Wednesday, June 4, 2008

If You Can’t Afford College

In the current economic uncertainty, and with funding for student loans in doubt because of the credit squeeze, more students than usual are realizing that they may not be able to go to college in the fall. If you are one of them, though, you don’t have to let a lack of money derail your study plans. The truth is, you don’t need a college to study what you want to study. You can start studying on your own, and you can be as organized about it as you want to be.

The main advantage of a college is that they tell you what to study. If you can’t go to college, here are some of the things you can do to bring the college to you:

  1. Go to the college’s web site, read the curriculum, and take your best guess at what your first semester of courses would be if you were there. In this, you have an advantage over real college students: you don’t have to worry about classes filling up or two classes scheduled for the same time.
  2. Get and read the textbooks for those courses. Save money if you can by getting a previous edition of the textbook.
  3. Look for courseware — notes, suggested exercises, and sometimes even video lectures — online. These can come from any college — it doesn’t have to be the college you were thinking of attending.
  4. Since you won’t have the privilege of taking a multiple-choice test to find out how well you’ve learned the subjects you’re studying, you will have to write essays that summarize specific areas and issues in each subject. Make them a little longer and a little more careful and serious than the essays you wrote in high school. Read over your own essays, and if you don’t think they’re college-quality, do them over again.
  5. Do your best to keep up with the college calendar. Typically, that means finishing your first five courses around the middle of December. Hint: you don’t have to wait till September to get started.

It’s a challenge to stay motivated when you’re studying on your own. There is no denying that college has a big advantage in helping you stay focused on your studies. But if you can figure out the focus riddle, you can get most of the education you would want on your own. Looking at how much money you’re saving, around $200 a week just in tuition, might help keep you going.

The Internet has made self-study a viable alternative to college. For the first time, you don’t need to go to a university to get access to the world’s knowledge. Thousands of classic texts and even some new reference books are available online. When you have specific questions, you can look for answers in search engines and on sites that let you ask questions.

One reason to follow the college calendar is so that you’ll already be in the flow of things when your fortunes improve and you get the chance to go off to college. For you, it will just be the start of another semester of study. You’ll either be amazingly prepared for the courses you take, or ready to learn something new.