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Is college really as important as our society today has made it out to be?

I'm a freshman in high school. My guidance counselors and teachers basically say tell me if I don't go to college my life will be miserable. I want to live a simple life. I have figured it out. I know that may seem weird, but that is what I want. I want to live in a small apartment with not much in it and just enjoy the small things in life. Is college actually necessary to succeed at all in life?

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Closing Statement from Colin Petre

Thanks alot for all the replies. It really helped me. I'm probably just going to figure everything out my junior year when it's time to make it.

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    May 12 2013: Is college important? Yes, but maybe not for the reasons that most would think of. I need to preface my comments with this…Life-long learning is the most important.
    Below are just a couple reasons why I believe that college is important:
    1. EXPERIENCE. The experience of college is the learning experience of independence, responsibility and life.
    2. HOW TO LEARN. It isn’t as important to what you learn, or what you study in college. What you get out of going to college is a process on how to learn.
    3. DEGREE. Yes, some professions require that you have a degree or a certificate that proves that you have been exposed to some level of study and achieved some level of proficiency in a particular subject
    4. MEANING & PURPOSE. Through the activities that you do while in college with friendships that you develop will define who you are and what you will become in life. From study group midnight trips to Denny’s (my first born daughter is named after a group partner in college) to drinking parties and getting sick in someone’s yard that you don’t know (still a funny story 20 years later), these will make who you are in the future.
    5. SENTIMENT. Your college life will give you powerful stories to share throughout your life and give you feelings of pride, happiness, regret, and even sadness that you can share with people that will come into your life in the future.

    There are so many reasons why college is important. Everyone will tell you to study hard, learn the subject matter well so that you can get a good job and make higher wages; and this is all true and great advice. But, I say go to college for you, your future, your life. Enjoy the EXPERIENCE and don’t waste the opportunity to learn a life lesson.
  • R N

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    May 26 2013: College certainly is not as important as our society today "has made it out to be". The hyperbole surrounding higher education is part of a broader societal misconception about human happiness. Even the positive psychology movement, a movement built on the objective of promoting the use of psychological methods to enrich lives and increase happiness, has found in their own studies that happiness is 50% genetic. Given that the movement is ideologically biased against such a finding, my guess is that well more than half of your subjective well-being is based on what mom and dad gave you to work with (genetically-speaking). To me, this suggests that there are, in fact, very few decisions that will dramatically alter your day-to-day mood (other than, say, getting addicted to heroin, where you could chemically damage the very parts of your brain that deal with certain pleasures).

    So, no, going to college won't give you all the answers you're looking for, guarantee a successful adult life, or even ensure you meet the right people to "get ahead". And, in and of itself, college isn't going to make you a happier person. However, depending on what you want, attending college can increase the likelihood of certain positive outcomes: financial freedom and a satisfying career (though there is some debate as to whether this is correlation or causation). These outcomes, while not dramatically transforming your experience for the better, can make life somewhat more meaningful, comfortable, and rewarding.

    The question for you, Colin, is how sure are you that you have "figured it out"? If you really just want to live in an apartment and "enjoy the small things in life" then college would be a waste of your time. However if, for example, you find you want a family then you are going to have to think about how you will support them. Providing well for your family will require money. And college is one way of increasing your chances of having those resources.
    • May 26 2013: I really liked what R N told here. Collin, nothing is necessary to succeed at all. But it can open your mind to new things, new ideas, new reasons, not only to get a job, get paid, get your stuff. Every knowledge given is an oportunity to change your life, our world or even to know that the subject is not good at all.

      Even if you want to live in a small apartment (I'm sure you will love the talks of Graham Hill and the LifeEdited in TED, that man knows how to live in small places!) the knowledge that you will increase in college can change you, and how you can see things, even enjoying small things in a better way.
      Success is not the goal, I guess. It's about how it's done.

