10 Things I Didn’t Learn in College

I’ve written before on 10 reasons Parents Should Not Send Their Kids to College and here is also Eight Alternatives to College but it’s occurred to me that the place where college has really hurt me the most was when it came to the real world, real life, how to make money, how to build a business, and then even how to survive when trying to build my business, sell it, and be happy afterwards.

Here are the ten things that if I had learned them in college I probably would’ve saved/made millions of extra dollars, not wasted years of my life, and maybe would’ve even saved lives because I would’ve been so smart I would’ve been like an X-Man.


A. How to Program 

I spent $100,000 of my own money (via debt, which I paid back in full) majoring in Computer Science.

I then went to graduate school in computer science.

I then remained in an academic environment for several years doing various computer programming jobs.

Finally I hit the real world. I got a job in corporate America. Everyone congratulated me where I worked, “you’re going to the real world,” they said. I was never so happy.

I called my friends in NYC, “money is falling from trees here,” they said. I looked for apartments in Hoboken. I looked at my girlfriend with a new feeling of gratefulness – we were going to break up once I moved. I knew it.

In other words, like was going to be great. My mom even told me, “you’re going to shine at your new job.”

Only one problem: when I arrived at the job, after 8 years of learning how to program in an academic environment – I couldn’t program.

I won’t get into the details. But I had no clue. I couldn’t even turn on a computer. It was a mess.

I think I even ruined people’s lives while trying to do my job. I heard my boss whisper to his boss’s boss, “I don’t know what we’re going to do with him, he has no skills.”

And what’s worse is that I was in a cluster of cubicles so everyone around me could here that whisper also.

So they sent me to two months of remedial programming courses at AT&T in New Jersey.

If you’ve never been in an AT&T complex it’s like being a stormtrooper learning how to go to the bathroom in the Death Star where, inconceivably, in six Star Wars movies there are no evidence of any bathrooms. Seriously, you couldn’t find a bathroom in these places.

They were mammoth but if you turn down a random corner then, Voila! – there might be an arts & crafts show. The next corner would have a display of patents, like “how to eliminate static on a phone line – 1947”. But I did finally learn how to program.

I know this  because I ran into a guy I used to work with ten years ago who works at the same place I used to work at. “Man,” he says, “they still  use your code.” And I was like, “really?”  “Yeah,” he said, “because its like spaghetti and nobody can figure out how to modify it or even replace it.”

So, everything I dedicated my academic career to was flushed down the toilet.

The last time I programmed a computer was 1999. It didn’t work. So I gave up. Goodbye C++. I hope I never see you and your “objects” again.

B. How to Be Betrayed.

A girlfriend about 20 years ago wrote in her diary. “I wish James would just die. That would make this so much easier. Whenever I kiss him I’m thinking of X”.

Where X was a good friend of mine. Of course I put up with it. We went out for several more months. It’s just a diary, right? She didn’t really mean it!

I mean, c’mon.

Who would think about someone else when kissing my beautiful face? I confronted her of course. She said, “why would you read through my personal items?”

Which was true! Why would I? Don’t have I have any personal items through my own I could read through? Or a good book, for instance, to take up my time and educate myself? Kiss, kiss, kiss.

Why can’t they have a good college course called BETRAYAL 101. I can teach it.

Topics we will cover: Betrayal by a business partner, betrayal by investors, betrayal by a girlfriend (I’d bring in a special lecturer to talk about betrayal by men, kind of like how Gwynneth Paltrow does it in Glee), betrayal by children (since they cleverly push the boundaries right at the limit of betrayal and you have to know when to recognize that they’ve stepped over the line, betrayal by friends/family (note to all the friends/family that think I am talking about them, I AM NOT – this is a serious academic proposal about what needs to be taught in college) – you help them, then get betrayed – how to deal with that?

Then there are the more subtle issues on betrayal – self-sabotage.

How you can make enough money to live forever and then repeatedly find yourself in soup kitchens, licking envelopes, attending 12 step meetings, taking medications, and finally reaching some sort of spiritual recognition that it all doesn’t matter until the next time you sink even lower.

This might be in BETRAYAL 201. Or graduate level studies. I don’t know.

Maybe the Department of Defense needs to give me a grant to work on this since that’s who funds much of our education.

C. Oh shoot, I was going to put Self-Sabotage into a third category and not make it a sub-category of How to Be Betrayed.

Hmmm, how do I write myself out of this conundrum.

College, after all, does teach one how to put ideas into a cohesive “report” that is handed in and graded.

Did I form my thesis, argue it correctly, conclude correctly, not diverge into things like “Kim Kardashian will never be the betrayer, only the betrayed.

But this brings me to: Writing.

Why can’t college teach people how to actually wr

ite. Some of my best friends tell me college taught them how to think. Thinking has a $200,000  price tag apparently and there is  no room left over for good writing.

And what is good writing? It’s not an opinion. Or a rant. Or a thesis with logical steps, a deep cavern underneath, beautiful horizons and mountaintops at the top.

Its blood. Its Carrie-style blood.

Where everyone has been fooling you until that exact moment when n0w, with the psychic power of the written word, you spray pig blood everywhere, at everyone, and most of all you are covered in blood yourself, the same blood that pushed you and your placenta out of your mother’s womb, pushed and shot out with you until just the act of writing itself is a birth, a separation between the old you and the new you – the you that can no longer take the words back, the words that now must live and breathe and mature and either make something of themsleves in life, or remain one of the little blips that reminds us of how small we really are in an infinite universe.

[See also, 33 Unusual Tips to Be a Better Writer]

D. Dinner Parties

How come i never learned about dinner parties in college.

Sure, there were parties among other people who looked like me and talked like me and thought like me – other college students of my age and rough background.

But Dinner Parties as an adult are a whole new beast.

