Ryan Deiss: 3 Reasons Why College is a Lie

Ryan Deiss Tells 3 Reasons Why College Is A Lie at The James Altucher Show

Episode 225: Why College Is (Still) A Lie – College is Irrelevant. THIS is How You Grow.

When I first wrote this in a column in the Financial Times in 2005 I got a lot of hate mail. People thought I was trying to ruin the younger generation.

Zero people agreed with me.

There was no discussion. People simply thought I was stupid (maybe I am).

Now I think it’s time for a “discussion”. Student loan debt is higher than $1.5 trillion. That means the head start that college was supposed to give is now a detriment.

But what if it’s free or cheap, many people ask me.

Doesn’t matter. Spend the four years really learning skills that are useful. If you want to learn the great liberal arts alongside those skills there are MANY online courses you can take for cheap or free.

The landscape has changed since a generation ago. The landscape has changed even since  five years ago.  

But still… most parents want to send their kids to college. Have them waste the four years, and even the money. Get into debt. “It will pay off,” they think, even though the data is that incomes for people ages 18-35 have been going straight down for 25 years.

And kids want to go. Their friends are going. So they will go. It’s hard to get in the middle between an 18 year old and their 50 best friends (believe me, I’m trying).

But…ten years from now it won’t be just a discussion, it will finally be a valid choice. I am sure of this. The direction of everything points to this. Higher debt, declining salaries, the decreasing importance of certification, the increased importance of skills, the alternatives in online education, and finally, less corporations requiring the degree.

They all point to one direction: less college, more skills, more real learning.

Today I talk about this with my close friend and one of the best internet marketers on the planet. Ryan Deiss can land in a desert with no computer and no Internet and still somehow build a hundred million dollar online business.

He’s one of the smartest and nicest guys I know. We both have kids. We’re both worried about education and we’ve done our “homework”.

The old promise is no longer true. But there’s a new promise…I’ll tell you what it is at the end of this post.


1. MYTH: You’ll figure out what to do with your life

Do you know what you want to do with the rest of your life? Could you?

I don’t. Not at 49. Not at 19.

The subject follows me. I think of it everyday. I feel like there’s some sort of force inside me that’s always telling me I can do more. It believes in me. And has zero confidence in me… all at the same time.

There’s only one way to figure out what to do with your life.

It’s simple.

Just look at today. Or do less than that. Just look at this moment.

What sets your heart on fire. What section of the bookstore would you be willing to read every book. What did you LOVE at age 14 and how has that love aged? College won’t teach you what you love. Only experience and trying will teach you.

“If you can afford to send your kids to college, and they want to go so they don’t have to be encumbered by all this debt, and they want to be a doctor, a lawyer, an engineer, an astronaut, one of these things where you do need a degree, then great,” Ryan said. “But to go to college because you’re still trying to figure out who you want to be…  that’s a terrible place to figure that out and insanely expensive.”

I offered my daughter “The Altucher Fellowship:” There are just two rules. 1. skip college (or a do a gap year). I’ll pay her to do whatever she wants for just a year. 2. She has to publish a book of essays (because I think she’s a good writer with potential).

She said “no.”

I told Ryan. He said I’m screwed.

“The reality is you were screwed from the beginning because it’s your daughter, so she’s going to be smart. All kids are going to rebel at 18. They can’t help but take the opposing position to their parents…  Just accept the fact that you’re screwed.”


2. MYTH: It’s an investment in your future

Ryan said, “I think, as a parent, you’ve got to help your children not just make good education decisions…  but also help them make good financial decisions.”

“It’s not a great financial decision for an 18-year-old, who really doesn’t know what they want to do when they grow up, to enter into six-figures worth of debt on something that may or may not ROI.”

There are other options… Every job requires skills training. Even if you have a college degree, you still need training.

I went to college for computer science. Then my masters. And when I got a job, they didn’t know what to do with me. I wasn’t up to date. I had to go to remedial school.

And it’s the same for today.

Look at Facebook. If you take social media marketing 101 today, by the time you graduate, everything you learned is outdated. They just changed the algorithm a few weeks ago. And they’ll probably change it again. Which means a lot of businesses are already behind.

