With graduation season barely in our rearview mirror, my inbox has been blowing up with some of the younger audience members asking me whether or not they should go to college or pursue grad school.
Although college and grad school can be incredibly rewarding experiences, they aren’t for everyone.
Despite what main stream society tells you, you don’t have to go to college and getting your MBA isn’t a requirement to running a successful business and creating financial freedom. In fact, in many cases, attending college is not the best choice from a standpoint of finances, time and experience.
I never got my MBA and (foolishly) believed that I couldn’t be financially successful without a “Masters” degree.
But today, my business generates more profit in a single month than most of my college buddies make in an entire year.
I don’t say this to brag, but rather to point out that higher education isn’t the only path to success.
If you work really hard and learn from those who have the results you want, you can become successful without a higher education (of any sort).
However, to do so, you must be willing to walk an unconventional path, work very hard and take a number of risks that are often discouraged by family and society – especially in the beginning.
Over the course of this article, I’m going to share the 7 best college alternatives that can shortcut your education, save you thousands, and help you command a high income and success before your friends even graduate.
But before I do, let’s take a look at some of the statistics about modern education to reveal why college might not be the best choice for you (or your kids).
Startling Statistics and the Reality of Modern
In 2018, the average cost of public in-state tuition reached more than $25,290 a year or $101,160 for a full four years.
But you must consider that only 54% of undergrads graduate within 6 years so that number can quickly rise to more than $150,000.
With the student debt crisis reaching an all-time high of more than $1.48 trillion, $600 billion more than the total American credit card debt and an average loan repayment of $351/month, it’s pretty clear that we have a problem.
However, college is intended to be an investment, right?
Well, sort of.
But when you look at the data, only 27% of college grads have a job related to their major and more than 85% of college grads will move back home jobless after graduation… You’ll begin to wonder exactly what you’re investing in.
In its current state, higher education does little to prepare students for the real world and causes them to start off their adult lives shackled to a job they don’t like out of scarcity with more than 6-figures in debt.
Not exactly the “One Way Ticket to Success” you were lead to believe is it?
So does this mean that no one should go to college or that a college education is completely worthless?
No I am not saying that at all.
Although the prognosis for higher education is looking pretty grim, there are a few caveats to the “No College” rule.
For starters, a degree is a basic requirement for anyone who wants to pursue a career related to STEM (science, technology, engineering & mathematics), medicine, or law. So if you have your heart set on one of these fields, and you clearly want to pursue those paths then, by all means, pursue your degree.
However, if your only reason for going to college is because you’ve heard that graduates earn more than their “Uneducated” peers, then I have a harsh wake-up call that you need to hear.
It’s true that, according to CollegeBoard, graduates will earn nearly $1,000,000 more than their peers over the lifetime of their career. In fact, on average, college graduates earn about 56% more than their peers with only a high school diploma.
But this statistic is more deceptive than you may realize when you look closer.
“College graduates on average will earn 56% more than their uneducated peers”.
Average… The very word makes me cringe.
Yes, unmotivated college graduates will on average earn more than unmotivated high school graduates.
But why on earth would you ever want to be average?
I’ve interviewed dozens of highly successful entrepreneurs earning 7, 8, and even 9-figures who NEVER went to college (and some who didn’t even finish high school).
So sure, if you want to settle for an average life then close this article and keep listening to mainstream society.
But if you want to be exceptional?
Then follow the path I’m about to lay out before you.
The 7 Alternatives to College that Will Set You Up for a Lifetime of Success and Fulfillment
1. Go on an Adventure and Travel Abroad for 6-12 Months and Experience the World
One of the biggest regrets that I hear from my older clients is that they wished they’d traveled more and experienced more of the world when they were young and unencumbered by a spouse, children, or household debt.
If you’ve recently graduated high school or college, there’s no better time than now to set out onto the wide open road and explore the world.
So often, I hear young people lamenting that they don’t know what to do with their lives and have no idea what they’re passionate about.
My response is always the same…
“How could you know?”
At 18-24 years old, you haven’t experienced life. You have no idea what the real world is really like and have very little hands-on experience to help guide your decision making.
If you want to “discover yourself” and “find your passion”, then get off your butt, off your computer, out of the classroom, and into the real world. Chances are your entire world view is shaped within a 25 mile radius of your home which is very limiting to your growth.
Buy a one-way plane ticket to a foreign country that you’ve always had an eye for and where you don’t speak the language and just GO.
Experience new cultures, meet new (and bizarre) people, test out different ways of life, learn about how this world really works.
There’s no better time to travel the world and pursue your dreams of freedom and adventure than right now.
The best part? You don’t even need that much money to do it!
With less than $2,000 you can travel all over South America, Asia, or Eastern Europe for an entire year.