There are drinks and snacks beforehand where small talk has to disguise itself as big talk and then there’s the parts where you KNOW that everyone is equally worried about what people think about them but that still doesn’t help at those moments when you talk and you wonder what did people think of ME?

Nobody cares, you tell yourself, intellectually raffling through pages of self-help blogs in your mind that told you that nobody gives **** about you.

(dinner party from Real housewives of beverly hills)

But still, why don’t we have a class where there’s Dinner Party after Dinner Party and you learn how to talk at the right moments, say smart things, be quiet at the right moments, learn to excuse yourself during the mingling so you can drift from person to person.

Learn how to interrupt a conversation without being rude.

Learn how to thank the host so you can be invited to the next party. And so on. Which brings me to…

E. Networking

Did it really take 20 years after I graduated college before someone wrote a book, “Never Eat Alone.”

Why didn’t Jesus write that book. Or Plato.

Then we might’ve read it in religious school or it would’ve been one of those “big Thinkers” we need to read in college so we can learn how to think.

I still don’t know how to network properly so this paragraph is small. I’m classified under the DSM VI as a “social shut-in”.

I’d like to get out and be social but when the moment comes, I  can only make it out the door about 1 in ten times.

I always say, “I’d love to get together” but  then I don’t know how to do it.

Perhaps because not one dollar of my $100,000 spent on not learning how to program a computer was also not spent on learning how to network with people.

[See also, my recent TechCrunch article, “9 Ways to be a Super-Connector“]

F. Politics

My very first girlfriend, the girl who first laughed hysterically when I showed her a piece of chewing gum I found on the ground that had sculpted itself into the muddy shape of a heart, took me to a movie called “Salvador”.

Then there was a discussion group afterwards about how the Contras are bad, or good, I forget, and everyone was nodding and speaking in a Spanish accent.

And afterwards my girlfriend was upset, “why aren’t you talking?” because truth was i was so tired I couldn’t think but nobody ever taught me how to tell the truth so I lied and said, “it moved me so much I’m still absorbing it” and my girlfriend said, “yeah, I can see that.”

And nobody ever taught me that there’s more than one acceptable opinion on a college campus.

My roommate for instance would tell me, “Reagan is definitely getting impeached THIS TIME.”

And I visited his dad’s mansion over Christmas break and he told me all about Trotskyism and the proletariat and I had to work jobs 40 hours a week while taking six courses so I could:

A) graduate early and…

B) pay my personal  expenses and when i would run into him he had long hair and would nod about how a lot of the college workers (but not the lowest-paid, poorest treated ones – the students who worked) were thinking of unionizing and he was helping with that. “Do you have a job?” I asked and he said, “no time”. And that’s politics in college.

What about the real politics of how people try to backstab you at the corporate workplace or VCs never properly explained the “ratchet” concept to you before they kicked you out of the company and then re-financed.

Nobody told me a thing about that in three years of college and two years of graduate school. I wish I would’ve known that for my $100,000.

G. Failure.

Goes without saying they don’t teach you this.

If you are going to pay $100,000, why would you fail?

You might think you were wasting your money if the first mandatory elective you had to take was about failure.

About wondering how you were going to feed your family after you got fired when something that was not your fault: Post-Traumatic-Lehman-Stress Syndrome, a common medical condition coming up in the DSM VII.

H. Sales

When I was busy learning how to “not program” nobody ever taught me how to sell what it was I was programming.

Or sell myself.

Or sell out.

Or sell my ideas and turn them into money.

Or sell a product to someone who might need it.

Or even better, sell it to someone who doesn’t need it. Some business programs might have courses on salesmanship but those are BS because everyone automatically gets As in MBA programs so that the schools can demonstrate what good jobs their students get so they then get more applicants and the scam/cycle continues.

But sales: how to demonstrate passion behind an idea you had, you built, you signed up for, so that people are willing to pay hard-earned after-tax money for it, is the number one key to any success and I have never seen it taught (properly) in college.

I. Negotiation

You’ve gotten the idea, you executed, you made the sale and now…what’s the price?

What part of your body will be amputated in exchange for infinite wisdom.

Will you give up one eye? Or your virility? Because something has to go if you are up against a good negotiator? What? You already thought (like most people without any experience do) that you were ALREADY a good negotiator.

A good negotiator will skin your back, tattoo it with “SUCKA” and hang it up above the fireplace in his pool house if you don’t know what you are doing.

The funny thing is, the best sales people (who are just aiming for people to say “YES!”) are often the worst negotiators (“it’s very hard to say “No” when you are trying to get people to “Yes”).

These are things I wish I had learned in school. I’ve been beaten in negotiations on at least 5 different occasions, which fortunately became five valuable lessons I’ve learned the hard way, instead of studying examples and being forced to think about it for the $100k in debt I got going to  college.

People will say, “well, that’s your experience in college. Mine was very different.”

And it’s true. You joined the sororities and learned how to network and dinner party and be political and everything there is to know about betrayal.

My college experience was sadly unique and probably different from everyone else’s so you would be completely right to quote me that inane statistic about how college graduates earn 4% more than high school graduates and are consequently 4% happier (another thing, 10. Happiness.

We never learn how it’s a combination of the food we eat, our health, our ability to be creative, our ability to have sound emotional relationships, our ability to find something bigger than ourselves and our egos to give up our spiritual virginity to.)

So I can tell you what I wish I did.

I wish I had gone to Soviet Russia, and played chess, and then gone to India and learned yoga and health, and I wish I had gone to South America and volunteered for kids with no arms, and did any number of things.

But people then say, “haha! but that cost money.”

And they would be right. It would cost less than $100,000+ but would still cost some money.

I have no idea how much.

But one of these days when the scars of college go away and I truly learn how to think. I might have better comebacks for these people. Or if I truly learn, I would learn not to care at all.

Follow me on Twitter.

Or, just as good, buy “I Was Blind But Now I See”.