So if you invest the time to always know what these changes are you’ll be able to pivot. And you’ll collect a paycheck.

That’s a viable investment.


3. MYTH: College Degree = Success

“A college degree is not a prerequisite to success or happiness in life,” Ryan said.

And he’s right. Many of the most successful people I know didn’t go to college.

It’s hard to stop believing something that was told you to all your life. That’s why people got upset when pluto wasn’t a planet anymore.

Beliefs are ideas. And ideas are the currency of the future. So if your ideas are based around an old way of thinking, your ideas will be that too… old.

“The promise that was made to millennialsthe same one that was made to me, and probably the same one that was made to you“Go to college. You’ll get a good job,” simply isn’t true anymore.”

If you want to be successful you need to spend at least 1% of your day doing what you love. And then combine that with something else you love. And soon you’ll be the best and most successful person at that intersection.


P.S. – This is the new promise…

You can’t rely on any government, bank, or educational institution. Any institution that makes money when you borrow money.

They will advertise, “improve yourself” and try to lend you money.

They are primarily designed to make the rich richer and the poor poorer.

Do this instead…reinvent yourself

The world is changing quickly. A few years ago we didn’t have tablets or smartphones. Now a billion+ people have it.

A few years ago we didn’t have search engines. Now everyone has all the knowledge in the world at their fingertips.

A lot of people are making money from this…reinvent yourself and you will too.


Today: you need to start learning new skills, practicing new efforts, trying on new careers for size.

Everyone I’ve ever had on my podcast, 200 successful artists, billionaires, astronauts, athletes, writers, entrepreneurs, inventors, have reinvented themselves over and over.

There is NOT A SINGLE EXCEPTION of the 200 I have interviewed.

That’s the new promise.

And if you want to learn new skills from someone I trust…take Ryan up on this offer to train you. These are skills you can use to make money on the side (or start a new business and quit your job).

Links and Resources:


  • Society is all about turning out “worker bees.” People get hooked on the basic concept of education and like the sheep we can all be, they fall into line and do what they think is expected. Even if some rebel along the way.

    I barely got out of high school and never finished college. Yet I’ve consulted or coached to billion dollar corporations, celebrities, and even a billionaire. Not one of those clients ever asked me about my education.

    Entrepreneurs emerge in time, but generally no thanks to our educational system.

    • Today

      That’s inspirational, Tom.

      I’m very curious: How did you end up consulting and coaching to those high-profile people? How do you even find them?

      • It was a process of time, timing, and one at a time. After I’d done it for several years then about 95% of my consulting and coaching was straight referral.

        I got away from it for about 7 years by developing a large casino hotel complex that fell apart in the 08 crash. Then with three years time out for cancer treatment and recover and since I was still breathing, a chance to start over.

        Too much? LOL – Don’t get me started.

        • That’s the impetus – to get up from the table, whatever cancer type it might be [mine was breast cancer] – with all of your parts intact and your mind better than ever. That’s the time to take bigger risks, strategically, of course, And a degree be d_____ed. It took me 29 years in business before I went back to college. Accomplished a lot along the way that a degree didn’t affect one way or the other. It was after the 2008 Depression and the killing of small business America – that’s when I applied for a freelance gig, and they said, ‘where’s your degree?’ ‘What degree? I have over 20 years experience.’ ‘We need a degree.’ ‘Really?’ And so it goes, Tom. They really want to know if I ever conformed, not can I do what they’re asking with my eyes closed.

    • B1959

      Absolutely agree with you Tom! Very good comment.

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    • ZillaGod

      The odds of being successful go up if you have a college degree, but it is not a guarantee. Among those who never get a degree, maybe 1 in 1,000 has the stamina and smarts to become wealthy. Many struggle all their lives to get a foothold on a career. Among those with college degrees, maybe 10 in 1,000 become wealthy, and most of the others live comfortable lives with decent careers. I like the odds college gives you when you graduate. The rest is up to you.

