40 Alternatives to College

Translations of this material:

into Russian: 40 альтернатив колледжу. 8% translated in draft.
Submitted for translation by Izmailova 10.12.2013
into English: 40 Альтернатив колледжу. 21% translated in draft.
Submitted for translation by Di9 23.01.2013


40 Alternatives to College

James Altucher

James Altucher

40 Alternatives to College

Copyright © 2012 James Altucher

All rights reserved.




Why Don’t Send Your Kids To College?

So What, Then, is My Agenda in Writing This?

The TRUE COSTS of College

10 Reasons People Say Kids Should Go To College

Questions People Ask Me About The No-College Stand

10 Things I Didn’t Learn in College

If Your Kid Insists He/She Wants To Go to College

40 Alternatives to College



Other Books By James Altucher

About the Author


To everyone who has taught me ever since the day I finally escaped the educational system.

Why Don’t Send Your Kids To College?

I have two messages. One for kids and one for parents.


You’re worthless. That’s what they are telling you. If you don’t go to college you will “ruin your life”. You will “not have a job”. You will “be a [name the worst possible job you can imagine here]”. We’ll get more into it later. How you will have the most amazing life you can possibly imagine.

But let’s first look at their agendas. And when I say they, I mean: your friends, your parents, colleges, the government, future bosses. They all have agendas that have nothing to do with you being smarter, more social, or happier.

You friends want you to go to college because they are going to college, so they want to rationalize their decisions.

Your parents want you to go to college because they have their own feelings of worthlessness and are projecting that onto you. Why else would they want to force you to go hundreds of thousands of dollars into debt to somehow “have the life they never had.” And I’m not being critical of them. I love your parents. They raised you. They got you to this point. We’ll deal with them in a bit. Don’t worry about them.

Colleges of course want you go to college. College tuition has gone up 10 times since 1977. Inflation has gone up 3 times. Healthcare has gone up 5 times. We had a national debate about healthcare a year or so ago. But no national debate about tuition costs despite it being one of the most important life decisions you will ever make and you are being forced at gunpoint to make it at such a tender age.

Your future bosses. They think they are worthless also. But what gave them a tiny ounce of worth was that they have a piece of paper on their wall that says they spent four years drinking and screwing around and getting in debt and more or less surviving. So they want some justification that their decisions were correct. So who are they going to hire: the person who helps them feel good about themselves for about half a micro-second, or you – who calls into question all of their feelings about self-worth, about existence itself.

The US Government. Why would they care if you go to college? Student loan debt is now higher than a trillion for the first time. Student loan debt is now higher than credit card debt for the first time. Student loan debt is BACKED by the US Government. Who makes money when you go to college? The US Government. Get yourself into indentured servitude. They don’t care!

Wow! That’s a lot of people, institutions, and governments you have to take care of. And you’re only 18. I feel for you. Don’t worry. We’re going to make it better.


Please, for god’s sake, ask yourself these questions:

A) Do I want to go into taking on my child’s debt after he graduates college? Because you might have to.

B) Do I want to go into debt by promising my kid college when he doesn’t want to go into debt?

C) The average student takes five years to go to college. That’s a long time. We don’t know how long we will live. That’s a big chunk of our lifespan. And your kids have already spent 12 years sitting at desks, taking tests, being around kids of the same ethno-demographic. Do they really need another four years of that? Is that such a great thing?

D) I ask you: name me, really, ten things you learned in college? Now, name me 3 things you actually used after college in your jobs?

E) Finally, wouldn’t it be great if your kid can have a better education, have a better time, maybe make more money, be in less debt, make more friends, make more connections, develop more skills, become more mature, and all the time you save more money? This is not a dream question asked by a genie. This is reality. This is a real question because it can and should happen.

Let’s do a little FAQ (frequently asked questions). I got a lot of hate mail after I first started writing that our children shouldn’t go to college. You can imagine. I got death threats even. And it was quite annoying. I don’t like getting death threats. I get scared. But it shows me that what is touching on a core fabric of our society. The American religion that says “kids must get a college education”. And I got a lot of questions:

Q: James, you went to college. So how can you tell your kids not to?

A: It’s precisely because I went to college that I am most qualified. None of my jobs afterwards made use of anything I learned in college. My professors were boring and none of them were people I wanted to look up to or mentor me. And I saw exactly what was going on in college while thousands of kids parents were paying up to $40k (now $70k) a year when you include room, board, books, travel, etc.

Q: What about the statistic that was PROVEN in study after study that kids who went to college make more money 20 years later than their counterparts that did not go to college?

A: First off: the study is completely fake and anyone who took Statistics 101 in college knows that but I’ll get to that in a second.