  • Capitalistic

    College and grad school can be useful. Although they are both expensive (both cost me $200K), you can establish solid networks which can be useful later on.
    But I think for anyone interested in programming or coding, college is totally useless.

    • Capitalistic

      Great post by the way!

    • Interesting, can you tell me why you think college is worthless for programmers….thanks.

      • Capitalistic

        Programming and coding can be learned at a juco. I worked at a software co, and a lot of the skilled programmers didn’t even have comp sci degrees from college. 

        • I think it all depends on the complexity of the code being developed. 

          Also I would say that an education and the educational experience benefits some students in the long run much more than stopping at the high school level or lower. 

          We have had experience with different level programmers over the years, and while it’s true every once in a while you find someone un-schooled who is extremely talented, by far our most productive and successful coders have been formally educated.

          I know what spaghetti code cost in the long run, it’s not pretty.

          Thanks for your answer.

          • Capitalistic

            I’m an education advocate. Education is more than securing a 9-5. But not everyone belongs in college. I graduated from undergrad with a degree in econ + communications. My first job was as a web developer. I learned on the job + took a class at a juco. My next two were in finance + telecom. Go figure lol

          • Exactly.

            The thing is that many young people don’t have the vision or the drive that it takes to make it solely on their own at the age of 18. 

            Plus, if anyone thinks that American high schools are doing a good job at preparing young Americans for a competitive work force they are smoking crack.

          • Capitalistic

            I agree. I think young people do have drive, but maybe lack vision. And that’s where college comes into play. I think high schools should focus on what individual students are good at. With the influx of numerous tech start ups within the last 5 yrs, I think the youth will be just fine.

            Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

          • Francisco

            BS  I worked for a local tobacco importer as warehouse muscle starting at 15, and I didn’t believe in the economic-social-intellectual efficacy of college as early as 13; my application for emancipated minor status was compromised by meddling family members and an idiot school counselor. 21 currently and doing quite well at another small tobacco company, no regrets.

          • @ Francisco
            I am happy for you.

            I guess it depends on the job. 

            We used to hire non-college grads, but not any longer, because they lacked communication skills and problem solving skills required for the position.

            Good luck to you.

        • Anonymous

          Programming can be learned at JuCo / trade school.  Software Engineering cannot.  “Coding” is very different from writing elegant, flexible, and maintainable software.

          This confuses a lot of people because many times “coding” and software engineering produce what appears to be similar results to some.  But, in the long run, well designed software is much more effective while “coding” takes a team of coders just to keep running…

          • I guess I am guilty of using the incorrect term, I was talking primarily about the complex web applications (in our case a platform) and game development. 

            We call the person a programer, and what they write is “code” – I don’t know what is correct – But I would like to know. :)

          • Capitalistic

            Fair enough. I’m not saying that juco and Stanford can produce the same quality of programmers. But not everyone can be a quality programmer.

  • Luisa Perkins

    Oooh, is that retroactive? I bought I Was Blind when it first came out. 

    • James Altucher

      Yes retroactive is good. 

  • Joe Andelin

    Masterfully done James.  Thanks!

  • Neil

    I see what you’re doing in the rant on good writing.


  • modernmind

    I actually like, “Viola!” better than “Voila!” Could catch on. Probably on some TV series first.
    This was sort of a “mad dog with a foamed mouth” post. But I liked it.

    • Viola is a musical instrument in Spanish, it could also mean to rape, of course this blog is in English so this doesn’t apply.

  • ST

    Over-looking some spelling and grammar (oh wait, that should have been in learned in High School…) I loved the post. Feels like Harvey Pekar still lives. Did we tweet/email about how great American Splendor is, and Paul Giamatti in particular?! So great in that and Sideways, and he’s note perfect in Win Win. Must see.  @UpliftMofoLLC

    • Funny, loved American Splendor back in the early 90s. Did you like the other artists who had similar styles? Joe Matt, Seth, Chester Brown, Dan Clowes, and a bit later, Adrian Tomine? 

      • ST

        I haven’t read them, except for Clowes. I prefer to read killer fiction. There is a graphic novel out of Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy, that could be good. 

        So hopefully you saw the American Splendor film!? Still pushing you to see the film of Jesus’s Son, hardly an adaptation because the director was in such reverence of the book…even use the same fonts in the film as were used in the book. Kind of anxious about what they may have done with the film of On the Road. Coming out anytime now.    

  • Would you agree that most of what you listed has to be experienced to be learned?

    • Yes. But all the more reason I wouldn’t pay $100-200k trying to learn it. I’d rather go out and experience first. 

      • To learn the most of the listed, isn’t learned on any set schedule. People don’t pay for life-lessons those lessons happen in their own time.  Plus some people don’t even care to learn anything, no matter what. 

        I think that your main point is college is way too expensive, and that the government backing these loans for children at 18 and maybe graduates at 21-22 is reckless and bad policy. ( but I am not sure so I will ask )

        Is your main complaint sheer COSTs and the burden of DEBT, wrapped around other social issues?

        If higher education was FREE would it be a worthwhile for anyone?

        Do you think college is a total waste of time regardless of what the costs?

        • Duh

          I think it’s also about the actual instruction and instructors being of such a poor standard combined with the extreme expense of going to the school.  In my career I have worked with 1950’s high school grads with mostly military and “tech ed” diplomas . They are far more knowledgeable and well read about nearly every important subject  than a MS or PHD 20 to 30 years their junior – and definitely smarter and harder working than most 4 year grads.

  • Nunya

    You have some typos in this one. Which is shocking since most if not all of your other pieces are fairly clean. Have you been chugging egg nog today? I like my nog without alcohol.  Don’t you hate azzzes that tell you you have some typos in your posts? I do. Especially when they tell me and they have typos in the emails they send to me to inform me that I have typos.

