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Is college worth it anymore? What would a cartoonist say?

By August 30, 2011wisdom

Why go to college?

The most successful people in life are the ones who persistently create very specific goals, and then keep refining attempts to achieve those goals.

If you want to write for a living the best thing you can do is to practice writing, and create goals for getting your work published.

Wanna be a photographer?
Same process, except you’ll be crafting pictures instead of words. But the process of achieving success is the same. Chase Jarvis is very successful photographer and, in this interview with author Tim Ferris, he reveals that he didn’t study photography in any formal sense. He just learned it on his own.

If you’re motivated to do something, and you’re not afraid to actually do that thing until you get really good at it, you can succeed. The most critical investment you can make to achieve success is lots of time doing the thing you want to get good at. Malcom Gladwell says in his book, Outliers, that the the magic number is 10,000 hours.

If time-investment in doing the thing you want to be successful at is the key component, then why go to college? You’ll spend a lot of valuable time there, and a ghastly amount of money. Steve Jobs wasn’t willing to make that investment, and he’s not alone in the pantheon of highly successful folks who didn’t attend college.

One of my new favorite bloggers, Penelope Trunk, puts it bluntly : “the degrees cost you too much money, require too long of a commitment, and do not teach you the real-life skills they promise.” James Altucher, a financial guy, agrees and analyzes the question from a business perspective . On his blog he offers 8 alternatives to college .

Both Trunk and Altucher have written about how hysterical people get when they point out college is not indispensable. We’re used to religious zealots who blindly follow the proscriptions of others, but now we see the same phenomenon arise in discussions about education. Even when Trunk, for example, makes it clear that she’s talking about non-science studies like business.

Charlie Munger is a businessman (partner of the richest man in the world). He’ll tell you there are very important things he didn’t learn in the academic world:

“the most useful and practical part of psychology—which I personally think can be taught to any intelligent person in a week—is ungodly important. And nobody taught it to me by the way. I had to learn it later in life, one piece at a time. And it was fairly laborious. It’s so elementary though that, when it was all over, I felt like a fool.

And yeah, I’d been educated at Cal Tech and the Harvard Law School and so forth. So very eminent places miseducated people like you and me.”

How controversial can it be to question the idea that, if you want to learn business, then the best way is to actually work in a business, or –better yet– start one yourself? Apparently, asking that question is a lightening rod.

Teachers and educators tend to have the most shrill objections to people who question the sanctimony of college. Say, didn’t we give teachers tenure so that they’d be free to purpose novel ideas that are controversial, but which deserve to at least be considered?

Is tenure really stimulating lots of useful new ideas that are helpful in society? Or is it stifling such ideas?

It’s strange and ironic that so many smart people are unable to even consider the merits of this idea. But, as we’ve learned, that’s how it is in a bubble. Remember that other bubble? The one based on the sacrosanct notion that housing prices would never go down.

Maybe we should stop listening to ‘educators’ and pay attention to what a cartoonist has to say.

P.S. If you're a practicing lawyer, check out this Law Practice Assessment . After answering a few questions, you'll get detailed recommendations for improving five key areas of your practice.
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