Create Your Own College Education

By Sean Ogle •  Updated: 05/28/09 •  7 min read

Bartleby: You could spend eighty thousand dollars or I could make eighty thousand dollars.

Dad: So you’re saying you don’t want to go to college?

Bartleby: No, I am saying it would be fiscally irresponsible for me to go to college.

This is a quote from the movie Accepted, in which a high school graduate sets out to create his own college education. Sparked by his inability to be accepted to a real school, he ends up starting his own. He develops a place where students can learn about whatever it is they are passionate about, rather than getting a”traditional” education.

I could write pages about how the current system for higher education is severely flawed, but I think most of us know this already.

Rather than do that,  I want to write about how it is possible to develop your own college education that will cost ten times less, and teach you ten times more.

Let me start off by saying that this method isn’t for everybody.

This is looking at higher education from a very entrepreneurial perspective, and some people just do not have a desire to go that route. For many of you, obtaining a degree and getting a job via the traditional route is exactly what you want to do. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t learn a thing or two here.

In the quote above Bartleby tries to explain to his parents why it is more beneficial to go to work than pay for school. While I am not encouraging you to go out and flip burgers for the next four years, I think that working as opposed to attending school via the traditional route may be more beneficial for many people.

Throughout my four years at school, I ran a house painting business during the summer to pay my way. I worked less than three months out of the year and made enough to support myself for the other nine. Doing this I learned the basics of sales, marketing, accounting, and management.

One of the things that seem to be true about most business college business programs, is that there is rarely any tangible hands-on experience. Everything is theoretical and straight out of a text book or case study.

I believe that having a grasp and familiarity with key concepts is important, but at the same time, what is the point if you can’t apply it? Throughout my four years at Oregon State University, I found that the majority of my business classes did not give me the practical experience that I would need after graduation.

On the other hand:

The time I spent painting houses, taught me more about business than I ever thought it would.  

If I didn’t find houses to paint, I didn’t have money to get me through school the following year. During these summers, I was forced to market myself and my business. I had to learn the basics of sales and closing the deal.

I was put in a position where I had no choice but to succeed.

Whereas in school, I could BS my way through assignments and tests with the best of them. And that is what 95% of my peers did.

Ask just about anyone to go into detail about something they learned in an upper level business class, and I bet they would have a hard time giving you an answer.

I have realized this in the past few months, as at my job I am supposed to be the “educated one” with my finance degree.

School didn’t prepare me for where I am now. Almost everything I am doing has either been learned on the spot or is a product of common sense/painting experience.

Not only did I learn the basics of sales and marketing through owning the painting business, but I learned valuable skills about how to work with clients and manage employees.

How do you teach this through a textbook?  You don’t.

There are basic problem-solving skills that need to be addressed in business, that you just don’t get through formal education.

So with that being said, what are the alternatives?

I don’t think you should abandon college altogether. I just think you should be more unconventional in your thinking.

Once you get out of high school, start a business! This doesn’t have to be elaborate.

House painting, yard work, sports lessons, there are all sorts of possibilities.

But doing something like this, and doing it well, will not only put some money in your pocket, but it will teach you valuable business/life skills that you aren’t going to get anywhere else.

What about those things you aren’t going to learn on your own?

Just because I don’t necessarily think a traditional college experience is the best way to go, doesn’t at all mean I am against college.

Say you want to learn some basic accounting…go to a community college.

In the vast majority of situations a community college is going to be just as effective as a more renowned or expensive school, and at a fraction of the price. Find a community college and single out the classes that teach you the stuff you want to know, and that you feel will be the most beneficial for what YOU want to accomplish.

Don’t be forced to spend hundreds of dollars to take a class if it isn’t something you feel will really be beneficial to you.

What is college really about, the education or the diploma?

If all you want is a diploma that will allow you to get a traditional job, then, by all means, go that route. But if it is the education you want, if you really want to learn, then all you have to do is show up.

In 80% of my college classes I could have just shown up, unregistered, completely unaffiliated in any way and no one would have known the difference.

So if you are really in it for the education, just show up. Get online and find a school nearby and look at their course schedule. If there are more than 50 people, no one will have any clue whether you belong or not.

Maybe that seems unethical, but then again so is the tuition at just about any school these days. Do this, supplement it with your own business experiences, and a few community college classes, and I guarantee you will be better off than most of your peers.

Alright, so that covers the education bit, but what about the “college experience”.

The friends, the parties, everything that makes college, college?

I couldn’t encourage it more.

Just because you aren’t doing things in the traditional way, doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy yourself.