  • I can relate to this post on many levels, I’m still a work in progress. How long does it take you to write these posts? You finished your Q&A section and 20 minutes this post shows up. Do you still have to brainstorm or the ideas just flow when is time to blog.

  • Jquick99

    I say this jokingly, but in all seriousness…the most important thing I learned at university: Righty, tighty.  Lefty loosey.

    • Anonymous

      You must have attended a “tech” college !

      • Jquick99

        Ha. Close .. Engineering.  I needed that degree to land me my first job, but didn’t really use it, thank goodness. 

  • Hate to be a party pooper, but the word “like” in the following sentence needs to be replaced with “life”:

    In other words, like was going to be great. My mom even told me, “you’re going to shine at your new job.”

  • Richard Hall

    Epicurus knew about that not eating alone stuff, “We should look for someone to eat and drink with before looking for something to eat and drink, for dining alone is leading the life of a lion or wolf”

    • High School dropout

      Well, if Epicurus really said that, and we only have Seneca’s word (Seneca, “Letters to Lucilius”, 19.10) that he did, he sure showed a great ignorance of the dining habits of wolf packs and lion prides.  But then again, he was a city boy, and he lived in a time without benefit of TV nature shows. I prefer to dine alone, and I disagree with Epicurus’s statement in the full quote that “this privilege will not be yours unless you withdraw from the world.” That means that I have to either wake my wife up to share my midnight snack or divorce her.  But hey, what do I know?  I never went to college.

  • Vincent Nguyen

    This was the article I saw on TC that got me to discover this site!

  • Sumit Sabharwal

    “Some business programs might have courses on salesmanship but those are
    BS because everyone automatically gets As in MBA programs so that the
    schools can demonstrate what good jobs their students get so they then
    get more applicants and the scam/cycle continues.”

    Totally agree with the assessment above!! I realized B-School was a uselsss scam after the 1st week of classes! But luckily i wasn’t getting ripped off a 100grand since, in addition to demonstrating what a good job students do, B-schools also try to demonstrate how “diverse” their student body is, which translates into big scholarships for international students!! So I basically took my 2 years of MBA as a paid vacation from work!!


  • Cindyluwho

    I was at a kid b-day party last weekend and I was talking to a couple of woman about my age and the subject of college came up. They made a joke and I smiled and excused myself from the conversation. Not only did I NOT graduate college but the 1 year of college I did complete was at a jr. college in Breckenridge CO…hardly serious academics.

    Not going to college is my big shame in my life and my biggest regret. I always feel people look down on me and that it has greatly limited my job oppotunities. Despite the fact that I know that I am at least as smart as all of these college graduates who I feel judge me. In many instances in my professional life I have found that I am much brighter than my college educated counterpart. However, that did not matter as much as the degrees they held. 

    Even now as I head into my 3rd year of searching for a full time job I am constantly blocked by the “college degree required” in so many help wanted ads. Forget my 16 years of experience of working in the real world as an admin. assistant. None of that practicle knowledge means anything. We are society that been sold on the idea that a degree makes you smarter. People should be judged on their individual merit…not how much money they got themselves into debt for an “education”.

    My sincere thanks to you….your blog always has perfect timing. You say just what I need to hear at that exact moment when I am receptive to hearing it.

    • Brettacarter

      Did you try lying about having a college degree? Maybe you’ll get the interview. Then the job. I have a college degree and I am looking for work too. I believe what really matters to the employer is results and the best measure for that is successful experience not a degree.

      • Cindyluwho

        I have thought about it but there is no way I could do it. It seems like an awfully big lie to keep up with. If you are ever caught then you are unemployed and a liar. I know myself and I could not spend 40+ hrs. per week with people that I was being dishonest with. I am sure there are people that do lie about their education; I can’t be one of them. Though I bet some of those people have a much better job than I do.

        • Duh

          Good answer– Integrity is worth more than the degree.   I have had a number of supposed engineers working on various contracts that lied about their diploma – the outcome was really bad.  I had one guy who was fired because he wrote in his Engineering Technician (2 year) degree as an Engineering (4 year) degree.  This particular company was pretty lazy about checking people out.   He was zooom – gone..In every case  these folks that lied were non-performers.      

    • Our society has indeed sold us a number of strange ideas. 

      One of them is that we must seek out positions that make us cogs in the giant wheel.  These are the very jobs that require degrees.  The people who have willingly conformed themselves to these positions – and consequently loath their lives – are some of the same people who look down on those have not conformed. 

      A smart guy once said, “It’s about ambition.  Not about the diploma.” 

      • Email

        Placebo… some people go to college to get degrees in the fields that they love to be a part of and are actually good at before hand. The degree is just a further development of available talent if you choose the proper course of study. These people were intelligent in their degree choice and do not loathe (that is the proper way to spell that word) their lives.

        • Anonymous

          Straight from the University brochure.

          Keep on believin’ in the mantra and everything will be OK…

          Spelled O…K…

        • Richard Simpson

          I took college courses both part and full time for several years.  I got a job before I graduated, which didn’t last much beyond y2k, and even after going back to school for more, I created a new website to generate income before any job was offered to me.  I had good knowledge before entering, and honestly, all I really got out of college was the prof i hired to help me build my site the first time.  The second time, I wrote the whole thing myself, mostly, only borrowing snippets from online code sources to provide functions I didn’t want to write from scratch.  Later, I got a job in sales that had little to do with my college studies, but which had been one of the best skills I could have learned.  Contrary to popular myth, it takes honesty and attention to your customer’s needs to be successful at sales for any length of time, traits I first thought would be detrimental to my sales career.

          Great list, as usual.

        • Individuals who become cogs in the giant wheel, acquiring skills and degrees in order to conform themselves to the requirements of the system, are very different from those who do what they love and allow that passion to propel them to college. 

