Don’t Go Back to School — Take it from a Grad School Dropout?

iStock_000000307909XSmallThe conversation about whether or not going back to school is worth it has never been more heated, with the current economic climate complicating an already complex issue. As tuition rates escalate and competition for jobs stays fierce, it’s difficult to know if the benefits of formal education outweigh the costs.

In the middle of this debate, one grad school drop-out has written a book called, “Don’t Go Back to School: A Handbook for Learning Anything”. The author, Kio Stark, passionately believes that, “school doesn’t have a monopoly on learning,” and makes a persuasive case for seeking educational enlightenment and career advancement outside traditional academic routes.

Stark found that many high school dropouts-turned-successful-professionals mainly regretted not going to college for social reasons, like partying and networking with fellow students. Stark admits learning outside of a structured classroom isn’t easy, and most of her 100 interviewees found a support network of other learners to make self-education easier. The book serves as a practical guide to finding educational opportunities elsewhere, presenting alternative routes including online learning through MOOCs (Massively Open Online Courses), or using websites like Kickstarter to promote entrepreneurial ventures. She makes a persuasive case for independent, or what she calls “interdependent,” learning in an age in which the internet makes this an increasingly viable and potentially beneficial option.

As well-researched as Stark’s book is, she only provides one angle: as the title of her book states, it’s about not going back to school. She’s right that returning to school isn’t for everyone, but what about people it is right for? For example, another perspective is offered on the site BlogHer, where author Laurie White describes dropping out of her grad school journalism program in her twenties and deciding, at age 36, to go back. She writes that the second time around, she was able to really take advantage of her college’s opportunities. Instead of skipping classes to hang out with friends, she attended every session, really capitalizing on the benefits of higher education. Laurie completed her master’s degree in just eighteen months and successfully became a full-time writer and editor. She observes, “I’ve been told that I could have worked my way into an online journalism career with my blogging and social media contacts alone. This may be true, but earning the credential was important to me.” Her degree also gave her the cast-iron qualification she needed to take up a job teaching writing.

When considering the value of going back to college, it’s about making a decision that best fits your career and educational goals. Not everyone has the same educational needs, so it’s best to think about what you want to accomplish. You may find that non-traditional paths to your career goals appeal to you far more than the idea of returning to the classroom, in which case it’s definitely worth reading Stark’s book. However, in many cases, there’s just no substitute for an advanced education – see articles from our “Ask an Employer” series for proof. If you’re thinking about furthering your education, check out our worksheet designed to help you think through the process of going back to school.

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