      And, of course, respecting your decisions is part of it.
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    • May 18 2013: I agree, if you go to college and don't work for education there its a complete waste of time and money.
  • May 7 2013: I am a college student now, and I can say if it weren't for the constant issues with financial aid and the anxiety of paying student loans, I would have enjoyed it more. I have one semester left, and I have turned to the thought of living a simple life, I want a farm and some chickens, and be a vegetarian, but this is because of what I learned so far in school. If I didn't attend school and be opened up to so many enlightened professors, colleagues, student orgs that I have been exposed to, I probably would still be the close minded person I was prior to this experience.
    I say go to school for the experience and because you want to learn something, and don't expect anything else. Simply because everything else isn't guaranteed, unfortunately the awesome salary, the jobs banging down your door, none of it happens to everybody. And lately it has been happening to less and less people.
    I love learning, but this will probably be the only degree I earn unless I win the lottery. I will be self teaching for a while, which is a love of mine anyway. My advice is don't rush college, if you can't afford to graduate in four years, don't stress it. These student loans are loads and loads of malarchy to keep you financially crippled. It makes it hard to gain ownership of many things in the future. So steer away from those
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      May 7 2013: "If I didn't attend school and be opened up to so many enlightened professors, colleagues, student orgs that I have been exposed to, I probably would still be the close minded person I was prior to this experience."

      This is a great testimonial.
  • Jun 3 2013: it is important because it has become society's norm. getting a degree opens you to a lot of jobs.

    college is a good investment even though you might feel that you're spending too much for years but then, what you earn from that title or degree is fourfold.
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    Jun 1 2013: Colin, As you say ... your a freshman in high school ... many things will change in your life in the next few years ... your ambitions, desires, wants, needs. What you say you ONLY want now will change believe me.

    The question about is college important in our society etc ... there are options. There are some very good trade schools. There will always be a demand for plumbers, mechanics, and trades people. As I set in the line at my barbers shop yesterday I thought about his life. He cut one head of hair in 10 - 15 minutes at $15 dollars per. So for example he does 6 costumers in one hour and 5 in another hour. By cutting 6 he makes 90 dollars per hour if only 5 he makes $75 per hour. Business wil not always be that great so say over the week he cuts a average of 15 a day for 5 days = 75 @ $15 per customer his weekly salary is $1,125 X 4 = $4500 per month X 12 = $54,000 a year. He has one chair, 2 clippers, 2 siccors, 2 combs and a bottle of barberol all in a 20 X 12 or so room with five chairs for waiting.
    He makes this salary from the day he gets his certificate. Not much invested and little overhead.

    Call a plumber ... sit down when you get the bill. Mechanics get $95 per hour at almost every shop or more and you still pay for parts, etc ...

    Is college bad ... no. The point is that a good craftsman can do well without college.

    We have embraced the idea that a degree is THE measure of sucess. Perhaps we should measure using different standards. Can you be a success in life without a degree .... yes.

    I would advise you to continue your studies as if you were planning to attend college. By doing so you will be prepared if the circumstances or your desires change ... as they might.

    Keep a open mind .... I wish you well. Bob.
  • May 18 2013: Is ignorance bliss? It might be. I don't mean "ignorance" in terms of education but rather an ignorance of choice. How aware are you of the almost limitless possibilities that life has to offer? Can you remain in blissful ignorance for a lifetime? There is something very appealing in that prospect. The breadth of choice that we have today is a a primary source of a generalized dissatisfaction which appears to infect a large portion of humanity.

    Reality seems to be that life is complex whether you want it to be simple or not. A broad educational experience, whether in a formal college setting or in a self-designed exploration provides you with a greater potential to adapt as the complexity of life closes in on you.