          If passion and ambition lead to the university gates, great!  Sadly, all too many pursue degrees to check off the boxes life presents to them.  The degree becomes the first of many incremental box-checks toward our modern form of slavery.   A slippery slope indeed.  College is the first steep ledge.  

          In the post above Cindy was saying she regretted not getting a degree because of the social stigma of her degreeless status.  No passion for physics, English or administration.  For her, it seems, a degree would represent a social-check-mark that says to others she is somehow capable. 

          A perfect example of the shackles-as-status-symbols mentality being enforced by those looking down at her.

          • Duh

            Even if you have a passion for a certain field as a driver, you can still get wrapped up in the University/conventional wisdom /check the box “rut”..
             I had a passion for Engineering since 10 th grade..I was not a math whiz  so I had to work extra hard in high school and college to achieve my goal.   After 5years of big ACC State university, I hated college and everything about it.  I had a 2.6 , my coveted Engineering Degree, and unlike 80% of my class I had a job offer in my field waiting for me.  My graduation felt more like a prison release.  A lot of bad changes got started in schools while I was there mid eighties to early 90’s.   

            In school my engineering club chapter used to sponsor informal lunch meetings  where we invited past engineering graduates as speakers “from the real world”.. Whenever one of them got off the technical part of their job and into a rant  meant to stir the brain cells of the little college zombies,(like JA here)  – we would  laugh and blow em off.   What dumbasses we were!!.  

             Looking back the best engineering students I knew were in their late 20’s (likely previously enlisted military), usually recently married – maybe with one child and a working spouse.  And were working their way through school.  They were the most mature and got  good  grades and likely ended up truly successful.      

    • onlyme

      Cindyluwho – I discovered that although employers often say minimum requirements; a degree plus 20 years experience they will often accept less. I once decided to not apply for a position that I was very qualified for because they listed a masters degree as the requirement, the person they hired had a BS.

    • Email

      I bet you would have learned how to spell “practical” if you went to college. You possibly would have learned how to phrase “children’s birthday party” properly as well.

      • Richard Simpson

        Is perfect grammar worth the $100k?

      • I bet you wouldn’t be such a pretentious asshole had you skipped college. You possibly would have learned something about the real world, instead of expressing your intellectual superiority by correcting people’s spelling on a blog.

      • guest

        Wow! That has to be the most ridiculous thing I have heard..
        Plenty of college grads; I know personally; can’t spell, and have horrible grammar. Not to say that I excel in these areas myself by any means; but that was quite rude and contributed nothing to the subject.

    • Brad Smith

      This piece of paper that you value is almost like the fiat dollar. It’s worth something becuase we say so. It’s a form of legal graft. I wasted my time getting piece of paper that I never use. A few of them actually. You can do more to educate yourself through reading and life experiance than college ever can.

    • Graywolf

      Any supervisor that would not look at a person with your experience should be in another position. After 40 years as a Clinical Laboratory Director I can tell you there are many college educated idiots out there. You have to show confidence and apply for those jobs. Explain what experience you have, if you ever was in a leadership position, and most important  show confidence that you can do the job better than any new “college” graduate.  

    • Jimoaklanduniv

      Just remember the Idiot responsible for Destroying jobs at the voting booth and Kick these lib dem Socialists OUT!   We need JOBS NOT ole barry and his Cronies SOCIALIST CRAP!!

    • GremistaBob

      From your style of writing and the intelligent comments you make, I can believe you are way above “degreed” people of today.
      One of the best lessons I learned (late in life) is that I cannot control anything but what’s inside of me.  Now, I don’t let what others think determine my own actions.  For example, at 74 years of living in the USA, I moved from Colorado to Brazil to start a new life with a wonderful Brazilian lady.  Do you think my friends thought I was crazy to do that?  I’ve never been happier and am enjoying creativiy I never before experienced.
      You live in a country that was founded on the right of “pursuit of happiness”. There are ways to rise above the crowd who are prisoners of their own making and don’t want to see anyone else pass them by. It’s called “do it yourself”.  You can do it!

  • Rachel Pasqua

    Recently, when telling a friend he should read one of your posts, I said that you “wrote like a dying man” – but in the best possible way. But I like the “blood, Carrie blood” description better.
    I wonder about what to tell  my kids about college eventually. I learned much more from working and experimenting and reading and traveling than I ever learned in college.

    • I think the key with kids is to always give them exciting alternatives. Make them realize its not as cut and dry as what their friends and teachers are telling them. 

  • Robert Torres

    The more I read your blog, the more I like you. I read your book, this weekend. Good read. 

    All that time and money I spent on my Masters was paid back in a raise,…broke even. Quit the job after giving them five more miserable years. 

    Learn to “think” in college?,…..better off reading logic books for twenty bucks each. 

    • 100% agreed, Robert. 

    • Zb

      You sound like you were in a high paying but dissatisfying field. College, from a purely economic perspective, may be a waste depending on your industry and time of graduation. But it ends up being quite a learning experience for those with open eyes and ears, even if it’s the observations about the limitations of the college experience. Even angst can be used to propel something better (like in James’ case perhaps). The same can be said about living a few months as a homeless person (learning experience), but living homeless usually can’t be used as a stepping stone to something else. 

      Also the sheer setting and characters around you can influence your thinking and open up doors…sure, Zuckerberg was a drop-out, but a drop-out from Harvard. The case against going to college is similar to the case against going to a selective college vs. state school. College ended up being a good all-round experience for me, but admittedly, just like anything else, it’s not for everyone.


  • Concrete Dovetail

    Hey James, our of curiosity, if a university offered you a tenure-track position, would you take it?

    • Ha, great question. The reality is, if I was a bit older and not as excited about the current things I’m doing I WOULD take it. Because tuitions are so high that means campus life is super cushy for college professors. I also hope that I would be able to teach some of these real-world things that students wouldn’t otherwise get. 

