I was a high school student in a time of unrest. There were protests and marches and student strikes, mostly about the war in Vietnam. But there were other good causes, and I was in on all of it.
I thought of school as prison. Or a baby-sitting service. Most of the classes were boring. I liked English and history, and hated science and math. I started an underground newspaper, promoted concerts. Did a little engineering work for bands (so much for hating science, eh?). I also experimented with drugs and sex, and then dealing drugs, and had my own apartment, and in the midst of all this activity, this very interesting life, I stopped going to school. First I skipped Tuesdays and Thursdays. Then I skipped Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Then I basically stopped going. At the end of the term I got a report card with D's across the board. My high school had a nice rule that in the middle of the year they gave you D's if you were meant to get F's and they wrote them in pencil, so if you got your shit together and starting taking school seriously, the D's would change to something else. If not, they would turn to F's. I knew this because they sat me down and told me. They didn't tell me I had to come back to school. But they let me know it was an option. This was a school for smart kids, so they assumed I had the ability to get my shit together if I wanted to.
I was young and dumb, but not so dumb as to not investigate what my life would be like if I didn't go back to school. I did not like what I saw. I could work in a donut shop. I could wash dishes in a restaurant. I didn't want to deal drugs anymore, because that had other problems (like the people you had to deal with). The picture I saw was not very nice, so I moved back to my parents' house and went back to school. My teachers were surprised to see me there, but they helped. And I graduated.
The other students in my class had been applying to colleges while I was having fun, so I didn't have anywhere to go but the City University of New York, which had a rule that they had to take you if you had a NYC high school degree. Another good rule that saved my butt. I went to Lehman College, and got lucky and got a math prof who was good at teaching. It turned out that I liked math, it was just that the teachers weren't very good at engaging with young minds. I guess I was something special for this teacher too.
I thought I would be a political science major, but instead I took more math, and then applied to colleges, and to my surprise, I got in most of the places I applied to. I wouldn't say college saved my ass, or gave me any kind of career. It didn't. What I got is that I learned the discipline of studying. Who knows when your mind will be open to it. For me, it didn't come until a few years after high school. After college I got a job programming, but decided I wanted to go to grad school in the then-new discipline of computer science. To me that was like playing video games. It was something else to get a degree in playing. I think for everyone who discovers something they love it's like that. My mind was made to make software, to network and to write. So I learned to make networked software for writing. Or more accurately I learned how to learn how to create the software I was born to make.
The thing is, you don't know in advance if going to college is going to be worth it, so you don't know if you should or shouldn't go. Like I said, everyone has to decide for themselves. But for me, not only was it worth it, but it gave me the life I wanted. I wanted to be creative. I wanted to make a difference. I wanted people to know me, and I wanted to be self-sufficient. I didn't like what the adults were doing, and I still don't like what most of them do. But some of them were looking out for me, and I was lucky enough to find them when I needed them.
PS: The original title of this piece was "Should you skip college?" Later I decided to make it just about my personal decision, and to move all the preamble stuff under this node.
I posted a link yesterday to a story written by a young person who decided not to go to college. Instead he's learning how to program, and is doing intern jobs and traveling. He seems to like what he's doing.
This is a good time to re-state my long-standing disclaimer that posting a link means I thought that an informed person would want to be aware of the information or point of view. I don't necessarily agree or disagree. I sometimes link to things I totally disagree with. And I also link to things I haven't made up my mind about.
Now, whether or not to go to college is a personal decision that everyone must make for themselves. It's one of the first decisions we make as adults. I made this decision for myself when I was a teen. Like all decisions it was made with the information available at the time. Which is to say, very little information.