    Thoreau experimented with the simple life and it was very productive for him. Ultimately though, he left; "I left the woods for as good a reason as I went there. Perhaps it seemed to me that I had several more lives to live, and could not spare any more time for that one." Make sure you have the ability to escape that small apartment if it turns into a prison cell.
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    May 16 2013: Let me tell you a little bit about my life, and why I would recommend going to college. I think college, for some people, is just what they are told to do, its what's just supposed to be done. I also believe that it is an amazing place for people who really want the knowledge, aside from earning the credits. It's sort of up to you how useful to you in your life it is. As a high school drop out for 11 years, I never really had a problem getting a job, either I sold myself well, or they were more interested because I had the size and strength to move materials, either way I've had about 2 dozen jobs. Where would I be if I stayed in school. I might not have my daughter and her mother, so I never complain about the path I walked. Aside from that, rotten teeth, consistent consumption of alcohol in the decade that followed my dropping out, general homelessness crashing on couches, wondering why the women I am with are even remotely interested in me, oh yea and the Felony I picked up in my early 20's, for having half of 1 pain killer in my pocket, that will now haunt me forever. I'm doing much better now, basically sober for 4 years, since my daughter was conceived, my future wife is paying for me to have ADHD treatments which might be part of the reason I was unable to succeed in school when I was young, and I'm finally starting to see things clearly. I've never been so interested in learning and research as I am now, particularly astronomy. But I'm a full 12 years behind, my first step is the GED, something I could have completed a long time ago. Since I stay home with my daughter while her mother works and attends college courses, like superwoman, I'm looking at maybe, 2-3 years before I can get a day job and get things moving. I would recommend going to college as soon as possible, you might acquire a taste for knowledge later on in life, and you wont be over a decade behind, with no real answer as to when you can go, with all kinds of obstacles to overcome
  • May 8 2013: Hi Colin,

    I think if we were in another time, the answer would be no, it isn't necessary to go to college to be successful. But today, in order for people to obtain the jobs they want, they need to be able to verify that they have the basic skills to succeed, and a college education usually certifies that. That being said, college is a time and money cost, and you need to make sure that your return on education (ROE) is high enough to warrant going to college. That means getting as much as you possibly can out of your education.

    That being said, in all honesty, I loved (and miss) going to college. I would not have found the profession or interests I have now without college, and I certainly would not have developed a mature enough state of mind to handle working in an office without going to college. Not only that, but outside of the financial and career reasons for going to college, you have the potential to meet inspirational people, new connections, and really expand your view of the world in a vast number of ways. Sometimes, it takes understanding the bigger world in order to more greatly appreciate the smaller things in life.
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    May 6 2013: This may sound cliche, but I think its only as necessary as you make it out to be. Society puts a lot of emphasis on higher education, but there is not enough on quality education where students are getting useful information.

    As Sir Ken says (and I'm paraphrasing), we don't need to reform education as much as we need to transform education.
  • May 31 2013: Very astute and to the point, you sound as if you have already been to college. My time at college was wasted, I didn't want to be there, and they had nothing I wanted to learn. I have however, never stopped learning. Some disciplines I have taken classes for, others I have learned on my own through books and trial and error. Learning to be happy with very little is one of the hardest lessons to learn, and if you can keep positive thoughts going, your life will happier than most, which is how success should be judged.
  • May 30 2013: College education (and any other formal education) is more than the lectures and the lessons that we need to study. It is also interaction and building relationships. It is learning as much as we can from our experience during that process of education. So yes, it is quite important. I believe that it is, not because it's the key to success, but because the education, for one thing, will mold our character. The education will also give us perspective or challenge our beliefs, and this is important because the set of values and beliefs that we have account for the decisions we make as individuals.

    It's also worth noting that success varies from person to person. My definition of success might not be the same as yours. And perhaps college does help us become successful in the career paths that we choose, but I don't think that college exists solely for that purpose because a huge percentage of what we learn in college will not be used when we will actually be working for a living.

    I'm having the pleasure to be in college and with that, be in a learning community. The education is enriching my life and expanding my horizons, and exposing me to different kinds of experiences. I believe that the education is very much worth it.