      • And your children would get free tuition……but would they waste their time?

  • PC

    James, this post is upsetting. The points made above are all fine, but aren’t you talking about skills learned from life experience. You seem to talk of college as doing you a disservice and yet you can’t see how much you really nailed it in terms of accomplishment and enrichment. College requires work, learning, scheduling, deadlines, performance, ect. all in a new social setting. You did it in three years and paid your own way working full time and I believe tried a business funded with one of your roommates/friends F&F money! (good luck finding startup capital in soviet russia) This is all great stuff and good for you. Maybe the fact that you’ve exited from a few companies and now live on your own terms has something to do with the fortitude you were required to show in college. I’m not sure that painting in italy gives one that lesson.

    My father paid for college and I did the bear minimum. I got an mba in the evening paid for mostly by my employers. While I agree the mba is a scam, its had its benefits. Yet, 20 yrs out of college I am stuck in a job. You are not! But id still be worse off economically and socially without my degrees I think. Remember many people (read the comments) wish they had stuck it out and finished college; some are paying a price for not.

    So I wonder if you are grateful at all for what College did for you? Do you look back on those years of hard work with pride? I know I would.

    • Whether or not I’m gratefu (I’m not) for college is aside from the harsh reality that 22 years after I graduated student loan debt is now higher than credit card debt in this country. Are kids are graduating as debt slaves instead of innovators and that’s what worries me most. Aside from that, almost everything I could’ve and should’ve learned in college I can learn for free on the iNternet. 

    • Evemonton

      My father paid for college and I did the bear minimum. I got an mba in the evening paid for mostly by my employers.

      You have an MBA and you used bear instead of bare?
      Money well spent or inattention to a bad spell check correction.

  • BrianBalk

    Is there anywhere you HAVE you seen sales taught properly?  This is an area in which I need a lot of help.  Thanks as always for your passionate and honest writing.

    • I have seen it taught properly in some books. I am planning a post on this. 

  • TS

    I believe college is good for its social network. Even for you, James, I think you mentioned several times in your blog that you met someone via your college roommate, or friend of a friend, very likely that friend knew you from college, too. And I also believe that’s why people are willing to pay more and invest a significant more amount of time and effort to get into the so-called good schools. The curriculum is might be just slightly better, but the people you get to know will be the big professional (and maybe personal) resource in your life.

    Also, many companies recruit from colleges, and that’s the way many people obtain jobs. 

  • Sooz

    a must read for all J.A. fans.

    most humble will not post something kindly written about them.
    you more than derserve this one.:))



  • Ann

    Just wondering, which college did you go to?

  • Nayan

    No wonder Corporate America is a mess, colleges don’t even teach how to hire right person for the job.

  • Mira

    “Some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you have lived so cautiously that you might as well have not lived at all. In which case you failed by default.”
    A quote by JK Rowling from her 2008 Harvard commencement speech. 
    Worth a watch if you haven’t seen it. 


  • Benjiman Mccarthy

    James, I’ve read your don’t send your kids to college posts before, but this one is the first one, for me, that really resonates.  This is more convincing and compelling than anything you’ve written before on this topic.  Every part of this was meaty. Nice job.

  • rikyu

    hard to believe you could be a master level chess player and not be a pretty capable programmer!

  • The job market in the second half of the twentieth century was all about fitting into the system.  Specialization.   College was – and continues to be – the upper level programming of these systems-people.  Those who succeed there – as I did – are considered adequately trained to do a specific task in most large organizations.

    This thing I am typing on changed all of that.  No longer must I fit into the system.  Suddenly I have the power to bend the system to my will.  I can do what I want, when I want, how I want…. and I can make money doing it. 

    In many ways today’s college graduates are like newly apprenticed buggie-whip manufacturers scoffing at that newfangled auto-mobile.  Things have changed and they (we) spent four years and a lot of money on the wrong road. 

  • I like this statement “when the scars of college go away”…

    You have very good insight James, worst thing is that school life and the real life are two different dynamics, and no one tells you this, we are thrown in the deep end when we are done with school, frantically looking for a manual on how to survive in real life, and sadly find out there is none!No wonder there are career students…they can’t fathom the thought of being away from the structured world of schools!!


  • Joe: Happy 31 if you are reading this!
    Great piece James.There is a line from a Bob Dylan song that im thinking of:”Preacher was a talkin’,theres a sermon he gave,he said every mans conscience is vile, and depraved.You cannotdepend on itto be your guidewhen its youwho mustkeep itsatisfied.”University = depraved conscienceUs = slaves which keep it satisfiedMaybe none of this makes sense.  PS:I have 5k I saved to start a business.  Do you have any advice as to how this small seed can be managed properly?  

  • The Reporter

    You have to actually be interested in other people and want to learn from them in order to network.  You being interested in them will make them interested in you. 

    Loving yourself more is a great start.   Once you love yourself more and realize people want you around them, you’ll begin to understand why it’s important for you to want people around you.  It’s a compliment when you want someone to hang out with you.  Just ignore the rude ones and don’t take anything personally.

    Just my opinion.  Hope that didn’t sound too confusing.

  • The exact opposite happened to me.  I learned a skill I could sell and market, but business was not part of the associate degree curriculum.   I had to keep learning and reading about business on my own while I was working and making pretty good money for someone else.  Learning the business end helped me take control of things and not be at the mercy of a corporate agency.  They send me work because their clients ask for me, in addition to my own client list that I’ve amassed over the years, and I’m always updating the technology I use.  Being open-minded, learning, and not being afraid to try new ideas has given me career longevity.  It’s a foolproof approach.

  • guest1

    Dude. Why didn’t you just go to a state college for 1/10th of the cost?

  • Funny article!  I lived in Hoboken for a long time.  Any chance you’re a Steven’s graduate?

