage in discussion over this topic.

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102 Comments

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Hi Pal

Did you actually get paid to write this article?

June 05 2011 at 9:20 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
livemike2100

Solve a problem. For instance some guys figured out that you could save 50% of premature babies in Africa with humicribs but nobody had the skills to maintain them. So the designed a humicrib using only car parts (Africans can REALLY keep cars going) that cost a fraction of the cost of a Western humicrib and could be maintained anywhere in Africa. Find some intelligent and enthusiastic people and solve a problem like that. "Saved thousands of lives with my ingenunity and teamwork" (or even dozens) is going to look a lot better to employers than "Got an A in Sociology and Mark Twain".

March 29 2011 at 9:44 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
sdwcorp

This is just what America needs , Add to the list BE HUNGRY you can have all the education that collage offers but it can't motivate . Risk taking risk and learning how to JUST DO IT . Never forget luck and when it comes make the most of it . Education is still important and necessary for most Professions . Even with the letters after you name it still takes hard work and imagination . My best educatuion came from doing and shairing with contemperories.When you start something don't give up keep looking for ways to make it work ! Read and keep reading learn on your own when ever you can .Never be affraid to ask for help and men ask for directions: A lot of smart people came befor us!After I quit High School and went to work the older people would talk to me and try to steer me in a better direction I listened ,these people made me what I am today FOR ME it was better then listening to the Kids in High School/ collage. Later as an adult I went to collage ( and had a better expierence learning ) Collage helped in life but was not the basis of sucess for me. Good luck to you all. Steve

March 23 2011 at 4:46 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Anna Banana

Genius! It is refreshing to finally hear this! This guy is challenging the status quo, tackling taboos, and not caring what people think of him. He has integrity because he is not satisfied just doing what everyone else is doing. Kids should be able to go their own way in life....how will they learn independence and how to be an individual by succumbing to yet another arbitrary system, such as college? As a society, we need to look at each person on their own and not lump everyone into one mass. College has become nothing more than a tradition, a standard that we set long ago. It is safe, accepted, etc. We continue to revere the idea of college for reasons we do not truly understand. Students need to learn how to learn from themselves, not how to depend upon others for their answers. Not going to college does not mean that you are not intelligent, and when we can finally understand that there are many routes available to us, then we will start getting somewhere. I was a straight A student who left public high school to become an autodidact, in search of a richer, more meaningful intellectual life. It was the best time of my life. I have never been interested in college, but have learned how to be content and confident within myself and my abilities. In some ways, college teaches us to be very limited and esoteric.

March 22 2011 at 10:47 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
syd.nash@notsodividedmind.com

Ok, 1982 Honda Accord vs. going to college and you regret it? Really?

I too regret you did not stick with the Honda, then we would not have this article to insult our intelligence.

Ok, I will at least attempt objectivity instead of derision in responding to your article.

Start a business at eighteen!

Upside: you might become the next millionare...
Downside: 75% of business fail in their first year

Upside: you might become the next millionare...
Downside: most likely you will get heavily in debt and have to file bankruptcy before you are of legal age to drink and become an alcholic after your business fails and you have to file bankruptcy.

Travel the World!!!!

Upside: you can make friends with all the natives and locals, and maybe even become one of their sun Gods.
Downside: ugh, have you paid attention to foreign affairs lately? Americans aren't exactly liked in most of the world.

Upside: all the wonderful people you meet for only $10,000 dollars to meet them
Downside: I'm not giving my kid 10K to basically get kidnapped somewhere after which I will have to pay even more to get him back.

Create Art!

Upside: pencil, paper and crayons are pretty cheap these days.
Downside: my kid will be an adult playing with penicl, paper and crayons. Feel like failure much?

Upside: ummm, insanity among the art world is presumed
Downside: Either my kid or I will go nuts

Make People Laugh:

Upside: I'm pretty much doing that at the moment writing this
Downside: I'm pretty sure when most of my neighbors find out my kid is not in college and is ugh, you know, acting like a Mime for cash on the city streets thwy will have a big laugh...but not kind of laugh that is with me but at me.

Write a Book:

Upside: I already own a writing program
Downside: Ummm...has anyone been paying attention to this recent century. The Publishing Market is not necessarily recession proof. In fact, without recession people don't read.

Work for a charity:

Upside: when my kid becomes homeless, he will at least feel comfortable around his new, "neighbors."
Downside: basically, poverty and homelessness

Master a Game:

Upside: come on there is none
Downside: my kid starts playing dice in a back alley somewhere.

