12 Ways to Educate Yourself Without College

Here’s my latest Huffington Post piece. And for those who missed them, check out my 30-minute piece on a Los Angeles NPR station and a book review from Wired.com’s GeekMom.

It’s popular to criticize college today. No matter which way you look, somebody is writing about a student loan horror storydeclining academic standardsdisruptive technological change, or the narrow work options available to graduates.

Criticizing is easy, of course. Offering solutions is hard.

The reality is that college fills many valuable roles today. It offers young adults the chance to build hard skills (e.g. writing) and soft skills (e.g. teamwork), be part of an exciting community, live independently, get exposed to new ideas, and signal employers with an (increasingly devalued, but still valuable) college degree. College is pretty much the only place that bundles all these good things into one convenient package deal. That’s why, despite the voluminous criticism, college as we know it won’t disappear anytime soon.

But in an era of skyrocketing tuition fees combined with widespread economic austerity, millions of students will find themselves unable or unwilling to finance the college package deal. Yet they’ll still want, and need, to gain a higher education.

Luckily, higher education doesn’t have to be delivered by a college institution. You can gain skills, community, independence, exposure, and work opportunities by piecing together a self-directed, a la cartecurriculum of real-world projects. It’s a like a design-your-own-college-major program — but without college or its inflated costs.

Self-directed learning is one solution to the college debate, and certainly not the only one. But unlike other solutions, you can begin self-directed learning immediately, without spending a ton of money or waiting for policy makers or university administrators to change their ways. And perhaps most importantly, self-directed learning builds serious personal entrepreneurship: an incredibly valuable “soft skill” in an era of rapid economic change.

Here are 12 ways to begin pursuing your own self-directed higher education, right now, without college:

These are just a few ways to start giving yourself a well-rounded higher education without college. Do you have other suggestions? Please share them in the comments below.