  • Albert

    I never got past the “here’s ten things” …( here IS ten things )………at the start of the article. It seems like you still have not been able to figure out the singular and the plural in the English language regardless of the discussion we had abou that some time ago. Oh well. Its here ARE ten things. Quite simple really, isn’t it? Not for you I guess. SINGULAR = IS. PLURAL =ARE!

  • Mike Bravoza

    An ounce of image is worth a pound of performance

  • Rob

    I learned more about programming at the age of 8 by myself than in 3 years at a University.

  • Rob

    After getting out of college, all I heard was “Do you have any experience?”  What a sham.

    Then I was stupid enough to put my faith in video games.  When artists suck, it LOOKS like programmers don’t do anything.  And it’s amazing how many people don’t know the difference between artwork and programming.  FML.

  • Jane

    I have a college degree, but it isn’t the one I wanted.  I did what people told me to do.  I had an affinity for language, and thought I would work overseas.  Instead I got married, and had 4 kids.  I have a husband who is infinitely(I can’t spell) smarter than me.  He didn’t finish college.  He works in a company that thinks a degree makes you smart, yet he has taught the people above him how to do their jobs.  They make more than double what he does, and it isn’t fair.  They use his knowledge and abilities, but refuse to compensate him for it.  They know in this economy they have him over a barrel.  He is so far above the automatons that work with him it’s scary.  If this was a world where merit mattered he would be rich.  In the past the cream, the intelligent populous, rose to the top.  Now, they tell everybody they are college material, and have to dumb down the programs and degrees to make it so.  My mother’s high school education from the 30’s was better than most college degrees today.

    • Jane

      I also agree about the backstabbing.  Yet, they should have taught you about betrayal.  The work place of today is ALL about looks and personality if you want to succeed.  I know of CEO’s who are a joke, and I don’t understand how the boards of directors countenance these people.  No wonder the world thinks we are idiots.

    • Duh

      Wow Jane.  Same thing happened to my mom as your husband.. She quit college to get married  to my Dad- best move she made ; ) –   but when she entered the workforce after I was about 12 YO, she found her niche and did very well, but was paid much less than what she was worth – even after years of work and rising to  Exec levels – still paid far less than men with same education levels.. Her passion for the field fueled her – not the money.  She was manipulated so badly – some nights coming home in tears.     Your last statement is a truism .. I have the same experience. My wifes Grandfather was a farmer, only finished the 8th grade, made more money than I will ever see, was healthy and happy (80+ years) and as well or  better “read” than any professor I ever had in college.    Another thing – Ever notice how the supposedly under-educated past generation have wonderful handwriting?   We are doing something very  Wrong today!

      • GremistaBob

        My mom and my grandmom had handwriting that was a work of art.  I never see such handwriting today.  In fact, I rarely see handwriting being done; it’s usually cell phone texting.
        I keep wondering how business letters must look these days full of things like, ROFL, LOL, IMHP.

  • Get the State out of the education business and you’ll have your answer.

  • Anonymous

    Most majors these days are about subjects that don’t belong in college anyways.  Business, English lit., sociology, psychology, and even history. 

    • AfterSight

      How do these subjects not belong in college?

  • boomer8

    You, my friend, are a literary genius.

  • lakers223

    I enjoy your writing- very insightful and great style. But I have to disagree with you on this article- 10 Thins I didn’t learn in college.  About me- I’m 30 and I attended a great Ivy League school that I got into based on my merit and then was awarded an amazing scholarship/grant that I didn’t have to pay back. This grant was based on FINANCIAL NEED so basically the college said ‘if you’re smart enough to get in here, we will help you out so you can afford to attend since your parents don’t have any money.’ My mom and dad are bright but working class and my mom had cancer and we had medical bills and they put a huge emphasis on education, so I had a 99 average, played Varsity sports, aced the SATs, won science fairs, had 2 poems published, etc. Anyways, I was and am still VERY GRATEFUL that I got a grant that allowed me to get a first class education without any significant debt. OK, so the items you listed are things we learn from LIFE experience and we’re in college from the age of 18-22. There is lots of time for life experience and learning about fancy dinner parties and what the true meaning of happiness is. I do agree that the cost of college tuition is increasing at an insane rate and I’m not happy about that….

    College is absolutely what you make of it and it depends on your personality/personal happiness. I had a lot of LOVE and support from my parents and tend to be friendly/curious about the world, so college was amazing for me. I met people from all over the world (still have friends that live in different countries, studied abroad twice- once in Australia and once in Spain), I was on different committees and raised money for clubs I was involved in.. .I discovered playing lacrosse and joined a dance team. I met SO MANY SMART people who were also REALLY COOL which was a revelation to me because in high school I was a ‘nerd’… I played sports but still ultimately because I cared about learning and getting good grades, I was a nerd. Then in college, my world opened up and I just met so many interesting peers who liked to snowboard, and dance and act and write plays and volunteer and build things. I also LOVED my classes. I LEARNED SO MUCH in my classes. I took mostly only classes that I wanted to, and developed relationships with favorite professors who I STILL keep in touch with.

    I read somewhere you went to Cornell. That could be why you didn’t have a great time. A lot of kids from Long Island (in fact there are feeder schools on LI for that uni) go to Cornell and it’s not a crowd I’d want to hang out. I lucked out by choosing a school that had a diverse population- wealthy kids, poor kids (like me), and middle class… kids from California, from New York, from Mexico, from Spain, Italy, Australia, INDIA, London, etc. The study abroad experiences for me were even more amazing that being at my Ivy League School- I made friendships that have so ENRICHED my life in innumerable ways. I became passionate about international human rights and educational inequality while in Australia and working with Aboriginal kids in the Northern Territory, etc.

