I recently dropped out of college—even though I was an excellent student. I went to the best school in my state, University of Wisconsin, Madison, where I scored a cumulative 96 percent in all my classes and was a year ahead. Why would I leave such a “good” situation?
Tuition and Opportunity Cost
The cost of tuition in the United States has increased much faster than the rate of inflation, making attending university extremely expensive. Data from the National Center for Education Statistics and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found that “after adjusting for currency inflation, college tuition has increased 747.8% since 1963.” My tuition was roughly $10,000 per year, and most of my classes were online (my freshman year was during COVID lockdowns). I was paying $10,000 to watch recorded lectures when I could find higher-quality instruction elsewhere. For example, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.), one of the most academically rigorous universities in the world, regularly posts lectures on its YouTube channel and provides free course materials on its MIT OpenCourseWare website. In discovering these world-class educational alternatives, I started reconsidering the pros and cons of college.
In researching this question, I came across the work of Scott H. Young. He is an author, programmer, and entrepreneur known for the “MIT Challenge,” a personal learning project he created to teach himself computer science. Young compiled free M.I.T. lectures, homework assignments, and exams into a structure similar to the school’s computer science curriculum. He completed his program at an accelerated pace, finishing the rough equivalent of a four-year program in only one year, for less than $2,000. Although there were problems with his project (he didn’t have the materials to complete lab assignments), it showed me that there were better alternatives to a traditional college education.
Young’s example illustrates a cost of attending college that parents and teachers don’t discuss much: opportunity cost. Opportunity cost consists of all the alternatives you could have spent your time and resources on. For example, if you’re going to college, you can’t spend that time working, learning on your own, or doing literally anything else. That’s your opportunity cost. And given the time and money getting a degree requires, the opportunity costs are massive. When I realized this, I really began questioning the notion that I needed a degree to obtain a quality education.
When I arrived at college, I thought that my peers would be independent thinkers who would enjoy deep discussions of controversial topics, including politics, religion, and philosophy. Instead, most conformed to a left-leaning ideology and held those ideas dogmatically. Often, if I disagreed with their views, they would insult me (usually subtly, sometimes directly) and jump to conclusions about my character. For example, if I were discussing politics with people, and I argued that capitalism was better than socialism, they would typically call me a bad person who doesn’t care about the less fortunate, without giving me a chance to explain my position. To say this put me off is an understatement—I was livid. A huge reason I went to college was to be exposed to different ideas and engage in rational debate. And although I made friends with unique views who welcomed debates in pursuit of truth, those people were rare.
Difference in Social Values
Many of my peers were more interested in partying and binge drinking than in learning or building healthy relationships and habits. Although I have no problem with partying or drinking, I prefer pastimes such as hiking with friends, playing sports, and having intellectually rich conversations. Most weekends my friends would go out, get hammered, and then be unable to function productively the next day. One time, my friends went out on Halloween weekend, and I stayed home to study for an exam. The next day, I found one of my friends passed out and another monitoring his heartbeat and stressing over whether he might need medical attention. This helped me realize that my social environment, which was fairly typical of campuses across the country, was not helping me achieve my long-term goals.
After dropping out of university, I enrolled in the business boot camp Praxis, and the skills I learned and connections I gained helped me land a marketing job that I love (here at Objective Standard Institute, as a matter of fact). If you’re considering alternatives to college, I highly recommend Praxis, or similar organizations, such as mikeroweWORKS, which helps young people find careers in the skilled trades.
Although higher education didn’t make sense for me, that doesn’t necessarily mean college is a bad investment for everyone. If you want to be a doctor, lawyer, engineer, scientist, or the like, then getting a degree may be necessary. However, I encourage anyone on the fence about attending college to take that decision seriously. Carefully consider your long-term goals and your alternatives. The widespread idea that you need a degree to have a great career just isn’t true.