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Is Going to University Worth It in 2021? The Definitive Answer

#1: What Is University?

Strictly speaking, university is the place where you go learn stuff.

In the pre-internet era, universities were convenient as knowledge was transmitted from teachers to students directly. Getting knowledge otherwise was difficult. You had to go to libraries and looked for answers in books by yourself. Google wasn’t there to respond to your questions. Udemy didn’t exist.

As such, if you hoped to learn, the university was the right place to go to. Universities welcomed the most brilliant minds of the time and were at the frontline of innovation. The greatest scientists of our time almost all taught at university. They were the pinnacle of knowledge (even if that knowledge was often wrong).

But times have changed.

Universities no longer have the monopoly on knowledge. So why do they still exist?

Peter Thiel observed that universities broadly fulfilled four different functions and hence could be conceptualized as:

  1. A consumption product: a giant party where you do nothing besides drinking for four years.
  2. An investment product: a way to raise your own quality so that you raise your future salary and can recoup your investment.
  3. An insurance product: going to university will help you get a good job to avoid falling into the cracks of society
  4. An endless competition (what Thiel thinks university actually is): a place where great minds compete to become management consultants and investment bankers instead of changing the world as they had originally intended.

To me, university is a time of your life during which you have the occasion to shape a tool (knowledge and experience) that will help you out in the future.

  • Is university the only place to get knowledge and experience? Hell no.
  • Is university the cheapest and best way to get knowledge and experience? Nope.
  • Is university teaching you things you can only learn there? No (well, depends, more on that below).

However, universities provide you with two big advantages:

1. Professors, which can give you feedback on your work to ensure that you improve the skills you are learning (this can also be acquired through getting customers, or a mentor).
2. A community and a “sandbox”: a place where you can test stuff and make mistakes that don’t have consequences in the real world.

I’ll be honest with you. If you hope to go to university to learn, you will be disappointed. To really learn something nowadays, you have to get into the top universities in the world.

It’s the only place where knowledge is worth it. The rest is a waste of time. When it comes to getting knowledge, Google is your best friend.

Here’s a list of fourteen places where you can learn valuable knowledge for free, or almost free.

  1. Khan Academy
  2. Udemy
  3. Teachable
  4. Skillshare
  5. Coursera
  6. Edx
  7. Udacity
  8. Codecademy
  9. Simplilearn
  10. W3schools
  11. Lynda (Linkedin)
  12. Youtube
  13. Google Certificates
  14. Amazon Certificates

I am sure there are many more. But universities as knowledge centers are outdated. Companies are now the ones at the frontline of innovation, and they are slowly replacing universities.

You want proof? The great minds of the world have now left academia and are working in the private sector (google “shortage of AI professors”). Google and Amazon have started rolling out their own classes that they recognize as much as a university degree.

The decision to go to university depends therefore on what you want to do with your life.


#2: What Do You Want to Do With Your Life?

When it comes to making money, you don’t have many choices. You can

  1. Become independent and create a company or become a freelancer.
  2. Get a job.

Let’s have a look at option 1:

Is university mandatory to build a business or become a freelancer? No, unless:

  1. the country you live in requires you to have a university diploma to start a company.
  2. you want to build a business for which a diploma is obligatory (to work in finance, real estate, accountancy, law, medical sector, etc).

However, mind that there are ways around it. Sometimes you can do an internship and get the paper you need to get started. Some other times, you can partner up with someone that has the qualification you do not have and split the shares of the company 50/50.

These are the two strongest “technical” reasons for you to go to university.

So let’s have a look at why else your parents would think you’d need to attend university.

Want to learn? No need to go to university as we outlined above.
Want to party? Just move to Europe or Asia for a year. You’ll have the benefit to learn a language on top of that.
Want to meet people? Join events, masterminds, conferences, forums, do an internship, or travel.
Want to chill for three-four years? Yes! Then going to university might be for you. Study communication, art history, social sciences, or gender studies, it will be easy.

Now, let’s have a look at option 2:

Is university mandatory to have a job?

No, because most critically-lacking skills are vocational skills (carpentry, plumbing, etc) or computer science skills. However, computer science is much quicker, easier, and cheaper to learn by yourself than at university.


Conclusion

Am I against universities? No. My dream is to go back to university, do a PhD in economics, and spend the rest of my life writing and teaching there.

However, I am immensely disappointed in universities because they didn’t teach me anything I wouldn’t have been able to learn by myself. As such, I feel I have wasted five years of my life when I could have taken this time to build a business instead.

The only positive experience I got was doing an exchange in one of the best universities in the world, where professors tell you about the dinner they had with the prime minister yesterday. That’s when I felt getting to the top of society was possible, because these people weren’t any more different than I was. They were just harder working, and more confident (nothing I couldn’t become myself).

The bottom line is this:
If you want to be rich as fast as possible, skip university.
If you want to learn how to code, skip university. You’ll do it better and faster by yourself.
If you want to learn business, just build a business. Studying business is useless (I know, I did it).
If you want to party, skip university (cost isn’t worth it).

BUT
If you want to learn STEM, university may be good for you (because it’s harder to learn by yourself).
If you want to give yourself some time and test out different stuff, try university (as long as it’s not putting you into monstrous debt).
If you feel it’s an experience you have to go through, try it. But remain open to the idea of quitting.

What if you don’t have a choice?

Sometimes, your parents force you to study and there is nothing you can do against it.

Here’s what I would do then:

1. Choose a useful degree, something that gives you an edge, such as the possibility to deal with skills others can’t if they don’t have the diploma that you have (real estate, insurance, law to become a notary, or accounting to become an expert-accountant), or something that is giving you great skills to solve problems and start companies (engineering).

2. Go study abroad in a foreign language: it will most likely be cheaper and you will 10X your results. My favorite countries to study in are: Spain, Poland (don’t study in Polish though), Hungary, the Baltic countries, and Belgium to some extend. Find out how to study in a foreign country here: How to study for free and get massively ahead in life.

Universities were dying before the virus hit. The pandemic only accelerated their death.

Don’t go there unless you have an actual reason to. I went there because I didn’t know what else to do. Had I looked for an answer to that question instead of looking for which useless degree I was going to study, I wouldn’t have wasted five years of my life.

Don’t make the same mistake.

Picture credits: Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

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