    "The gift and challenge of your education is to see others as they see themselves, to grapple with this mean and crazy and beautiful world in all its baffling complexity." - John Green
  • May 29 2013: Well, I'd say it depends. College is good. having as high an educational background would serve you well in today's competitive job market. Does it directly reflect our careers? Not exactly, some people go to a college get their degrees and masters done and end up working in an entirely different career path from what they majored in college. Some simply do not require a college education but their wit and smart ideas help them become self employed, or become entrepreneurs.
    What you may want today might not be what you want in the future. From my experience , especially as a person who has not had the chance to go to college, I'd say when it comes down to living in the real world it all comes down to diligence, and dedication, Commitment. You do not necessary learn to live or survive in this world or even at your work simply by going to college. It is merely how well you take opportunities, learn from your mistakes and learn from the environment around you and the situations you are in. Not having a college education might not make things easier to succeed in life, but it does not really make you any less qualified or talented or any less important than a college graduate.
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    May 26 2013: First,there are several levels of colleges. Some knowledge you gain in college are indispensable in your chosen career. What makes colleges unique is they provide opportunities that you cannot get else where,for instance,a social project confined in colleges,a lecture presented by a scientist,etc. Moreover,studying,living in college, help you broaden your mind,you make friends whose mindsets are different. whether you attend a college or not, a mind longing for knowledge is the key to create and seize opportunity,because either way,in the real world knowledge is power.
  • May 26 2013: First and foremost decide what you want or need to improve yourself. I am 24 and a graduate with a bachelors in biology. I was lucky in that i always knew what i wanted to do so i entered college immediately. Have a goal in mind first. Dont take thousands in student loans without a goal first. Learn for the enjoyment of learning. You can do this by taking one or two classes at a college if you dont know what you want to do yet you can also do it by working. I have found more learning experience from work than i ever did from school until i started veterinary college last fall. I will tell you education is important. There are so many classes i took that i will always appreciate having. (Literature, us history, criminal justice, philosophy). Classes with more opinion and more applicable knowledge about how our country works. These classes didnt get me to veterinary school but they made me a better person. I do not regret my college experience but i also loved working full time and taking my time to graduate (5 years)
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    May 25 2013: The sooner you learn to really listen and trust your inner guide, the better off in life you will be. Following the same path that the majority take (high school, college, job, marriage, baby etc) is not the right path for everyone - which is why so many adults are unhappy and not fulfilled. Yes, college can provide you with knowledge and a skill set for a job but you have the opportunity to completely design your own life - which is exciting! Make a list of the things that make you happy and find different ways to make money from them. Set your goals on what you want and focus on achieving them. Your goals will change over the years - but being able to focus on them to achieve what you want will be a skill set you have for life.
  • May 22 2013: I'm 21 and I'm in college right now, and I can tell you that it's important. I had the same mentality that you have when I was a freshman. It's possible to do it without college, but to be honest, it really helps to go. Don't just focus on the knowledge you get in books bro don't forget about what high school teaches you about life. It's the same thing for college, sure you get a diploma and learn stuff form books, but what's important is what college teaches you about life.

    Go to college if you get a chance to, you will meet a lot of different people from different places and learn a lot about life in the end.
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    May 19 2013: If success means to be successful in job market and climb higher up then it is still important. Not only that but also from which college one is having the degree counts a lot .
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    May 14 2013: As one who has started the highest level of university study (Ed.D) it may sound slightly hypocritical to say it is not that important. Often we don't know what we want to do when we grow up. Research in Australia shows that @ 25% leave uni before finishing and another @ 25% never work in their field of study.

    Is it necessary? Bill Gates, Richard Branson did have any and they are doing okay; but they are an exception.

    I think what university or any formal study will give you is a broadened horizon. Cliché I know, but as one who has been on this journey as a part-time student since 2004, I am so much better for it. If you treated study as a journey rather than a destination, you will always get something out of it.

    There is research around that demonstrates the value of college/university; but it is not for everyone. My question to you is where do you see yourself in 10, 20, 30 years time. Married? Children? If so, you may glad for the income a college/uni degree will give you.

    I am not sure what year 'freshman' is, as we in Australia do not have that, but - not wanting to sound old - you may not have it all figured out. Life is great at throwing curve balls. If you are young, then my advice is don't stress about it - yet!
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        May 15 2013: Hi Lee

        Thanks for the information, most helpful Our high school years are 7 to 12 (ages 12/13 - 17/18). So Colin would be bang in the middle of our system.
  • May 14 2013: I think college is useful depending on the lifestyle you want for yourself. Follow the topics that you are curios about. Follow your interests. College makes it easier to live certain lifestyles, and guessing by the fact that you watch TED talks you have intellectual interests. Follow your heart, you can live a simple life with an education. College is a different experience for everyone, but I would recommend going after your dreams, major in what you love. It is sad to see so many people letting go of them to be practical to have money and more material goods. Do what will make you most happy long term.