In the end we only regret the chances we didn’t take. ~Lewis Carrol
Go work on a vineyard in Italy, help with a conservation program in Patagonia, volunteer at a school in Africa, get out of your comfort zone and experience the real world.
In fact, I’d recommend that you take a year off of your studies and travel the world even if you plan on returning to college.
Studies have found that students who take a break between high school and college to travel and volunteer report feeling more ready for college, more focused on their studies, and more prepared for the serious rigors of academia.
Heck, even the Harvard Admissions Office has begun encouraging potential candidates to take a structured year off before returning to their studies.
The benefits outweigh the costs and, whether you return to college or not, this year (or more) abroad will be one of the defining moments of your life and a true rite of passage that will better prepare you for the real world.
2. Get a Real World Education From People Who Have the End Results that You Desire
Not too long ago, I was speaking at a business and success conference in Boston. While I was there, I decided to swing by the infamous Harvard Business School to see what it was like.
I saw a table of grad students who appeared to be in the MBA program and decided to walk over and talk to them. Their demeanor screamed “Ivy League” and I couldn’t help but chuckle at their unnecessarily expensive clothing and messenger bags.
Yet after 30 minutes of conversation to my surprise not a single one of them had ever created a marketing campaign, made a sale, delivered a product to a customer, or lead a team of employees that they hired and personally trained to success.
They were mired in multiple six figures of student loan debt, spending more than $100,000 a year for a piece of paper and, all the while, I was standing there in jeans and a t-shirt with a few coffee stains generating more than $100,000 of revenue each month.
Talk about ironic…
The truth of the matter is that, while a college education can help you make a living, self-education can make you a fortune.
Funny enough, back when I was in college I took classes in entrepreneurship while I was at San Diego State.
And not a single one of my professors had ever started or scaled a real business.
Meanwhile, for about $20, you can buy the book Ready, Fire, Aim by Michael Masterson, an entrepreneur who has built and sold multiple businesses over the course of his life and earned well over 9-figures in profit.
You don’t need to attend college to get a world-class education.
If you have a little bit of money set aside or can work a part-time job to cover the bills, you can spend an entire year consuming life-changing content from people who have actually been in the trenches and created the success you desire.
Self education is, I firmly believe, the only kind of education there is. The only function of a school is to make self education easier; failing that, it does nothing. ~Isaac Asimov
Watch YouTube videos from industry leaders, buy online courses from experts who have the results you want or use Udemy to buy cheap online courses and learn new skills. Attend seminars by leading influencers, listen to podcasts, read the best business books of all time, or books within your niche and hire a coach to help you accelerate your success in your chosen field.
By the time the year ends, you can use the information and skills that you’ve learned to be on your way to earning a good income instead of spending six figures on classes about geography, art appreciation, and gender studies that you are forced to take.
Nothing beats self-education and the entrepreneurs and employees who succeed at the highest level all value their continual self-education far more than their formal degree.
“I never let schooling interfere with my education”. – Mark Twain
With less than $3,000 you can get the equivalent of a college degree in a year’s time o more learning from the best of the best and completely focused on the most important topics and areas of study that get you results.
3. Apprentice Under a Successful Entrepreneur and Get Your Real World Business Degree
If you know (or even know of) a highly successful individual doing what you want to do, then send them a message right now and offer to work for them for free for the next 6 months.
Share with them everything you’re learning from the free content you’re consuming on YouTube and podcasts, to the books you’re reading, the online courses you’re taking and the seminars you attended all on your own.
Find someone who has been in the trenches for decades and achieved success at a high level and they will recognize your hustle and desire to learn. In many ways, you will remind them of their younger ambitious self.
You will learn 10X more from them than you would from any “Textbook Warrior” professor who has little real experience in the field that they are teaching.
School is the advertising agency which makes you believe that you need the society as it is.” ~Ivan Illich
By apprenticing under a successful individual, not only will you learn the ins and outs of their chosen field, but you will also pick up on the habits and mindsets that helped them achieve success and you’ll begin to assume those same habits and mindsets.
Put your head down, work your butt off and help get them get results in whatever they need help with.
If you are willing to put in the effort, continue to learn then they will start to view you as an invaluable asset to their company and, in the same time it took you to get a college degree, you could be closing down deals with them, landing a business partnership, or becoming a high-level employee within their organization.
Whatever they offer you out of the gate, take it… But don’t settle.
If your mentor wants you to bring him coffee and run errands, then do it. And do the best job possible until he has no choice but to offer you a real position and a seat at the table.
Show him that you can get results and most importantly that he can trust you.
Act like a partner by hunting down potential deals, researching new ways they could improve their business, and connecting them with other power players in their field.
Own any and every position that you are given without complaining and, with enough time, you will become indispensable to their organization that you may find yourself securing a 6-figure position doing work in the field you enjoy underneath a true power player in your industry.
