Self Education vs. College: Which Is Right for You?

Education is one of the most important things you’ll ever do. Whether you’re learning by yourself or attending a traditional brick and mortar college, furthering your education can greatly improve your life. But which of these routes is better?

In today’s online climate, self education is easier than ever. It’s a great choice for those who have complicated schedules or social anxieties. College is still the king, though, when it comes to reputable degrees. If the name behind your qualification is important to you, choose college.

Throughout this article, we will examine the benefits and downfalls of self education. We will also discuss the benefits and downfalls of attending a traditional college. Read on to clarify which of these options is best for you.

The Benefits of Self Education

Self education, also known as autodidacticism, is the practice of learning new things without the guidance of a leader or structured institution. It gives people the freedom to learn what they want, when they want, and how they want.

The rates of self education are rising. For instance, one study found that over 65% of new digital developers in 2018 were self-taught. 

Take the extraordinary story of Tanmay Bakshi. He is a self taught coder that ended up working as an AI expert for IBM. The craziest part? He started learning to code at five years old, and was operating as an expert for the multinational technology company by the age of 14.

Clearly, the benefits of self education are plenty, so let’s examine some.

Learn at Your Own Pace

One of the most attractive aspects of self education is the freedom of schedule. You are not forced to learn at the pace of other people. In a classroom, it’s easy to fall behind. The rest of the class may seem to just “get” things easier than you. 

When you’re self educating, you are in control of your schedule. You don’t need to speed up your learning to match the pace of other students. Adversely, you are not held back by them either.

If you’re an extremely fast learner, and you like to move through materials quickly, traditional classroom settings may hold you back. Self education allows you to learn as fast as you possibly can.

Only Study What Interests You

Another huge benefit of self education is that you can study topics that interest you- and only topics that interest you. There are no credit requirements, no elective or minimal courses to pass before you can move onto another subject.

With self education, if you want to become a specialist in renaissance paintings and microbiology, you can. You can pair together topics and subjects that otherwise would not be learned simultaneously.

Study Topics Not Taught in Schools

This brings us to the next positive aspect of self-teaching. Not only are you free to study only things that interest you, but you can also study things that cannot be learned elsewhere. Self education and the internet means there are endless amounts of topics to discover. 

You aren’t limited to the courses that your local college teaches, either. Self education gives you the ability to learn extensively about uncommon topics. A small-town college probably doesn’t teach courses about this ancient Sumerian language, but there are extensive sources online.

Stay Current

The other issue with colleges is that the courses take time to create, and therefore take time to be updated. You could pursue a degree in computer science and, by the time you graduate, already have outdated knowledge. 

The internet is arguably the fastest moving platform ever to exist. Any updates to industries can be found on the internet, and much easier than if you ask your college professor about them. It’s clear why so many people in rapidly developing industries turn to self education to keep their skills sharp.

Youtube channels like Learn Code Academy have almost 700,000 subscribers. This channel caters to experienced programmers and new learners alike, helping them hone their coding skills and keeping up with current developments in the tech industry.

Decreased Cost

Self education isn’t guaranteed to be free, but it absolutely can be. If you’re able to motivate yourself to stick with self education, then it could be the best way for you to save $100,000 or more on college tuition. 

Yes, there may be costs associated with certain courses you take. There could also be funds required to get certificates or challenge tests to get qualified in certain industries. However, with a library card and some creativity, you could get an amazing education for free.

This makes self education the best option for those who have tight budgets, or no budgets. It also makes it very attractive for people who have children or other important financial obligations.

To attend college, many people take out expensive student loans. Often, you are not required to make payments on these loans while you are in school, but once you’ve graduated, you’re hit with monthly bills that can cause extreme stress. In fact, the American Institute of Stress reports that money is the #2 most common source of stress in the USA.

Attending college could put you in such financial distress that it ruins your physical and mental health. Self education can cost absolutely nothing. That’s pretty attractive when you weigh out the two options.

Learn From Afar

Yet another pull towards self education is the fact that you can do it anywhere in the world. You are not restricted to a specific location or physical school. If you’re a nomad, you can self educate while you travel the world. You could be in Costa Rica, and be learning about economics at the same time.

It’s not just travelers that benefit from this learn anywhere aspect. People who live in remote towns or towns where the colleges don’t teach their specific interest are also big fans of self education because their location doesn’t restrict their education.

Learn While You Work at Your Current Job

There’s no shortage of people who are unhappy with their jobs, but it can be difficult to get a new one when you don’t have any marketable skills. Sure, you could find another job for a different company, but if you’re not changing industries or job titles, then chances are, you’ll be unhappy at that job eventually, too.

The key to getting a job that you want and pays you a fair amount is to have the skills that your dream employer wants to see. Yes, you could get many of these skills at college, but most people who are working can’t afford to quit their job and study full time. Self education allows you to further your education while still making a living.

Avoid Social Anxiety

Social anxiety is no joke. In fact, 15 million Americans live with social anxiety. This disorder can make it nearly impossible to meet new people, frequent big events, or even have one on one conversations.

College can be one of the biggest triggers of social anxiety. When triggered, social anxiety causes increased heart rate, loss of concentration, a sense of panic, and sweating. People who go through these attacks want to self isolate, and the more these events happen, the harder it can be to recover. 

Self education is a fantastic way for people with social anxiety disorder to continue learning. While college can be terrifying, learning from their living room is not. Self education offers a safe place, away from students and strangers, and the pressures of society.

The Negative Aspects of Self Education

While self education is sounding pretty good so far, it is by no means for everyone. In this next section, we will look at some of the downfalls of self education.

You Have to Keep Yourself Accountable

While the freedom of self education may be a calling sign for some people. It can also be a panic-inducing thought for others. People who struggle to motivate themselves or keep themselves on track will find self education difficult. 

With self education, all of the drive and initiative to learn must come from you. You won’t have a teacher to set deadlines for you, and you won’t have a school to kick you out if you fail. With no financial commitment, there is relatively nothing to lose if you don’t follow through. This lack of risk may lead some people to abandon their self education.

Limited Feedback

Perhaps one of the greatest aspects of a college education is learning from experienced professors, and receiving their input face-to-face. 

When you choose self education, you’re choosing to forgo this aspect of college. You won’t have a mentor to guide you or a teacher to grade your assignments and help you know if you’re on the right track. 

No Official Qualifications

If you’re going to go with self education, then be sure that the job you want to pursue does not require a complicated degree. While in some places, you can challenge the exams given to people before they get their professional license, other places require a college degree to allow you to operate in that city or state.

If you are hoping to further your knowledge simply to add skills to your resume or develop as a person, this probably won’t be an issue for you. However, if you want to be a doctor or psychologist, you will probably have to go to college.

The Benefits of College

College is often considered one of the great American rights of passage. Many people come to consider their time in university as some of the best years of their life. It’s something that teenagers dream of, and something that many adults wish they hadn’t missed. 

Let’s discuss some of the benefits of this classic education system.

Regimented Learning

College education offers a structured learning system with timelines, deadlines, and support. Classes have schedules, projects have due dates, and students have rules to follow. 

This sort of structured system will greatly benefit people who do not have very good self-control. For people who procrastinate or are always tardy, having someone hold them accountable for their actions can be the main thing that allows them to succeed.

Educational Standards

Not only are there rules, but there are regulations. There are standards in colleges. Teachers must be of a certain caliber, and students are expected to come out knowing some concrete things. In other words, you can expect to get real results with a college education. 

This isn’t so with self education. There are no guarantees that you will receive the education you’re expecting, or get enough information to feel validated in the effort you’ve put in.

Employers Prefer Degrees

According to research done by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, 75% of hiring managers “believe that it is very important or essential to complete a college education.” This means that most of the people hiring you in your life will be looking for a college degree. 

It by no means that you can’t get a job without a degree, but having a traditional college education is still highly valued in job markets around the world.

College Is a Tradition

A college education provides not only standardized lessons and tools but also the “college experience.” This includes sports teams, dorm rooms, fraternities and sororities, and college parties. These traditions create memories that you will have for the rest of your life.

While these things can sometimes distract from the educational aspect of college, they are no doubt attractive aspects for young people looking to get out of their parents’ home. Self education offers no version of these pastimes, and your educational experience is essentially totally your own.

Networking

College offers fantastic opportunities to network and build potential business connections. You’ll meet people in the same programs and courses that have shared interests. You’ll also be at similar times in your life, which is most likely at the beginning of your career. 

This is the perfect time to make new connections and create a business plan or potential partnerships for the future.

Facebook was created out of these exact types of connections. Mark Zuckerberg, Eduardo Saverin, Andrew McCollum, Dustin Moskovitz, and Chris Hughes were involved in the first edition of “TheFacebook.” It was born in the dorm rooms of Harvard and went on to become one of the biggest companies in the world, earning 70.7 billion in 2019.

That’s not to say that you’re guaranteed any sort of successful connection in college, but you are guaranteed to miss out on this potential if you don’t attend at all.

Make Friends for Life

The places you are most likely to meet your adult friends are at school and work. According to one study, most people in their early 20s report that they met their closest friends at school. This is why college is one of the best places to make the meaningful connections that you will carry with you for years to come.

Colleges can have anywhere from 5,000 to 30,000 students in attendance per year. That is a massive amount of people in which you could potentially find your new best friend or core group of friends for the rest of your life.

Not only can these friends make your life more fulfilling, but they can also help you through the tough school work. You can create study groups with your friends, or discuss lectures after class over a leisurely beer. Having people you care about going through the school year with you may motivate you to stay focused and try harder.

Extracurricular Activities

One of the best aspects of attending a college is the number of extracurricular activities. From chess clubs to foosball tournaments, there’s no shortage of fun activities to fill your spare time. 

Not only do these activities provide you with entertainment, but they can also help you learn important social skills that will benefit you for the rest of your life. You will naturally learn how to communicate, relate, debate, and socialize with many different personalities and people.

These activities also provide a way for you to bond with your classmates and feel a sense of community. Participating in something outside of the classroom will allow you to feel like you are truly experiencing an important stage in your life, and not just spending four years learning intensely.

Extracurricular activities can also teach you new skills: critical thinking, time management, self-discipline, and autonomy. Depending on what type of activity you pursue, you can also gain major health benefits by joining a sports team. You won’t get any of this if you choose self education.

Some of the interesting extracurricular activities you could take advantage of at college are:

  • Student Government
  • Athletics
  • Academic and Professional Organizations
  • Volunteer and Service-Related Activities
  • Multicultural Activities
  • Arts
    • Theatre/ Drama
    • Painting
    • Music
  • Religion
  • On-Campus Media
  • Event Planning Committees

Discover New Interests or Even Career Paths

College allows you to try new things. You will meet tons of new people, study new subjects, and take part in extracurricular activities. Any of these things could spark the discovery of a new passion. You might find out that you have a natural affinity for painting, or that you are more excited about microbiology than anything else in the world. 

Having exposure to all of these new interests and subjects and people can ignite a new hobby, or even set you on a new career path altogether.

Develop Attractive Components for Your Resume

Not only will your college degree look great on your resume, but so will all of the other activities you take part in. As we learned above, there are tons of extracurricular activities you can find at college, and many employers enjoy seeing these things on a resume. 

The hours that you clock volunteering or the time you put in working on the school paper won’t just help you hone your skills make you feel good. They will, in turn, provide future employers with more information about you. 

Being able to balance a college course load with extracurricular activities shows a future employer that you know how to manage your time, and you like to make the most out of life. They will be happy to see that you will add not only to the skills of their workforce but to the company culture as well.

The Negative Aspects of College

So far, it seems like college is the no-brainer choice over self education, right? But not everything at college is sunshine and rainbows. It’s important that we look at the negative aspects of college as well as the positives.

College Is Expensive

This is probably the biggest downfall of college and one that pushes most people towards self education. It can be financially devastating to attend college, and if you are a young person, chances are you won’t have the money to put yourself through college right out of high school.

If your parents can afford to send you to university, this may not be of huge concern to you. But if you are expected to pay your own way or even take out student loans to cover the cost of your college education, then this may be a dealbreaker for you.

The average annual price of tuition and fees for an in-state student at a public college is $9,410. Multiply that by the four years you’ll be attending and you’re looking at a total cost of $37, 640 for your college degree. That doesn’t include your dorm room, food, or other living costs during this time.

In 2018, the average debt of graduating students with student loans was nearly $30,000. That number creates a lot of pressure to find a high paying job immediately after school. This contributes to the insanely competitive job market, and the stress experienced after university.

Compare these numbers to the limited fees associated with self education, combined with the fact that you can continue working while you self educate. The numbers are quite astonishing. If you have limited funds, self education is the clear winner when it comes to furthering your education.

Room and Board

While some people may love the idea of staying in a dorm room with hundreds of other students, this is a potential nightmare for others. Dorm rooms are notoriously crowded. They can be loud, and you could end up with a roommate that you don’t get along with.

This is an especially unattractive aspect of college life for mature students – people returning to school at the age of 25 or older. Once you’ve grown past a certain point, living with dozens of young adults in tight quarters might not be the ideal place to nurture your studies. 

The average cost of room and board at a public university is $8,887 per year. While this will save you immense amounts of time commuting to and from campus, it is a high price to pay for a shared room and toilet situation. 

Dorm rooms are also closed over the holidays, meaning you’ll have to find somewhere to go at Christmas. You also cannot live in the dorm year-round, so you’ll have to leave for the summer as well. This is great if you have a family to visit or return to after your school year, but if you’re an international student or someone without family, then this may serve as a challenge.

You can live off-campus and commute to school every day. If you can find cheaper rent nearby or live with your parents and drive to school, this brings down the cost of college greatly. It will also allow you to stay in one place for four years, which can help you feel more stable while attending college.

Physically Time-Consuming

One of the biggest downfalls of college is how much time it takes up. Not only do degrees take four years to obtain, but attending classes and studying for exams is a massive undertaking. 

This isn’t such a bad thing if you are a 19-year-old with limited responsibilities, but if you are someone who has to work or care for a child or family member, then the amount of time needed to successfully complete a college degree may be impossible for you to give.

Conclusion

Now that we’ve looked at the positive and negative aspects of both college and self education, you should be able to determine which path is right for you. 

If you are on a budget or schedule, and you’re a self-starter who won’t have trouble keeping your studies on track, then self education is the perfect option for you- as long as you don’t want to be a psychologist or neurosurgeon. 

If you are a young adult who has access to funds and is very social, then you will much prefer the college experience to self education.

In summary, both self education and college have their perks, and while employers still respect college degrees, you can gain fantastic skills through self education.

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