Above Photo: From blackyouthproject.com
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At this point in human history, college has become damn-near mandatory for acquiring employment and, dare I say, being validated as a functional adult in our society. The “prestige” of attending an institution of higher education yields visions of flying graduation caps, late nights studying in the library, and long, long, looong walks across campus to get from this class to that.
The whimsicalness of attending a university also comes with continually rising tuition costs that dump mountains of debt upon the shoulders of teenagers and young adults who may not have access to enough scholarships and government assistance to ease those burdens, which can take a toll on your mental health.
The internet–a virtual space which we are continually told is only for memes, Black Twitter draggings, and long rabbit hole journeys on Wikipedia–can be a great resource for alternatives to university. It provides opportunities to help create a cheap, independent curriculum that can help Black students to build a career or business.
Here are a few ways that one could create a sustainable career by using the internet to cultivate an untraditional education and acquire skills necessary to succeed in the workforce or as an entrepreneur.
Rewarding careers that contribute to society are not limited to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields. And white knowledge production through the academic institution is not the only legitimate way to learn.
There are free online college courses hosted on sites like Coursera, edX, and Open2Study. Coursera is even available as an app. The platform has video lectures and optional homework, midterm, and final exams/assignments to help you retain what you’ve learned or simply give you the experience of being in a college course.
Some of these sites host courses from universities like University of Maryland, College Park (Shout out to my alma mater), Harvard University, and MIT. If you do want to attend a physical 4-year institution and/or are unsure of which subject you would like to study, these websites provide you with a plethora of options. You can dabble in different interests in order to learn where your passions truly lie.
There are also sites such as Udemy, Skillshare, and Lynda that offer nearly endless options. With these options, lessons require payment, but they are generally cheap, and sometimes free with trial offers and referrals.
It is also worthwhile to investigate your local community colleges, vocational schools, and to look at what options are available with industries near you. Even if you still plan to attend college someday, but are unsure about where funds will come from or about your intended field(s) of study, attending community college may allow you to explore your interests at a fraction of the cost and you might also be able to later transfer those credits to the school of your choosing.
And of course, there is YouTube. If you are a learner driven by visuals and auditory reinforcement, there are a plethora of subjects that you can study in-depth, especially if you stick with specific channels that specialize in your topic(s) of interest.
You can also use social media to network and build connections. Twitter and Facebook can be surprisingly easy tools to utilize. I find it helpful to compartmentalize my accounts for specific purposes. Setting up “academic” or “business” accounts will enable you to focus more on following and interacting with those related to your areas of interest. Humans are social creatures and relationships are a key component in business and academia.
None of this is to go against the benefits of attending a university. I am a bachelor’s degree holder myself. Despite that, I am pursuing a career that diverges (somewhat) from the subject of my academic background, but I refuse to go back to traditional school because of the cost of attendance. So, I have used many of these resources to build my own curriculums and create opportunities for myself.
We’re in a golden age of information and I believe that we should use that to our advantage. For many people, the tunnel to attending college is becoming too dark and narrow to navigate. I doubt the cost of college will stop rising any time soon and we all deserve to have options outside of the academic institution.