      • I resign working hard at shopritte and afterwards at this point I’m generating $75-97$ p/hour. How? Now I am working on the internet! My employment didn’t make me satisfied for that reason I made a decision to take the opportunity on something new…after just 4 years it wasn’t simple to give up my day employment but now I couldn’t be more delighted.>>> http://aww.su/R5VLB


        • Stimpy

          I’ll say it again. Be gone troll. Or maybe I shouldn’t feed the trolls.

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  • Fabian

    College irrelevant? Yes and No. It depends on what your expectations are. However, there was a poll recently published in the Wall Street journal; 57% of the population expects the State to do more to solve problems. Here is my point, the State is here to stay and grow. The best place to learn how the State works is in college, in this state of semi liberty, highly regulated environment that colleges are. Just read the parking rules of UCLA, you’ll understand what I mean (hint the rules for parking start with; take the bus!). This experience with the arbitrary and inertness of the bureaucracy and the ability to move along it may prove more and more useful in real life.

  • Joeven Tomines Infante

    I thought I saw 13 reasons why.

  • Given the costs of college I’m tempted to agree with James. But the real education I believe colleges impart is the ability to learn and how to think. This might not be such a straightforward skillset to acquire on your own.
    Carl Kruse

    • B1959

      College does not teach you how to think. I’ve never understood this often repeated comment. It’s similar to one of those myths that James is referring to that just keeps being passed on. Our education system doesn’t teach kids to think at all….just obey. Critical thinking has a lot to do with temperament too. Some people are simply prone to being more gullible than others.

      • ZillaGod

        Must have gone to the wrong college. A good college challenges you to think about things in numerous ways. Forces you to solve problems. If you want to be an engineer or a teacher or any of dozens of other paths, college gives you the foundation of knowledge better than trying to learn it all by yourself. I agree, the real growth comes later, but the foundation is very important.

        • B1959

          No I didn’t Zilla. I have 3 degrees and went to three different colleges. My husband also has 3 degrees. I’m an RN (my last degree) and he is an engineer. Neither of us learned to think by going to college. That really doesn’t even make sense if you give it any thought. Both of us will also tell you that college was overpriced and most of it a waste for the money spent. Each of us could have received our degrees in a 1/4 of the time. The majority of classes were worthless. An internship would have served me much better. I’ve always been a critical thinker and college had zero to do with that. In fact, I’m much more logical than my naive engineer hubby which is mostly due to his temperament. IMO, most people don’t think critically at all, college or not.

  • Mike O’Day

    Hey James, just listened to your podcast with Ryan Deiss. I’ve thought about this a lot, but showing kids that there are options to get hired for a company without a degree is KEY. If you do the math of life, many corporations emphasize ‘grades and college tier’ as a lazy filter to get an interview. This filter has become the societal norm. This forces kids in college to focus on maximizing grades sometimes by sacrificing real learning and actionable skill gain (ex: taking easier classes or teachers). It also puts a narrow and unfavorable horizon on learning. “Learn for this test tomorrow vs little improvement and small wins that compounded will see major results in the future”. This is the same for high school. Work for a good grade to get into a good college. In college, take the right classes to receive the best (easiest) grade possible to then get a job (that actually upon doing it, you probably don’t ACTUALLY want!!). Anyways, I strongly strongly believe that eliminating the constraint of grades / college = job is the key to positively changing the education system and majorly impacting people’s life for the better. This is something I’m actually trying to build with a company I just started ‘The Geppert Group’. I want this company to be a home for Business Operators and a talent feeder for other companies. A place where people get paid to learn and the market actually benefits by getting higher caliber talent at a favorable rate. I see the path to make this happen. Hit me back up on Instagram DM to discuss further!

  • John Burris

    We need to teach our kids there are VARIOUS ways to make money without a degree. Trade school, entrepreneurship, etc., are viable options.

  • GM

    Decision to go to college is based on individual circumstances. College degree is a resource. It’s great to have other resources such as money, connections, a family that can really help with advice and guidance, etc… But what if a person has no resources? What is an immigrant supposed to do who didn’t go to high school in the US and doesn’t know anybody? What about a kid who wants to get out of environment he is in and to get into environment where he can really learn? I’ve been a business owner for a long time. Over the years I met other business owners and landlords who made very simple mistakes that I learned not to make because of 2 business courses I took in college. How do you put value on that? It’s not just money saved, it’s also confidence in making decisions. Some college courses are more relevant to real world. Maybe, combination of relevant college courses and skills picked up online is the solution. Learning new stuff has to be continuous even without Internet.
    BTW, college dropouts who became billionaires are not good examples. If their businesses hadn’t succeeded, they would’ve returned to college. One can argue that there was safety net that allowed them to take chances.

