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What Could You Do with $20,000?

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For Parent at the Helm readers, a sneak peek at Blake Boles’ upcoming book, Better Than College: How to Build a Successful Life Without a Four-Year Degree! Thank you, Blake, and best of luck!

What Could You Do with $20,000?

By Blake Boles

collegeImagine that you’ve been accepted to the college of your dreams, and they give you a full-ride scholarship. In celebration, you and your family spend your college savings on home improvements, philanthropic donations, and an extravagant vacation.

But then tragedy strikes. The college calls and says that it’s closing. Yet they make you an offer: instead of leaving you in the cold, they’ll give you $20,000 per year so you can give yourself a higher education. The catch is that you can’t spend it on another college. You’ve got to do it yourself.

See also “Warning: US College Degree Bubble Set to Burst

So the question is: what would you do during the nine-month academic year if you were given $20,000 but couldn’t go to college?

I’ve asked hundreds of teens, young adults, and parents across the country to consider this thought experiment. Their replies are consistent:

  • “I would travel the world.”
  • “I would use it to pay for living expenses so I could intern or volunteer and figure out what I really want to do.”
  • “I would start one or two businesses and not worry about whether they fail.”
  • “I would put it away for the future.”

I thought hard about my own answer. If I had $20,000 to spend on my education during the nine-month academic year, I would spend:

  • $4500 for six months of living expenses (room, board, and transportation; $750 per month) in a thriving city where I could live with friends or interesting strangers.
  • $3000 for 100 hours of private life coaching or instruction in writing, entrepreneurship, sports, music, art, or foreign language.
  • $2500 for a three-month budget backpacking trip through multiple countries (both developed and developing).
  • $1500 for new software, a new laptop, or equipment needed for my learning projects.
  • $1000 on start-up funds for one or two business ventures.
  • $1000 for two or three round-trip plane tickets, five long train trips, or one epic road trip to attend conferences, competitions, and big events and to visit family, friends, and mentors across the country.
  • $600 for a literary feast: a one-year university library membership and 40 new books.
  • $500 for smartphone service (invaluable for self-directed learning on the fly).
  • $200 for high-speed internet, which opens the door to Google, TED Talks, YouTube, university webcasts, blogs, podcasts, and everything else on the Internet.
  • $100 for one year of website hosting for a blog and portfolio.
  • $100 for a pair of athletic shoes for running and pickup sports games.
  • And finally, $5000 to invest into a mutual fund.

If I followed this budget for four years, adding $5000 to my mutual fund each year (at 4% yield), I could actually end up with a $22,000 nest egg—almost the amount of debt with which the average college student graduates. And that’s assuming my business ventures don’t work out.

Then there are the activities I could do that would cost nothing:

  • Interning, volunteering, or working for an organization that I admire.
  • Seeking the mentorship of friends, family, and other trusted people.
  • Interviewing, shadowing, or apprenticing with experts in my fields of interest.
  • Reflecting, journaling, and meditating.

By focusing on these low-cost and high-value activities, I may not need to spend even $20,000 per year on my higher education. With creativity and resourcefulness, I could spend $10,000 or less per year—a sum readily accessible with a combination of hard work, fundraising, and parental support.[1]


[1] For more advice on funding your Zero Tuition College experience, visit http://www.ztcollege.com

Blake Boles is a 29-year-old author, entrepreneur, and international adventurer who helps young adult unschoolers build meaningful, productive, and exciting lives. As the director of Unschool Adventures, founder of Zero Tuition College, staffer at Not Back to School Camp, and author of College Without High School, he’s got his paws in many pots of proverbial unschooling honey. You can follow Blake’s escapades at BlakeBoles.com.

You can keep up with Blake’s progress and receive more early excerpts here.
For more information on the book and fundraising campaign, please visit IndieGoGo.
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