Monday, July 6, 2015

So You Want to Leave College. Now What?

I want to leave college--or just not go to begin with--but how do I start? Is a question I get fairly frequently.

As a lifelong unschooler, my transition into life learning in the college years felt like a natural progression, which has definitely coloured my view of college free learning, and how I’ve approached it. In light of that, I wanted to share the things that have been most helpful in my own journey thus far, just tailored towards those who haven’t come from the same background I have.

So, you want to leave college. Where do you start?

Find Uncollege Inspiration
Read books and blogs about learning without school. Watch TED talks on the subject. Google away, learn about the experiences of other college free learners, what they found worked and what they found didn’t, and from all that you’re taking in, focus on what sounds best for you. My choices might not be your choices, and you should never feel the need to follow advice that sounds like it doesn’t meet your needs or reflect your situation. Get inspired, and go with what sounds like a great college-free experience for you.

Figure Out the Practicalities
If you’re not going to college, what will your life basically look like instead? Will you live with your parents, rent an apartment, travel the world? Do you need to work, and if so, how will that tie-in with or be balanced with your uncollege pursuits? What resources (universities, community groups, maker spaces, libraries, art studios, etc.) are available in your community (or in the community you plan to relocate to)? Know the confines you’re going to be working within, so you can figure out how you want to proceed with your life learning over the next little while.

Find YOUR Inspiration
So you’re not going to college. What do you want to do instead? You can focus as broadly or narrowly as you want, on as academic or as hands-on pursuits as can be imagined. This can be overwhelming, which is why I think a great place to start is just free form research into whatever you’re interested in--or think you might be interested in. Read books on paleontology or writing, watch videos about dog training or coding. Reading blogs by people doing something you might want to do can be one of the best ways to see if you want to pursue something similar, in my experience. You don’t have to immediately find your “passion,” you don’t ever have to settle on just one thing. Just come up with a few ideas that you like, then see what books are at your local library, what activities you can get involved with in your local community, or who you might want to approach for mentorship.

Build a Support Network
If you’re going to skip college, you’re going to need some support. How much or how little will depend on your personal needs, but whether it’s supportive parents or friends, online communities, mentors in a chosen field, or a great local group who share a common interest, finding people who want to cheer you on and help you out is invaluable. Otherwise it’s just too easy to get bogged down in disapproval from less positive corners who think you should really just get a degree instead.

Check Out Your Local College or University
Even if you’ve decided you don’t want to enroll in college or university, they can provide really great communities, and often have a lot of associated groups, clubs, and events open to the general community. Through two big universities in my city, I’ve gone to numerous education workshops, as well as canning workshops, dance classes, artisan fairs, and more. Colleges can provide a really accessible network of young people, and lots of readily available ways to learn about important and relevant goings on in your area. So if you’re lucky enough to live near one, see what it has to offer!

Push Yourself Outside Your Comfort Zone
We all have different things that will feel scarier or more intimidating, even if we want to do them. Maybe now is a good time to explore those things, and start taking steps--small ones, if you need to--outside of your current comfort zone. Personally, I can end up becoming way too much of a shut-in, focusing on writing, baking, and following my daily routines, and I need to make sure I go out and do cool things, take classes that scare me a little, try something new, take time to travel (a good growth experience if ever there was one), and keep my life more varied and rich than it would otherwise be. Working to expand our comfort zones is always a good idea!

Make Something
In lieu of grades (a measure of accomplishment that I think has major problems), creating things can be a really great way of seeing your own progress, keeping records of what you’re spending your time doing, and making something that other people can benefit from. And when I say “something,” I mean almost anything: a blog, book, or ebook; YouTube videos; a short documentary; songs; a website or basic videogame; a photography portfolio; a bookshelf or chicken coop or garden… Find something you want to try doing, do it, make some record of yourself doing it, and think about sharing either your process and experience or the finished project (depending on what it is) with others. Wash, rinse, repeat. Don’t treat your education as a performance for others, and don’t choose your activities based on how good they’d look online. But sharing what you do can be an incredibly rewarding and useful way of improving your work and providing something valuable for other people.

Keep a Personal Inspiration/Motivation/Self-Care Journal
I first got this idea from a fellow college-free learner, who simply kept a Google document filled with quotes, passages, and thoughts that kept them feeling inspired about their learning lifestyle. I have a “self care” tag on my Tumblr blog to help me stay positive when I start to panic, and I keep a paper inspiration/self care journal which, though I don’t write in it as often as I’d like, nevertheless makes me happy. It can be hard doing something unconventional, and outside disapproval can really weigh you down, so creating something to remind you of your worth and the worth of your choices is a great thing to have when you start to wonder if you’re really doing the right thing.

Remember You Can Always Change Your Mind
Choosing not to go to college can feel like a Really Big Thing, both to you and the people around you. But all it is is a decision to not go to college right now. If at any point you decide that maybe you do want to go--or go back--to college, you can, whether it’s a year from now, or 5 years, or 20. I feel that one of the biggest perspective shifts in embracing life learning is realizing that there are no timelines of when you “should” be learning or doing certain things. The only timeline is your own, based on what’s right for you at any given time. So try not to panic: just take things one step at a time, don’t decide things aren’t working just because life learning doesn’t look exactly the way you thought it would, but also don’t feel locked into your choices, and know that you can always shake things up and change your mind about the whole college thing.

Ultimately, I can’t really tell anyone else how to unschool the college years any more than I can tell anyone else what to do with their lives: the two are the same. All you’re doing is trying to live life richly and well, follow your curiosity and devote yourself to exciting projects.

Unschooling college is saying what do I want to be doing right now, and what are the skills and resources I need to do it? And repeating that process a dozen, a hundred times, whenever you find something new to explore.

It can be overwhelming, and scary, and hard. It can be easy to compare yourself to others, both in and out of college or university, and worry that you’re lacking. But if you keep the focus away from comparison, and away from trying to live up to outside standards of what you should be doing, you can make the space in your life to create an education--and a life--that you’re proud of.

Want more inspiration, or to find out more about my own college-free experiences? See Unschooling for Adults; I Don't Want to Build My Own Curriculum, I Just Want to Live My Own Life; and Valuing a Different Kind of Education.


  1. This entry couldn't have come at a better time. I live in Spain, and a few weeks ago I got a call from my school telling me I could register for my college entrance exams during the first 10 days of July. Naturally, my parents want me to go through with them and go to college.

    But the thing is, I've never wanted to go to college, and after reading about unschooling for the past few months that desire has only grown stronger. My problem is I have no idea how to tell my parents. Both of them absolutely want me to go, especially my dad, who is convinced that without a college degree life will be hard for me, especially since I will be discriminated for having dark skin (so he thinks, anyway).

    I've never liked school and having gone there because it is what was expected of me. Now that it's finally over for me, I do not want to be pushed into something I do not want to do by ANYONE. Not by my parents, not by my school, not by society, not by anyone. I don't know if life will be as hard for me as my dad says, but after having read your blog and talked to a few other unschoolers, I realize that it doesn't have to end that way. Whatever happens to me in my future, I want to be able to say "I chose this". Now I just need to figure out how to break it to my parents.

    1. You can always go to Beneficio, or one of the other liberated spaces outside Orgiva. Las Negras is nice, too.

  2. You are truly an inspiration!
    Follow your bliss!!!

    Also, a good friend of mine taught himself computer languages and is now raising his family in the IT field. And my husband, IT Extraordinaire things this friend is one of the best out there. :)