What would you do with $50,000?

This comes to you tonight by way of Dale Stephens’ most recent post on UnCollege, in which he asked his friend Marlon Paine, who is soon to head off to NYU and whose education there will cost just under $50,000 dollars a year what he would do with that money if he wasn’t going to college.

This was his answer.  I’m quoting the story in its’ entirety:

How I’d spending $50,000 a Year Educating Myself by Marlon Paine
Summer is over, and the new crowd of freshman will soon be piling into the dorms. But not me. I’m going to create my own freshman year—I’m going to use the world as my classroom, and take advantage of all of the opportunities available to me to pursue my interests. I’m going to use $50,000—the approximate cost of room, board, tuition, and miscellaneous expenses at NYU—to create my own ‘college experience.’  All the numbers cited below are exact figures, not estimations.

To start I’m going to head to Oaxaca, Mexico. I’ll leave San Francisco on August 27th to begin my journey. My roundtrip ticket will cost $700. I’ll be doing a home-stay Spanish immersion program. For $200 a week, I’ll take twenty hours of Spanish classes a week. The room and board will cost an extra $203 per week. But that leaves so much time in the day. So for the first two weeks I’m in Oaxaca, I’ll also take a traditional Oaxacan cooking class; for the second two weeks, I’ll be taking a ceramics class. Fifteen hours per week of class for four weeks will cost $520.

I’ll return to San Francisco on September 28th. On October 1st, the following Monday, I’ll start Dev Bootcamp—an intense hands-on introduction into programming. The program costs $12,200 for ten weeks, and it’s at minimum forty hours of programming a week (they state on their website that often, participants spend twice that much time working). I found a room in the Mission that I could rent for $800 per month, for a total of $2,000 at the end of Dev Bootcamp. And for food, I’ll allocate $200 a week. For the cost of everything, I’ll be spending $16,200.

When Dev Bootcamp ends on December 7th, I’ll spend the next week teaching myself about product design through MIT’s OpenCourseWare. I’ve found lecture notes for Product Design and Development, Toy Product Design, Prototypes to Products, and Marketing Strategy. I’ll have to pay for rent and food for the next week, adding an extra $400, but the classes themselves are free. I’ll definitely buy books on product design as well—so let’s factor in $100 for that. On December 15th, I’ll go home for a month. One-way to Los Angeles from San Francisco costs $100. I won’t have expenses this month, because I’ll be  with my parents, so we’ll skip ahead to when I start ‘school’ again. On January 22nd, I’ll fly to Vermont for a three-week long program in Ecological Design in the Built Environment. The one-way flight from Los Angeles will cost $260; the program itself will cost $4400, plus $525 for food and $630 for lodging. Add in the $80 cab ride from the airport. I’ll be taking the program at the Yestermorrow Design/Build school, and end up with a certificate in sustainable building and design.

On February 10th, I head down to New York City. This flight only costs $85, plus the second $80 cab ride. For the next fifteen days, I’ll hang out in New York—one of my favorite cities. I’ll see friends, explore, and take a class from General Assembly everyday. General Assembly teaches classes on business, design, and technology. They cost about $150 each. Add in $50 per night for the hostel I’m staying in, and another $50 for food, and the total New York trip comes out to $3,750.

I grew up at the beach, in a town filled with artists, yet I never surfed, nor did I take up any form of visual art. So I’m going to fly from New York to Costa Rica to spend a month on the beach learning to surf and taking photography classes. For $350, I will fly from New York to Costa Rica, and take a $100 cab ride to the beach town where I’ll be staying. The cost for one month of daily photography and surfing lessons, room, and board, totals just under $2,300. There are nine hours of photography classes per week, and two hours of surfing per day.

After a month of surfing and photography, I’ll return to San Francisco. Another $100 cab and a $500 flight and I’ll be back in SF. I’ll join a co-working space for $450 a month, and start putting all that I’ve learned to use. It’s late March, and in the next two months, I’ll work on creating something. I learned Spanish and ceramics in Oaxaca; I learned how to code at Dev Bootcamp; I learned about sustainable design at Yestermorrow; photography and surfing in Costa Rica and various rudimentary understanding of various skills from my classes at General Assembly—so what can I do with all of this? Well, seeing as all of this has been hypothetical, I don’t have the slightest clue. But what I can tell you is that I will have tried out many things and figured out what I like and what I’m good at (and what I’m not). So now I’ll have to put that all into action.

I’ll be back paying $1600 a month for food and rent, in addition to the co-working space, and spending my time building…something. But the greatest thing is that I will have to figure it out. Because it’s my time now. I’m in control of it. I have no school to blame for things not getting done. I have no excuse to not pursue an idea.

When I include rent, food, and the co-working space for two additional months—about the time schools would be getting out for summer—the total comes out to $36,272. So, that means I’ll have $13,728 left to start a business with. And I could lose it all—in fact, I probably would on this first attempt. But then I’d start again. With another $50,000, if I were allowed to return for my sophomore year.

I can assure anyone that this path, although very specific to what I would learn and do, would be more rewarding than any experiences in college. I know, because I left college after one semester. In the four and a half months after, I grew more, learned more, walked through more fear, and actualized more success than I had in my entire life up to that point. But I did it without the $50,000. I had just enough to get by. The money would have given me more freedom, but it wouldn’t have been necessary.

There are more details on the breakdown of costs (and lots of other good info in general) on the UnCollege site, which I highly recommend to everyone.

When I write things about higher education, I sometimes imagine some of my readers – those whose children are still very young – tuning out.  After all, does any of this apply to them at this moment?

Yes, in fact, it does.

How many parents start saving for their kids’ college as soon as the child is born?  How many make sacrifices, work extra hours or a second job, just so their kid can go to college?   Many of them.  (Maybe you are one of them.)

So to parents who have a toddler but are already planning how to afford college, I’ll ask you a version of the question Dale asks.  What kind of learning experience could you give your child with the money you are putting toward college?  A round the world trip together when he’s 15?   A total immersion experience in the country of her choice?  Maybe funding for a small business venture?      Self-directed learning means there are no restrictions except the ones we impose on ourselves.  Teens can even take it upon themselves to fund a project, or travel, or a startup, with crowdfunding, which Blake Boles explains in a recent blog post here.

What would you do with college tuition money if it didn’t have to go to a college?  How would you enhance your child’s world & learning experience with the money you might be putting away for their college?  What project or adventure would your child choose to fund if they could?

You’ve come up with a lot of ideas, haven’t you?  Why not go about making them a reality?


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