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Going to College After Unschooling...If You Need To

Going to College After Unschooling…If You Need To
By J. L. Kauffman

A twenty-year-old describes his educational journey, which included getting into college after unschooling, then back to learning without school.

Many people believe a college education is necessary to a life of success. Holding a degree is often touted as a sure ticket into the middle class comfort of a steady job and getting into college is a concern of many life learners. In reality, one can be successful without college, but if one wants to, getting into college is fairly easy. Many avenues exist to attain a post-secondary education as a non-traditional learner but, in this article, I will write about the path I took. I am now twenty years old, living in Fort Collins, Colorado, and pursuing a career in freelance writing.

Growing up, I experienced nearly every kind of education. I was homeschooled for first and second grade, went to a private Waldorf school from second to sixth, attended a core knowledge middle school, and learned on my own again during high school. After high school, I attended a small local community college called AIMS and then went to the Colorado Film School in Denver.

When I was about thirteen years old, I became enthralled with the idea of filmmaking. I spent every free hour creating choppy frame-by-frame animations on my computer with accompanying voiceovers. Over the next year, I saved my money and purchased a cheap video camera at Walgreens. At the time I was going to Kinard Core Knowledge Junior High and my grades were beginning to dip. The drop in my academic record was mostly because I did all my homework in other classes so when I went home I could make movies or read books. During the following summer, my avid curiosity for filmmaking increased. As the summer grew to a close, I told my mother that I was dreading returning to school and asked if I could be homeschooled. She responded with an unsurprised, “Sure.”

And that was that: I was homeschooling. Although I did not want to be in school, I did enjoy being with my friends, and there were a couple of classes I still wished to take, not because I wanted credit for them, but because I was interested in the subject matter. Luckily, I live in a state where home educated kids can be involved in some school activities. I was interested in playing my violin in an orchestra and writing stories, so during ninth grade I took Orchestra and Creative Writing. The rest of my day was spent making movies, reading, or whatever I wanted to do. For the first time in a long time, I felt like I was really learning.

The next year, I took Photography and Foundations of Art. Toward the end of the semester, some of my friends began using drugs to cope with their increasingly stressful schooling, work, and sports schedule. Drugs were not something I was interested in, so the next year, I decided to go to college.

I went to AIMS Community College’s Loveland campus. The process for getting in was astoundingly simple. I had taken the ACT earlier that year and had done pretty poorly on it. I think I scored a 21 with above average scores on writing and reading, and below average scores on science and math. Due to my low ACT scores, I had to take what the college called the AccuPlacer Test. Your score didn’t matter on the test. If you scored too low, you were still accepted; you just had to take remedial (090 level) classes in the disciplines you scored low in. Now, I am dyslexic and horrible at taking tests. I am much better at practical demonstrations of my knowledge. Despite my lack of test taking skill, I scored high enough in every category except math.

I found being unschooled made college easier for me in a lot of ways. Many college courses ask that one come up with one’s own opinions and thoughts on subjects. That was much easier for me than for the kids who had been stuck in the public school system where, in my experience, individuality is severely discouraged.

After three semesters of college at AIMS, I began to look for film programs throughout the state and came upon the Colorado Film School in Denver. Since I didn’t really have enough money to move out of my folk’s place and pay for college at the same time, I began to apply for scholarships and finally won a full ride for two semesters. I transferred my credits without any trouble and studied film for a full year.

As I studied film, I realized I kind of hated it. Collaborating has never really been my strong suit and to make a good film one must collaborate a lot. So, when my scholarship was up, I moved back in with my folks and decided to pursue a love I had discovered while I was away: writing.

Now, I am studying writing by writing. I write for about four hours every day either in query letters (letters to publishers), journaling, or working on pieces for submission. I have learned more working as a freelance writer than I have during any class I have ever taken. This experience has led me to suggest that very few people need to go to college. For instance, if one is interested in anything within the arts or an applied craft (e.g. being a mechanic, writer, painter, etc.), internships are far more useful to professional development than college could ever be. The only people who absolutely need to go to college are scientists, or those who wish to become stock brokers, politicians, or members of other “boys club” types of institutions. Even to become a lawyer or a doctor one can study and take the LSAT or MCAT exams without having attended a university first, although one then must subsequently attend law or medical school, of course.

College should not be something that one should lose sleep over. Do what you love and if you find yourself pursuing a field that requires university, I suggest getting into a community college and taking all of your general education classes there, then transferring to a big university for upper level coursework and graduate school.

This last paragraph I direct toward the parents of life learners from the point of view of a (mostly) grown unschooler. First, don’t stress. Your kid is going to be more than okay. Second, be supportive, but not too supportive. You know your kid, and everybody’s different (and I’m not pretending I know how to be a parent), but figuring parts of life out on my own was good for me. Just let your children be every once and awhile. Lastly, whatever your kid is doing, they are learning. No child or young adult can be kept from learning besides putting them into a school system that forces upon them materials like a punishment and gives free time as a reward. So relax. They are going to do amazing things and, if they need to, they’ll go to college.

Learn More

Secrets of a Buccaneer-Scholar: How Self-Education and the Pursuit of Passion Can Lead to a Lifetime of Success by James Marcus Bach (Scribner, 2009)

Better Than College: How to Build a Successful Life Without a Four-Year Degree by Blake Boles (Tells Peak Press, 2012)

College Without High School: A Teenager’s Guide to Skipping High School and Going to College by Blake Boles (New Society Publishers, 2009)

The New Global Student: Skip the SAT, Save Thousands on Tuition, and Get a Truly International Education by Maya Frost (Three Rivers Press, 2009)

J. L. Kauffman lives in Windsor, Colorado.

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