Master a Sport:

Upside: my child will be able to relate to all the urban youth who have false hopes of making it in the world of sports
Downside: I think at that neither my kid, nor I, nor my parents, nor any of my ancestors are considered middle-class. I think you lose that card going this route. I'm not sure though.

March 22 2011 at 10:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
wramo91

While "intelligent discourse, intellectual challenge, background knowledge expansion, self understanding, the development of a strong work ethic, and preparation for a productive and personally satisfying future are often by-products of a college education," these things can also be by-products of the real world. Direct teaching can also occur in the real world, though I don't think it is the only or best way to learn. A lot of learning occurs during the typical age someone goes to college so there is an easy correlation there between college and knowledge, but that doesn't mean there is causation. I went to college, and I learned a lot, but I didn't necessarily learn because of college itself. I learned through life itself which happened to be taking place at college and happens to be taking place everywhere else too. A bright, productive person will learn things in any environment, although wisdom and reality can be easily put at arms length in college.

People who are more likely to succeed will go to college and I believe what this guy is saying is directed towards those people who are likely to succeed and to be productive in any environment.
College works as a signaling device. If you get good grades, ect. you stand out because you are probably smart and hardworking. What if you are smart and hardworking for a little while in the real world before you go to college? What if you are smart and hardworking instead of going to college?

Obviously you need to go to college to be an M.D., engineer, lawyer, ect. It doesn't hurt to work in those fields for a year or two before you go to college though. At least it doesn't hurt to think about working in those fields before taking the jump into med school.

But what about a degree in photography, or painting, or English, (you know, liberal arts type things) which are degrees that Americans are pursuing for more and more while we go to school less and less for engineering and science. Is it really as necessary to go to college to do these things? Instead of hanging out in a stuffy classroom reading James Joyce, hoping you will be the next great American novelist, should you hitchhike across Europe while reading James Joyce while writing a book based on your experiences? Instead of arguing about Kant's hypothetical opinion on Mapplethorpe while paying big tuition bucks to do so, should you set up a small publishing company for art you like? There is certainly plenty of it out there, and you'll probably be able to argue about Kantian things with clients and people you meet doing it!

If it doesn't work out you can always go to college. The thing this guy brings to the table is simply getting people to think about what they are choosing to do. Every individual should obviously decide for themselves, but maybe we don't need so many people going to school to learn about the aesthetics of Slovenian basket weaving.

But whatever someone does, they should be doing something! Saying, "Yeah bro, Imma take this guys advice and start the next facebook," then falling asleep on the couch while Ren and Stimpy reruns are on isn't going to get anyone anywhere. But it you want to do that, college might be the better option. Instead of hanging around smoking pot in your parents basement you can do it in a dorm room, then when you get out employers will smile and nod when you say you went to X University and then you can pay off your debt and live happily ever after.

March 22 2011 at 10:26 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Gumby

I never went to college but I educate myself with anything that a goat may like to eat if you get the drift.. Everyone is calilng me Jack of all Trades which is not accurate,, I am more like Jack of all diplomas!!! I know almost everything at layman level.. Put together, I have very interesting views of how things tick on this dinky world!! I find that pepole with specialized education are very protective of their knowldeges or skills desptie many better solutions that can be found at layman's levels.. They want money!!!!!!!!!! and give you trinkets!! like Dutch explorers buying Manhattan from dumb Indians for $24 in trinkets!! They are doing everything possible to DUMB YOU DOWN1!!! DUMB DUMB DOWN DOWN ALL WAY TO THE FLOOOR1 !!

March 22 2011 at 2:08 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
racegrrrl62

Really?!? I think this author is brilliant. He is challenging you to look outside the box and redefine success. Why go to college at age 18 when you have no idea what you want to do with your life other than party for the next 4 years while you avoid reality. I wish I'd had parents that encouraged me to go in this direction. I am 35 y/o and going back to school for a doctorate degree. You can do anything you put your mind to. Life is meant to be experienced. In my opinion, life is not meant to be lived in this box that we define as successful...a mortgage, a marriage, a corporate job, and 2.5 kids. And I agree 100% about the failure part...I have learned more and grown more as a person from my failures than my successes. I think this type of living makes one a much more well rounded person. I'd rather hire someone with a sense of adventure than someone who has doen what their told their whole life and has no idea who they are or what they want. Kudos to the author!!!!

March 22 2011 at 9:25 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
uawildcat

Wow, I think this article made this college graduate lose a few brain cells...

March 21 2011 at 7:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
bchboy1206

AOL, do you not review the content you post on your website? This is very irresponsible to put here with all the impressionable minds that may read this. Dear AOL please look at this and see what you are putting on your site.

March 21 2011 at 6:13 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply