Experiences Don’t Equal Respect, but Degrees Do (Review of UnCollege)

In a month or so, most of us will be packing up giant plastic bins, selling our souls to the textbook companies and spending another year in a tiny dorm room where busy class schedules, procrastinated final papers, unnecessarily long reading assignments and “he-said-she-said” drama will run our lives. We’ll endure this routine lifestyle for four long years all in hopes that we walk away with a sheet of paper that claims we know a thing or two about business, communications, biology, etc. But do we really? And will anyone ever actually care about said sheet of paper?

Dale Stephens, a 19-year-old self-proclaimed “education expert” who’s been featured on CNN, Tech Crunch and the New York Times (just to name a few), begs to question the significance of a degree in today’s¬†entrepreneurial economy. Along with his colleagues Erich Sparks and David Mattingly, Stephens has developed Uncollege, a program that promises a full college experience that requires no tuition, textbooks, classes or dorm rooms.

So what’s the catch? That little sheet of paper we all dream of: a degree.

Now, I can relate to Stephens because I, too, was skeptical about buying into the college system. I was scared by mountains of debt and the narrowing job market. I applied last-minute to a state school ¬†and I can honestly say I’m proud of my decision. Yes, I sometimes feel like I’m not learning anything in some of my classes. Yes, I’m going to graduate with a considerable amount of debt. Yes, there have been moments when I’m worried I’m wasting my time and that I’ll never get my dream job, but there’s one thing I don’t worry about: the amount of respect I get as someone working towards a degree and the amount of respect I’ll receive as someone that has a degree.

Like Stephens, I wanted to take time to explore the world, meet new people, start my own business and prove to the world that I could be just as successful- if not, MORE successful- than someone who went through all the trouble of trying to get a degree, but when I told my friends and family about my plan, I went from being the motivated girl with major potential to the girl that “just gave up.” The lack of respect was heartbreaking.

According to the official UnCollege “curriculum,”participants are required to write bucket lists, read texts of foreign philosophers and scholars you’re unfamiliar with, study abroad, learn a second language, attend a conference, become a mentor, volunteer at a non-profit organization, among tons of other activities that will give you the college experience without the tuition bill. But looking back at that list- aren’t those all things that most of us do at college anyway? Sure, we might not be able to cover the whole list, but we all know that college isn’t JUST about getting a degree- it’s about opening doors and creating pathways to your future.

I get where Stephens is coming from with all of this. The experiences you have outside of class and outside of your campus will build your character and improve your resume, but let’s be honest- your resume is going to be looked down upon and compared to other people’s in a negative matter no matter how many times you volunteered, or how much you learned about yourself while spending a “semester” in India.

Moral of the story? That little piece of paper, although hard to get and way too overpriced, is your proof that you put in the work and made huge sacrifices in order to build a positive future for yourself. I don’t know about you, but I don’t ever want to be know as “the girl who just gave up” ever, EVER again.

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