  • CarolinaMillan

    For skills such as marketing, yeah, but there are certain professions that unless they get automated by machines somehow (medicine, civil engineering, architecture, law, and a few others) can only be learned in college. Last time I checked all of these professions are super relevant still.
    I love Ryan, and I myself went to University for five years to study business and marketing, and although I don’t use most of what I learnt during those five years, I’m still very grateful I got to go. But yeah, if someone wants to be a marketer or an entrepreneur, it’s not necessary.

  • Sergio Marrero

    Hey Ryan & James,

    I am going to send you a both a message through LinkedIn. I am working on a product that uses free and paid classes in order to advance professionally (learn a trade/craft). We are aiming to be the alternative path to the college degree. Would love to chat about it.

    • jessica price

      I’m working on something similar as well. This is important considering the times. Would love the chance to share ideas.

      • Sergio Marrero

        Email Sergio at getcaila dot com or find Sergio Marrero on linkedin

  • Young Adult Business Program https://youtu.be/BShNflU_57g

  • jessica price

    Ryan, I’m curious if the great interns you have gone on to hire were all college students. I agree that college is not necessary for all professions, but there are other things that are learned in college that are not connected to classroom content. It’s an awfully expensive price to pay to get the opportunity to be in a social setting that can teach emotional intelligence and discover about yourself and others who have similarities and differences from you. You talk about not being able to teach empathy and giving a damn, and I agree those can’t be taught, but can be developed with the right circumstances. How do you connect with potential interns who are not part of a college/university program? What is your interview process?

  • Bruce

    There are two types of people in the work world, worker bees and queen bees. Workers bees are those who are happiest working a day job in a cubicle, taking direction and contributing to the greater tasks and goals of the company. Queen bee’s set the agenda and direction of the company. They are the owners and visionary’s of business. There is no right or wrong as to which one chooses to be as both are needed and we are all hard wired to be one or the other, it’s just that one needs to know which you are in order to be happy, ultimately.

    Going to college as a Queen Bee may not be as beneficial unless one wants to learn about entrepreneurship or programming or some other skill that is necessary for owning a business such as law or accounting. A queen bee should have at the least, a good working background on how these work which is best learned in college rather than on-the-job as a business owner. So maybe an Associates Degree in Liberal Arts is the way to go?

  • wuuk

    James, if you weren’t footing the bill would your daughter(s) be so gungho about going to college and loading up with student loans that they will be burden forever?

  • As a student who returned to school after 29 years, I’ve come to the conclusion that the push to get a degree, even as it’s being pushed on me at this age, is for the ‘powers that be’ to determine that you have the ability to CONFORM. Has nothing to do w/the skillset you bring to the table. It’s the same as them telling us that Math is necessary to create, manage and teach networking; that’s a lie. To build websites – also a lie. To teach spreadsheet and database usage – nope. Won’t even mention document construction; no, not word processing, construction. And not superficially, w/o CSS or Javascript,, but really, in-depth, no B.S. nerd-dom. Degrees aren’t necessary, but they prove that yes, you stopped thinking long enough to allow the puppet masters to tug on your strings for a while. Such a waste of time.

  • Brian Pun

    James, can you just add in a tap/button on this site where employers can post jobs who are looking to hire students without experience or degree?

    • ZillaGod

      Most companies that get a lot of resumes automatically toss those without college degrees. If they get 500 applicants, they have to whittle them down to 50 quickly, and pick 10 to interview from those. Having a degree gets you to the next level of consideration, and that has a lot of value.

    • B1959

      Your thinking is why parents are buying into the fear mongering and doling out money they can ill afford. Goodness! There are numerous ways to carve out a path to a career besides sending out resumes and expecting a good job to materialize because of a degree. I don’t even think it is necessarily a stepping stone as so many kids are coming out with one these days. Most 18 year olds don’t have a clue what they want to do but are being pressured into college by all the fear mongering. Relax!