Pick a school, any school. It just has to be in a location you are interested in. Go live there. Find roommates on craigslist or any number of other classified ads/social networking sites.

Live the college lifestyle.  Stay out till 4 on a Tuesday, do keg stands, study (work) in the library with a group of friends.

But do all this on your own terms. Do something that is truly going to benefit your dreams of entrepreneurship and a life of freedom.

There will always be people that question your decisions.  But,

If you are willing to make the effort, you will be better off than the vast majority of college students who care about nothing more than getting drunk, getting laid, and getting a $50,000 piece of paper.

So ask yourself, what are you really in it for?

What are your goals in life?

If you want to live life on your terms and experience the freedom of entrepreneurship, why go the conventional route, when you were born to be unconventional?

Have you created your own education?  Done something in a non-traditional way? Tell us about it in the comments!

Sean Ogle

Sean Ogle is the Founder of Location Rebel where he has spent the last 12+ years teaching people how to build online businesses that give them the freedom to do more of the things they like to do in life. When he's not in the coffee shops of Portland, or the beaches of Bali, he's probably sneaking into some other high-class establishment where he most certainly doesn't belong.
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9 comments on "Create Your Own College Education"

  1. Sharon says:

    Well said, but, it was college that set up your first painting opportunity…

  2. Greg Rollett says:

    Hey Sean – thanks for sharing this link. I think the themes brought out in Accepted are really true for our generation. We honestly want to learn, but we want to learn things that excite us and will put us in a position to excel.

    The biggest key to all of this is action. We need to take action with what we learn. In college, if you take action to network, build relationships and put yourself in a great position – then college is awesome. If you drink your way through then really, you get what you pay for.

    Same goes for anything you learn in life though. From conferences and seminars to biz opps, if you lack the action step then all the education in the world isn’t going to help you.

  3. Alan says:

    Sean – have you checked out MIT’s OpenCourseWare? All of their classes, course materials, syllabi, grading procedures, you name it, are online, completely free. Some courses have video lectures, others have downloadable notes. It’s wild. It’s definitely a good way for people to test out what they are interested in.

  4. Natalie says:

    My high school experience was pretty crazy (online schools, charter schools, graduated/passed the CHSPE at 15, etc) and my college experiences so far have also been non-traditional. That being said, I ended up taking community college classes to keep myself busy while I was working in the entertainment industry in Los Angeles, the next year was my “college experience” year with Greek life, football, and lots of parties, and now I’m focused on my actual schooling at a very VERY non-traditional school in Washington. I transferred and left behind my best friends in the world, but at the same time I know it’s better in the long run. This is the only year that will actually be on campus. Next year I’ll be studying abroad (Italy!) and then I’ll be in New Orleans working on an independent project. So many of my friends believed that college is just the necessary evil that they have to get through before they can go to grad school to study what they’re actually interested in. I though, why not do that right now?

    I could go on and on, but really I think my point is that there are a million different ways to end up at the same destination. Some take longer than others, and some are a lot more random and unstructured.

  5. chris says:

    This is funny – I’m planning on doing this exact same thing. Move to san diego, pretend to be a student at UCSD, start a business (and blog), surf, and travel whenever I want. UCSD has pretty big classes sizes so I think I will blend in just fine. Now that I’ve thought about it, I will probably only stay there for a year or two. Once I get my business off the ground, I will probably move to China and then to an Arabic speaking country as I want to become fluent in both languages. I know that schools like UC Berkeley have opencourseware programs which I will probably take advantage of while overseas to further my education. In addition to opencourseware, I will get a kindle so I can read most any book from wherever I am.

    I came up with this idea kind of out of necessity. I just graduated from highschool and already have two years of college under my belt, but somehow managed to get accepted to a total of zero of the schools I wanted to go to. I am actually a really good student (3.9 gpa), but one who is mostly in it for the learning. My optimal lifestyle is to be a navy seal (and then hopefully on to the cia or whatever after that). I realized that the navy will pay for me to get a degree (if I ever need one, and I might not ever need one). Then I realized that if I went to college I couldn’t do most of the things I dream about (ie moving to other countries, picking up odd jobs that I have always wanted to experience, etc). Also, college, in a way, forces you to be balanced which isn’t the best thing for beginning entrepreneurs. But anyways – enough rambling – thanks for this post, as it helped me justify what I am doing, even though I know already that I will learn way more than most of my peers by doing this.

    Thanks for the great blog – I just barely discovered it. I love your idea of starting a blog as a means of reaching your end goal or lifestyle.

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