    I'm graduating college this coming weekend. It has been such a worthwhile experience for me. I learned a lot, met great like-minded people and learned things in subjects I probably wouldn't have sought out otherwise. That said, I don't think it is a requirement for success.
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    May 13 2013: Unless you're going into a field that will give you a good chance of finding a job that pays enough to pay off your loans quickly, go on scholarship or have money to blow, college isn't necessary or a good idea. This is coming from someone who just graduated with two bachelor's degrees on Saturday and is going to graduate school in the fall.
    An "education" at a traditional four-year school is just far to expensive unless you plan on doing something where the job states, "bachelor's degree required". Furthermore, most of education these days is a passive experience, with the professors giving you information and you memorizing it and spitting it back out on an exam for four years. They tell you what to think, but few teach you how to think. I think you'd be much better off working full time, saving up money and educating yourself by taking free classes of of iTunesU or Coursera.
    My advice is to get creative. If you like engineering, take some free calculus and physics courses. Buy some used text books. Do some experiments on the weekends. Design something. All the information you need is out there, you just have to find it and figure out how to apply it. If after a couple years of this, you decided to want to work professionally in a field and want to go to a university, you already have a great resume and grants and scholarships are far more likely to come your way.
  • May 13 2013: Oh yeah and check out coursera.org before attending any classes to predetermine your interest and dedication level,before spending thousands of dollars only to discover you are better pursuing something else. Really broad selection of interests and courses, all of which are free. All classes are online and set up like regular college courses.

    I have taken three courses already and they are fun. The first was on environmental sustainability from the Uni of Illinois, the second was an astrobiology course from the Uni of Edinburgh, and the one I am currently taking is an introduction to guitar through the Berkley School Of Music. All the smarter, and I do believe the future of education will be delivered this way.
  • Gar K

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    May 10 2013: Whether you choose to go to college or not I do encourage you to keep your mind healthy and fit. Living a simple life could be just right for this.

    Many who do go to college are frequently engaged in things for which they have little interest, or are investing a lot of time and money for a program in which they are giving a very half-hearted effort. I find these phenomena wasteful and unnecessary.

    One thing that college could offer in terms of learning, more efficiently than trying to learn it on your own, would be various technical, scientific, or technological skills that require expensive equipment. And if your areas of interest require interacting with peers doing similar things, then colleges can often be a good environment (though not necessarily the only environment) to find this (e.g. musical performance, foreign languages, etc.)

    One problem about not going to college is that it has become a common societal demand for people to have college degrees as a condition for acceptance in a wide variety of occupations. So not having a degree could restrict employment choices in the future. But provided you keep your mind healthy and active, I guess you could always go back to school to get a degree later in life, if you so chose.
  • May 9 2013: I recently graduated from college December of 2012 and I can honestly say that overall it was worth my time. What made it worth my while wasn't the school, but my professors and staff that made it worth my while. A word of advice, I would look into a school, try it out for the first semester, or year and if you feel that the teachers, and overall campus isn't for you, then take that as a sign and leave before you are forced into a 4 year commitment that you aren't commited to. Also, you have to go to college for the right reason, which is education, yes you can still go to parties, however don't let the social life be the only reason you want to go. College isn't for everyone, and remember some of the smartest, most successful individuals who have made great contributions to society never graduated from college, or even liked going to school for that matter.

    Best of luck to you and your endeavors!
  • May 9 2013: When I was a junior in High school, I told my mom, "If I go to college right out of high school, it'll be a waste of my time and your money." I was sick of going to school. Instead, I joined the military (and do not recommend it).
    Afterwards, it took me 13 years to get a 4-year degree. But I did it because I WANTED it.
    Looking back, I wouldn't change anything, because then I wouldn't be where I'm at now, which is pretty darn happy.