Think about 20 years ago. College was cheaper. There weren’t as many reasons NOT to go. And there weren’t as many alternatives as they are now.

So what did smart, ambitious kids do? They went to college. What did kids who did not feel as ambitious do? They didn’t go to college.

So the study has what is called “Selection Bias”. They assumed they had one audience in their group that they were testing (people who went to college) but, in fact, they really had a completely different group (smart, ambitious kids versus not-as-ambitious kids).

A true test would be to take 2000 kids accepted by a wide variety of colleges. Then say to half the kids, “You can NEVER go to college”. And then 20 years see who made more income. My guess is the group that did not go to college.

How come?

Because they would have a five year head start. They would not be required to study a bunch of classes they didn’t want to take in the first place and would never remember, and they would have the enormous gift of not having to be perhaps hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. Or even tens of thousands of dollars in debt is still too much for a 23 year old.

I’m going to give you forty alternatives to college. They are all going to be exciting and wonderful opportunities where my criteria were:

- You learn.

- You make friends.

- You learn about life.

- You get a head start on learning what you might be passionate about.

- For the first time you experience things you never experienced before and would perhaps never get the chance to experience again.

- You spend less money than college would’ve cost you.

- You learn things that were never taught in college (and I’ll describe first what those items are since they are extremely important in being successful later on. Better to learn them early than later).

So What, Then, is My Agenda in Writing This?

People have been through a lot this past decade. The economy has fallen apart. The future has abruptly changed for both parents and young children and yet the student loan debt crisis has grown larger. My agenda is that I want people to have less stress.

I want the new generation of young people to be just as creative and innovative as prior generations. I charge the minimum price Amazon will allow me on this book (99 cents) but it’s free if you are in Amazon’s “Prime Member” program. I want people to be less stressed, I want

society to be better, and I want to be happy seeing all the inventions of the next generation in line for the success this country has always promised.

The TRUE COSTS of College

First, let’s look at something that every kid learns in Economics 101. Opportunity Cost: If you spent 5 years spending on average 50k a year then your true cost is not $50k. It’s $50k + what you would have made if you did not go to college. Let’s say you could’ve made $20k. Then your true cost of college is $70k a year. But let’s dive into this a bit further.

The average tuition cost is approximately $16,000 per year. Plus assume another $10,000 in living costs, books, etc. $26,000 in total for a complete cost of $130,000 in a 5 year period (remember, across the country the average amount of years spent in college is five years). In fact, according to the Department of Education, over 54% of students graduate in six years or more. But we will assume the average.

Some people choose to go more expensive by going to a private college and some people choose to go a little cheaper by going public but this is an average. Funny enough, Georgetown University mentioned me specifically and criticized my numbers. They neglected to mention they cost $70,000 per year. But I don’t hold grudges.

Over the course of a lifetime, according to CollegeBoard, a college graduate can be expected to earn $800,000 more than his counterpart that didn’t go to college. $800,000 is a big spread and it could potentially separate the haves from the have-nots. But who has and who doesn’t?

If I took that $130,000 and I chose to invest it in a savings account that had interest income of 5% per year I’d end up with an extra $1.4 million dollars over a 50 year period. A full $600,000 more. That $600,000 is a lot of extra money an 18 year old could look forward to in her retirement. I also think the $800,000 quoted above is too high. Right now most motivated kids who have the interest and resources to go to college think it’s the only way to go if they want a good job. If those same kids decided to not go to college my guess is they would quickly close the gap on that $800,000 spread.

The reason I can make this calculation is because if you don’t go to college you can start saving immediately. When will the college graduates start to save? When they are 30? 40? 50? When will they have their student loans paid off given that student loans are at the highest level ever? We have no idea. We have never experienced this before.

Many people wrote me and said, “I paid back my student loans right away.” Fine, you went to school 50 years ago! We have NEVER EXPERIENCED the situation we are in right now.

Student loans are a national crisis. A national shame.

Let’s examine some of the reasons why people say kids should go to college and we will unveil the fallacies.

10 Reasons People Say Kids Should Go To College

1. People say: Kids learn to be socialized at college. Are you kidding me? I’m going to spend $100-200k a year so my kids can learn how to make friends with other people their age? Let me tell you about how your kids will be socialized in college and you know this to be true:

—-Your kid should put a dime in a glass jar every time he or she has sex in his first year of college. After the first year of college, he or she should take a dime out every time they have sex. They will never empty that jar. I might be exaggerating but I’m not far off. So assume that’s step #1 on the socialization of our children in college.

—–Do the same exercise above with the dimes but replace “sex” with “vomit”. That’s part #2 with the socialization.