4. Become an A+ Player in Your Chosen Field and Deliver Incredible Results
Once you’ve landed a position doing the work that you enjoy, whether it’s marketing, copywriting, photography, sales, or content creation, it’s time to level up your game and become so good that they can’t ignore you.
Devote every spare second that you have to expand and master your craft.
Continue educating yourself, take on extra responsibilities, moonlight with other clients to increase your network and expertise.
Do anything and everything that you can to become the best at what you do.
Your motto must become: Always be learning. Always be showing up. Always be delivering results.
There’s only one thing that will make them stop hating you. And that’s being so good at what you do that they can’t ignore you. ~Orson Scott Card
Think about it…
If you go to college, you’ll spend roughly 10-12 hours a day commuting to and from classes, sitting in lectures, and doing homework.
By investing those 10-12 hours into a craft that you enjoy (that also happens to make you money) you will accumulate more than 14,000 hours of real experience over a 4 year period (assuming you take 1-month of vacation time per year) and be well on your way to joining the top 3% in the world at what you do.
In the same amount of time that it takes you to earn a college degree, you can become so effective at your chosen field that you can command 6-figures a year from your employer.
I don’t know about you, but that sounds a whole lot better than graduating with a piece of paper that you’ll put on a wall and 6-figures of debt and now having to hunt for a job out of desperation to pay bills.
5. Build an A-Player Community of High Performers Who Challenge You to Become the Strongest Version of Yourself
You are the average of the five people you spend time with most. ~Jim Rohn
Networking is like putting nitrous oxide into your engine and pressing the pedal to the floor.
It gets you where you want to go faster and in less time.
Former podcast guest Steve Sims (a dropout himself) now rubs shoulders with people like Elon Musk and Richard Branson and earns 7 figures a year helping wealthy people achieve their impossible dreams.
Sure, he worked hard, mastered his craft, and became exceptional at what he does, but he wouldn’t have even half of the success that he enjoys today if he hadn’t invested in and mastered the art of networking.
Simply put, you can’t do the journey alone.
To achieve exceptional results, you need to surround yourself with exceptional people who are on a similar path as you.
You need people in your corner who make you uncomfortable and won’t settle for your BS excuses as to why you can’t do the things you want to do.
Over the past 2 years, I’ve doubled down on my networking meeting and connecting with individuals like Jesse Itzler, Tai Lopez, Matthew McConaughey, and Naveen Jain.
And as a result, I was able to more than double my company’s revenue while working less simply by thinking like they think and acting like they act.
The lessons that I learned from my network and the opportunities that opened up to me allowed me to achieve things that I never thought to be possible in my life.
While college might not provide you with the education you need to succeed, it does offer many unique chances to network and engage in clubs and social groups that will connect you with powerful people.
So if you do decide to skip college, then you must make an extra effort to build your network. Attend local meetups, join online masterminds, buy VIP tickets to high-level seminars and events, sign up for Toastmasters, pay for the club if you have to. In fact, I preferred paid organizations since it acts as a filter.
Because the more time you spend around A+ players, the more likely you are to become one yourself.
As the old saying goes:
Your network determines your net worth.
Don’t neglect this important aspect of your growth and maturation into the strongest version of yourself.
It could mean the difference between spinning your wheels for years and launching the business or career of your dreams.
It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it.
6. Save as Much Money as Possible and Forgo Spending it on Non-Appreciating Assets
As you go down the unconventional route, it’s inevitable that you will start to make some extra cash and for many it will be the first time.
If you’ve found a mentor and have become indispensable to their organization, it’s likely that you will be compensated handsomely for the results you deliver.
And when this happens (as it likely will), take a deep breath and SLOW DOWN.
While all of your peers are going into debt and blowing their paychecks on new cars, toys, unnecessary remodels and homes they can’t afford, you need to be smart with your finances.
Instead of spending money on things that don’t matter in the long run, be smart. Save as much as humanly possible and invest everything back into yourself.
Those who don’t manage their money will always work for someone who does. ~Dave Ramsey
Buy high end training courses. Invest in the best sales coach (or specialty coach for your field) that you can afford. Spend money on an organic diet and high-performance supplements that will help increase your energy so you can earn more money and stay on the cutting edge in your field.
Your early 20’s are the time to learn, invest in you, and prepare for the future.
Don’t worry, you can cash in during your late 20’s and early 30’s. But when you do, you’ll be able to enjoy far more exciting and enriching experiences because you were disciplined with your finances while you were young.
The best investment is in yourself. ~Warren Buffett
I’m not saying you can’t reward yourself and buy nice things from time to time, I’m saying that you should not WASTE money and assume that you will always have this level of income. The business could flop, the market could crash or you could be replaced. Before spending extravagantly ensure that you are in a place where if you lost your job you could easily replace it because you are “so good they can’t ignore you”.