    A couple hints:
    1. You get better financial aid after 25 or marriage because then your parents' income doesn't count.
    2. You might think that math isn't important. Bullsh**. Get through trigonometry at a minimum. Sines, cosines, and the pythagorean theorem are VITAL in anything where you build stuff or work with electricity.
    3. If you get into drugs, STAY AWAY FROM THE POWDERS!!!
    4. Not everybody gets to go to college. There are a lot of people that have to WORK for a living. If you are one of them, take care of your body, because it's the most important tool in your toolbox. Also, manual labor can be very enlightening.
    5. When you leave school, don't stop learning. Read. Take online classes, or continuing education classes, or online classes, art classes. Learn to meditate.
    6. Learn about what goes into your food. If you see ads for it on TV, it's usually bad for you.
    7. Leave your home town. Get out and see part of the country at least. Go visit another country if you can. Maybe not right away, but do it before you're somebody's father.
    8. Read the wikipedia entry for "credential inflation".
    9. Winning the lottery is not a sound financial plan. It's a tax on people that are bad at math.

    Anyway, it's bed time.
    Good luck Colin.
  • May 7 2013: Wow look at the student loans out there. You may end up a slave.
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    May 7 2013: Education is quite important, but going to college simply for the sake of obtaining a degree without due consideration as to what practical application that degree with have to your career can have some serious ramifications. The cost of education has become exceedingly high in some places, and many young people have made the mistake of taking out expensive student loans for degrees that provide no additional job options, and no tangible benefits.

    As to whether or not college is necessary to "succeed" in life, the answer to this is highly subjective and determined by how the individual defines success. Being educated can definitely make certain career choices easier, since it serves as a sort of "proof of experience". However, I have known a few people who were able to get jobs that traditionally require a degree by demonstrating a skill set that they learned independently.

    Your personal goals will dictate what level of education is appropriate for you, but I urge you to keep your options open and consider that what you want in the future may not be the same as what you think you want from life now. Best wishes to you.
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    May 6 2013: College is more important than ever in America. In order for a company to increase their chances of hiring someone who can read and write they require a college degree because it is possible to graduate secondary school without those basic skills. We are being dumbed-down folks!
    • May 13 2013: Now now Mr. Ed. You are being to simplistic yet again. Where do Jobs and Gates fit into your equation. Being dumbed down is a choice. Awareness and self education is where it is for this generation, not being told to blindly believe in things that are irrelevant or do not apply to the real world we now occupy.

      Our education system is designed to create more educators. The system is broken and needs to be raised and reassembled. The generation you grew up with taught you the three 'R's' which only one started with an 'R' in the first place, and taught to memory not ability and strengths.

      Do you really think college is that important? Do you get out in the real world much Mr. Ed? It's the system that allows a student to graduate secondary school without the skillets to succeed.
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        May 13 2013: Very astute, Mr. Middaugh.From simple minds come simplistic thoughts. (Why do you say "again", have I been simplistic with you before?). Do Steve and Bill prove that one cannot graduate high school with less than full literacy? My point about dumbing-down is that a high school diploma once was a guarantee that the holder could read, write, and do everyday math. Your suggestion that being dumb-downed is a free-will choice made by the victims is not at all convincing. You are speaking of the specific shortcomings of the education system which is not the subject of this debate, so let's stay on-topic. And, finally, no, I do not get out into the real world much. I get most of my stimulation and motivation from the sages of TED Conversations. By the way, the "Three R's are: Reading; Right use of written communication; and Right application of math operations. . . that's three "R's". :-D
        • May 13 2013: Duh. You are brilliant. Whether or not college is important is the question, and your take is that it is. I think you are wrong with your typical blanket statement that it is. You are wrong.

          Only one starts with an R, you miss the point.
          You should get out more. Start by a new pair of glasses you self righteous shit.
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    May 6 2013: I agree with Henry that you should be thinking now in terms of keeping your options open rather than tracking yourself prematurely on a course from which you would later find it very difficult to diverge. If you keep your options open by taking the coursework that would make you college eligible, you always have the option later of not going or of deferring that decision.

    There are also different kinds of colleges and vocational programs you might consider. Perhaps when you are eighteen you will decide you don't want to go to a four year college but do want t get a certificate at a community college or trade school. Perhaps you will decide that, regardless of where you want to live, you have discovered a subject that you would like to delve into deeply, with experts in it at hand to talk with you about it, answer your questions, and maybe mentor you.

    I think fifteen is very young to close doors or make doors extremely challenging to pry back open.
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    May 6 2013: Yes it is. You want a simple life now. Don't make decisions that future Colin may hate you for. I would remain open minded
    at the very least.