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
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,
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.
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,
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,
The New Global Student: Skip the SAT, Save Thousands on Tuition,
and Get a Truly International Education by Maya Frost (Three Rivers
J. L. Kauffman lives in Windsor, Colorado.