Stay out of debt. Don’t spend money on stupid things. Save as much as you can. Invest in yourself. And the world will be yours for the taking.
7. The Two Paths Before You
If you take action on all of the above points, you will enter into your mid to late 20’s with a year of amazing experiences from travel, a world-class education in your chosen field, and an indispensable “Linchpin” position working with your mentor.
And now you will have one of two options.
- You can pivot and use your skills to start your own business
- You can continue to learn and grow within your current organization and become so valuable to them that you’re able to command an incredibly higher salary and work arrangement that fits your desired lifestyle.
Despite what most people on the internet have told you, being an entrepreneur is NOT the only or even best path to success.
As an entrepreneur, I can tell you from first-hand experience that running a business is one of the most challenging and stressful endeavors anyone can undertake. You will risk your health, sanity, and personal relationships to make things work and, at the end of the day, you still might fail. Read that sentence again please…
There’s no shame in working a conventional job if you enjoy what you do and have the freedom to negotiate terms that are in your favor (e.g. high salary, location independence, great benefits, etc.).
For instance, Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple started out as an employee at IBM then Compaq then Apple and worked underneath the iconic Steve Jobs and is now worth more than $700 million. He’s become so good at what he does that, even if Apple let him go, he’d likely have a 8-figure job offer within a week.
Also, Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, started as an employee at the U.S Treasury Department, then Google and today she is a BILLIONAIRE!
Running your own business is undoubtedly a challenging and rewarding experience and, if you’re set on it, then pursue it with all of your heart.
But if you feel like you might not be cut out for entrepreneurship, then take a good JOB doing something you enjoy and become so good at it that you can earn more than 90% of the small business owners out there.
Consider this: a typical profit margin for a small business is 15% so for a business owner to make $150k that business would on average need to do a million in sales. And that doesn’t include taxes! So that $150k in profit can easily turn into $80k after uncle Sam gets their cut. That’s basically a decent paying salary with a regular job except you have all the risk!
When you are an employee, all you have to worry about is showing up and excelling at what you do without any risk. You get to leave the painful taxes, paying rent, legal fees, and the day to day business management to the company while you walk away every month with cold hard cash and your sanity!
Redefining Mastery, Overcoming Fear, and Where to Go From Here
Most people who attend college without an actionable plan (such as becoming a lawyer, getting a Ph.D. in molecular biology, or practicing medicine) do so out of fear.
They go to school because they’re hiding from the real world. Modern education is all that they know. It’s easy to show up to class 15 minutes late, take a few notes, and pass their classes while partying on the weekends.
You are told exactly what to do, how to do it, and when to do it.
But this doesn’t exactly lead to success in the real world.
Success is paid for in the trenches. It’s earned through blood, sweat, tears, and failure in the real world. It’s earned by trying new things, falling on your face, getting up, and doing it all over again.
You won’t learn how to create success and build wealth in a classroom. Only real life experience can teach you that.
If this is you, it’s time to wake up.
Get out of your comfort zone and out of the safety of modern education and get into the real world.
Most of us feel the fear and react to it. We stop doing what makes us afraid and the fear goes away. The linchpin feels the fear, acknowledges it, and then proceeds. ~Seth Godin
Try, fail, learn and repeat it all over again until you achieve the goals you’ve set for yourself.
True mastery of a subject doesn’t come from studying a textbook or listening to a professor (who’s likely never practiced what he’s teaching) lecture you for 8 hours a week.
True mastery comes from finding those who have the results you want, learning from them, taking action for yourself, failing hard, learning painful lessons then getting back up the next day to do it all over again.
It’s the result of experience, failure, perseverance that eventually leads to triumph.
Commit to mastery not just education.
Whether you go to college or not, realize that your higher education will not guarantee success and it will barely shine a candle to the value that you will derive from playing the game of life in the real world.
At this point, you have a choice.
If you aren’t going to college for a specific type of training (STEM fields), you can still choose to play it safe and do what everyone else is doing.
There’s nothing stopping you from following the socially accepted norm of signing the student loan agreement, going into debt, and hiding in your comfort zone for the next 4-8 years.
However, I strongly urge you to reconsider.
Life is truly lived and experienced on the edge of your comfort zone.
Real battles are won and lost in the trenches, not in the safety of a structured lecture hall with bathroom breaks.
So instead of following the masses, I strongly encourage you to chart your own path. Pave your own road to success. Create the life that you you want and leave mediocrity to the rest of the world.
Whether you go to college or not, you have a choice to make.
A choice to take average actions and get average results or to take uncommon actions that will lead to an uncommon life of success, fulfillment, and freedom reserved for the courageous few.
I hope for your sake that you pick option number 2. Either way, play hard, get your hands dirty and do it all with pleasure.
Until next time.
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