—–You can also do the above exercise with the dimes (give your kid lots of dimes before they say, “ok, Dad, see you LATER!” when you drop them off in the parking lot of college.) but instead of “sex” or “vomit” say “classes I will skip because of either sex or vomiting.”

2. People say: Kids learn how to think in college. This argument was said to me by Kathryn Schulz, author of “Being Wrong”, a good friend and author of an excellent book. But she knows more than anyone that no matter how much you think you “think”, you’re also going to be wrong most of the time. And by the way, does it really cost several hundred thousand dollars to learn how to think? Does “think” have a price tag on it.

I would argue that college is a way to avoid learning how to think. If I want to learn how to play tennis, the best thing to do is go out on a tennis court and play tennis. If I want to learn how to drive a car, I better get behind a wheel and drive. If I want to learn how to live and how to think, then the best thing to do is begin living my life and thinking my thoughts instead of still having my parents pay for my life and my professors giving me my thoughts. See below to see how I learned how to “think”.

3. Statistics say: College graduates make much more money than non-college graduates. See my analysis above.

4. One person said: Not everything boils down to money. Specifically, one brilliant commenter on one of my posts said, “I’d say the overwhelming majority of people don’t go to college as a financial investment. They do it because they want to explore career options in an easy environment. They do it because there’s a particular career they want to be (unfortunately weekend hackers don’t often become doctors). They do it because they want to drink and party on the weekends. They do it because the point of life is not making money.”

I’m going to be angry for the first time in this book. What a stupid statement that is. If it’s not a financial investment then why has the cost of college gone up 1000% in the same amount of time it has taken healthcare to go up 700% and inflation to go up 300%? It’s a financial investment because college presidents have scammed most kids into thinking they can’t get jobs without college. So they jack up the prices knowing kids will be forced to pay otherwise suffer the perceived opportunity cost of not going to college.

Also, the commenter above says “the point of life is not making money”. I’d like to thank him for saying that. Otherwise I would’ve gone through life thinking the entire point of life was making money. I’m assuming what he really means by that statement is that it’s great for kids to read books about philosophy, literature, art, history, etc. in an environment that encourages discussion among peers and experts. This is what college is truly great for.

But if people, young or old, are interested in reading something – they will read it. Else, they won’t.

5. My Experience: I think of myself as an educated person so let me tell you my own experience:

College itself was spent:

Meeting and fooling around with girls for the first time in my life. I’m glad the banks loaned me enough money to do this. And fortunately, extreme failure, lots of apologies, and embarrassment in this arena didn’t affect me at all later in life.

Learning about alcohol and the occasional recreational drug for the first time in my life.

I took an enormous amount of classes in Computer Science. None of which helped me in my first actual non-academic job. In fact, I was so bad at computers after going to both undergrad Cornell in Computer Science and graduate school at Carnegie Mellon in Computer Science that my first non-academic job (HBO) had to send me to two months of training courses at AT&T so I could learn a thing or two about how computers were used in the real world. My first task at HBO was to get some computer they gave me “onto the Internet”. I ended up crashing the computer so bad they had to throw it out and I also wiped out everyone’s email on that computer. I thought they were going to fire me but they just banished me for two months instead. The only way to get fired at HBO, I was told, was to stand on your boss’s desk and pee on it.

I borrowed every penny of my college education. I took courses every summer (they were cheaper and quicker then) and I took six courses a semester. I still graduated without about 30-40k in loans. It took me ten years (and selling a business) but I paid back every penny of my loans.

On top of my courses, I worked about 40 hours a week at jobs so I could afford my expenses. My parents did not pay one dime of my expenses except for maybe my first semester of college. And for graduate school I got a full scholarship and stipend.

The way I got educated in reading, philosophy, history, art, etc. was fully on my own time. After leaving graduate school I took relatively easy jobs as a programmer on campus. I spent hours every day reading books, and then at least another hour or two a day going to the campus library and reading criticism on the books I had just finished.

Why so late? Why did I wait until then? Who knows the mysteries of the human heart? It wasn’t until I was 25 that I really fell in love with reading. And then I read everything I could.

And this reading was the entirety of my liberal arts education. And it was all for free and has served me well since then. And I was actually paid while I was doing it. I would say I’ve made more money from this free education I put myself through than anything I learned in school.

If you can’t read a book without being on a college campus and paying $100-200k a year for the honor of being there then you probably shouldn’t be reading books anyway. Or at least wait until you learn the value of a dollar before making that extreme expense.

6. Parents are scammed. If you are a parent and wish to send your kids to a college then, just to summarize, here is what you are paying for:

Your kids are going to have sex 1- 5 times a day with people you probably wouldn’t approve of.

Your kids are going to drink, smoke pot, probably try LSD and other drugs before you even get back home after dropping them at the dorm.

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