  • LMN50

    Hi, I just listened to this podcast. There is no doubt that required knowledge for any job is changing rapidly and will continue to do so throughout your career-life. Many jobs can in fact be accomplished by those that are driven and self taught, while others still require a “traditional” formal advanced education, like physicians. With just about every other industry undergoing disruptions and systemic shifts, it is time for traditional universities to revamp their curriculum so graduates are better prepared upon graduation. It should be mandatory, for example, that every university strike internship opportunities for every student to take part in during their 2 or 4 years. They should also include the economics of committing to a certain profession before majors are settled on. It should be no surprise at all that teachers are grossly underpaid, so why should the cost for this degree choice be the same for finance majors etc? One size does not fit all in today/tomorrows educational and workforce output.

    James/Ryan, one question. If all universities were free, do you still think you would be adamant about your kids passing on the college experience? I am not suggesting they ever will be, but I wonder how much of the hesitation is in fact tied to the financial disparities that now exist coupled with the fact that curriculum needs to be modernized.

    • Brian Pun

      College should be free of charge for those 30 years old or above. The only costs to pay should be time, books, travel, and brain cells.

  • Lady Galaxy

    Wholeheartedly agree. I’ve been saying this for YEARS, ever since I was in middle school even, i knew formal education was a sham and an incredibly sad waste of one’s valuable time (yes, I did go to college, sucks). It’s a result of adapting the mindset of most people around you and ignoring your inner voice. For some people the inner voice is stronger than others and they sooner rather than later realize the mistake (or totally avoid it) and go on to create the life they want to live.

    Others aren’t so ‘lucky’. You’re doing good work James and Ryan. Spread the idea. More and more people are waking up, but to me it seems it’s not fast enough. There are so many outdated practices and faulty beliefs in the present day that it’s mind boggling and detrimental to humanity’s potential. Let’s eliminate them one by one. Best thing to do, from what i’ve noticed, is to do what makes you happy. You automatically become an example to others.

  • ZillaGod

    There are so many professions that require a college degree. Aside from that, there are many benefits. Even if you pivot a couple times and change majors, you make contacts, learn skills, and take chances that are much harder to do in the real world. College is a cocoon that alows you to take chances, fail, and get back up and try again.

    The fact is, a majority of college kids need the structure of classes and grades to keep them honest when learning these skills. Else, many kids will just watch TV, play video games, smoke weed, and eat pizza instead of learning skills, and trying out their ideas.

    You can go to the best state school in most states for a very reasonable amount. In many cases, tuition is $8k – 10K per year at the top state institution, for in-state residents. If you also work part-time, you can leave college with a degree, lots of new skills, valuable contacts, a job, and very little debt. But if you are only judging college based on ultra-pricey private schools, then yes, that is stupid.

  • This article was very inspiring. I think we need to rethink how we do things WAY before college. The traditional school system is outdated and is unable to provide an education specifically tailored to an individual child’s way of learning. We home educate our daughter and the aim is to focus on “life skills” not “school skills”: https://goo.gl/quRenu It’s quite challenging at times but the flexibility of home education is incredible. It’s also empowering because our success or failure sits squarely on our shoulders.

  • Stimpy

    I recommend “The Millionaire Next Door” book. One bit of advice is to consider a low tech pursuit … like a junk yard. I made the mistake of becoming an engineer. Work I enjoy but I spent my whole career competing with very smart people and feeling pretty stupid in the process. So, find something where you aren’t competing with very smart people! Another observation the author makes is that most very successful people start out with a very benign ‘family of origin’ type situation and aren’t dragging the kind of emotional baggage that those of us who were abused are left with. That is part of the ‘luck factor’ that others here have mentioned.

  • Angela Castille-O’Keefe

    My local school district is partnered with the city’s community college. The High School students, as early as ninth grade, may earn college credit that is accepted at all the higher education institutions in the state. The community college is also partnered with the local business community. The students have access to internships and apprenticeships as discussed in this podcast. There are models of these ideas in existence now in the central Texas area.