    I could go on and on and on but basically my point is that sure, I’ve learned some very valuable life lessons AFTER college- about what makes me truly happy, how to negotiate, cutting out negative toxic people, having structure/schedules/balancing a budget, etc… BUT the whole time I was in college, I kept thinking how lucky I was to be able to go to a top rate school, with a grant, and have so many wonderful friends/experiences and discover things that I didn’t even know I liked or enjoyed or was good at (writing plays, volunteering, backpacking, learning another language).

    College as with any other choice you make in life is entirely up to you. My brother went to a school that my dad picked out (state college, not particularly good nor bad) and he didn’t work on researching schools that he would like or would be a good fit. I invested heavily in researching schools and programs that I was interested in and then went to the best school I got into and made the most of it…knowing it was a gift.

    It sucks that tuition is increasing now, but if you’re lucky/smart enough to get into the top schools here in the US, you will most likely be helped out by the college a lot as all the top schools have large endowments for their undergrads and this is solely based on financial need NOT merit, so it’s simply ‘you can’t afford it, you qualify for this grant/scholarship’ etc. It’s a beautiful thing.

    You also mentioned that everything you learned in college you could have learned online. I believe that learning isn’t just learning the topic- sure you could learn all about biology by reading the textbook and taking an online class that provides quizzes, tests etc. to make sure you’ve learned the material. BUT you’re missing out on the social/interaction factor which is just as important in learning. Learning is better when you’re with peers and a teacher or instructor and you can HEAR/SEE someone tell a personal story related to the material and others give their viewpoints and the teacher chides in, and it’s a DISCUSSION. You learn how to interact with others, you learn the subject better, and lets be honest, LIFE IS ALL ABOUT RELATIONSHIPS and CONNECTIVITY. The relationship you have with YOURSELF, with your PARENTS, with your SO, with your RELATIVES, with your Therapist, Banker, Salon Person, Tax Guy, BOSS, Co-workers, Neighbors, etc. And that’s why it’s beneficial to LEARN in a class whtere there are other BODIES talking, offering anecdotal advice, clarifying certain topics, offering extra information you were not previously aware of (oh, there’s a website that has a great article/video about this?…oh you met someone who had this disease and that’s what happened?)…. 

    Ok, I’ve written so much, but just felt like I had to respond because COLLEGE can be an AMAZING thing and I’m sorry you had such a difficult time but it also seems like maybe you weren’t very happy/social or interested in other people, the ‘experience’, or taking classes just for the sake of learning- like Poetry 101 or Art classes or The History of Argentina or Marriage 101 (yes there was a class called Marriage 101 that was amazing). Sure I took the hard classes for my econ/science major but I also took TONS of interesting classes because my school offered them, and I knew I’d never be able to take those classes in this kind of environment, at this age where my mind was still open…. and so curious about things. I’m still very curious but it was insatiable in college.

  • lakers223

    So to sum up, I just wanted to say that instead of blaming COLLEGE I’d look internally and blame yourself…not harshly, but how much effort did you put into picking a school? That is really the MOST IMPORTANT decision… but then it’s all about YOU and your personality/strengths/interests. Even if you don’t end up at your top choice school (many of my friends didn’t), its still up to you to MAKE THE MOST OF IT. Join a club, go to the speaker series, go OUT once in a while, sign up to volunteer once a week, become part of a community- it doesn’t matter if it’s academic in nature, artistic, athletic, volunteering, religious or just people who like to talk about surfing or computers or learning spanish or how to SAVE THE WORLD. College for me was the first time I met so many people who were so passionate about what they did- my best friend was a theatre major (he’s really successful on broadway now) and was BLACK and got the lead role in Romeo & Juliet- a BLACK Romeo! It was awesome. My other friend loved dancing but there were not groups dedicated to the type of dance she liked- fusion of hip hop/jazz so she created her own group and then sent all the money from the shows to a charity they cared about. I didn’t have enough money to go on cool spring break trips so I signed up with other friends from college to drive to another state, and VOLUNTEER at a low income school (for orphans) FOR THE ENTIRE WEEK OF SPRING BREAK. It was basically free because we split all the costs and the school provided meals and we worked with children, taught, and implemented some programs that the staff there could use for the following school year. I did learn a very hard lesson about relationships/dating while in college, but then I got OVER IT (when your mom has cancer you don’t have a LOT OF TIME to dwell on things, especially when someone proves to you that they are NOT WORTHY of your time)… so I GOT OVER IT and met the most amazing man ever after that. I needed to get my heart broken to realize what is important to me in a relationship… As soon as I did that, I met someone great and we just got married. :)) And we’re spending the next year working for a microfinance organization in India before we return back to our old jobs. So yea, COLLEGE is absolutely what you make of it and if you go to school that sucks, that’s your fault for choosing it and not doing your research and if you end up at a place that’s not your first choice, it is up to you to take advantage of being there- talk to people, learn about others, get to know your professors, join clubs that are interesting, … I networked a LOT in college… I wasn’t into theatre or performing before but I met cool people who were and now I have discounted tickets to all major shows :)) That’s just one example, but I also made friends with people that live all over the world and now i have so many couches to crash on and my first 2 jobs out of college were from referrals from classmates… so yea, that’s all i really wanted to say. Sorry for all the rambling. I just had a lot to say!

    • High School dropout

      Hmmm…  Perhaps laker223’s college did not offer Recognizing And Appreciating Satire When You Read It 101.  And I am very interested in the closing sentences of his previous screed:

      “Sure I took the hard classes for my econ/science major but I
      also took TONS of interesting classes because my school offered them, and I
      knew I’d never be able to take those classes in this kind of environment, at
      this age where my mind was still open…. and so curious about things. I’m
      still very curious but it was insatiable in college.”

      I hope lakers223 will favor us with another 1800-word essay that will let us know at precisely what age we should close our minds.  I am in my 60s now, and I’m afraid I am more, not less curious than earlier in my life, and my mind has also become much more open.  Is it too late for me?  I mean hey! what do I know?  I never went to college.