How-to Get A Better Education Than Your College Can Offer

Today we’re going to talk about how-to get a better education that your university is giving you – for free!

I’m a journalism major, halfway through my junior year at the University of Colorado at Boulder. But I’m interested in small businesses and tech startups. Whoops. Too late to turn back now. After college I have no intention of going into journalism. I’m either starting another business of my own or working for a startup somewhere.

In all of this mess though, I have an advantage: I’m still doing what I’m passionate about, regardless of my degree.

Getting your undergraduate degree is a synch. It’s not about learning, what you know or what you’ll take in. It’s about playing each teacher’s game, giving them back the information they want and then dumping it out of your brain as soon as you’re done with it. Your undergraduate degree has more to do with your organizational skills than it does your retention skills. Besides, you won’t use much of what you learned in school in the real world.

So while you’re paying to go to school, go get an education.

You may be like me, passionate about an area outside of your degree. Or you may be perfectly happy and excited about the area that your studies pertain to. Either is fine, neither will hinder you from getting what I’ll call in this post a “better” education.

Professors are overrated. Find professionals.

Let’s say you’re interested in marketing. What’s going to get you farther: textbook terms that you spit back on a test or sitting down and picking the brain of someone who’s actually doing marketing?

Experiential learning, asking good questions and taking notes for yourself will get you infinitely farther than copying down some slides as your professor lectures.

Not only will you remember what you learned in the meeting with your professional of choice, you’ll also have the opportunity to ask him or her questions about specific areas that you’re interested in that may be outside the scope of your classes.

Get out in the community

Join a professional group or attend meetups pertaining to the passion that you want to turn into a profession. hosts thousands of meetups all over the world. They’re are a great way to find people doing what you want to be doing.

Build that network early. Let them know that, regardless of what you’re studying, you’re passionate as hell and you’re going to make exactly what you want come to life.

Use the student advantage

You may not be able to flaunt a job title or a company you work for while you interact with professionals who are older and more experienced than you, but you can leverage the fact that you’re still in school.

People will be impressed that you’re trying to get involved even before you’re out of school. Most college kids wait for the email from career services with job offers. Most wait for a lucky break.

Leverage the fact that you’re a student learning early and open doors for yourself. It’ll earn you much respect and you’ll be way ahead of the game.

Get an internship

Again, there’s no better way to learn and retain than by doing. Make mistakes. Get your hands dirty. Start that résumé.

Use your network and your passion to work you way into the industry and learn from the people who are going to actually teach you. There’s much less knowledge dumping when you’re applying everything you learn.


Find mentors and learn from them every chance you can. Degrees are overrated. Passion is underrated. Don’t wait for life to come to you and start it all even before you think of buying the cap and gown.

Zack Shapiro is The Startup Student, a student entrepreneur in Boulder, Colorado. He is the founder of 59thirty, an iPhone development company.

5 thoughts on “How-to Get A Better Education Than Your College Can Offer”

  1. Edward - Entry Level Dilemma

    “Besides, you won’t use much of what you learned in school in the real world”

    I guess that all depends on how focused your education is. If you were still interested in pursuing journalism after graduation, I’m sure much of what you learned in your journalism courses would be useful. And if it isn’t, then maybe CU isn’t such the good school as they try to talk down to us here in Fort Collins.

    When I went for my bachelors in physics, many of the courses built off each other. Now that I’ve graduated and continuing my education on my own in hydrology (the career field I’m trying to enter), I’ve finding use for many of the concepts and formulae I learned in my bachelor’s education.

    At the end of the day, if you are no longer intersted in journalism, why are you still spending 9 grand a year for an education you aren’t going to use? Out in the “real world” employers generally could care less about a degree outside of the scope of your career. My B.S. in physics won’t do anything for me to get a job in finance (unless I gained additional education/skills to become a “quant”). Yours in journalism won’t do anything for working at a tech startup. Besides, startups seem to not even be concerned about a degree in their field if you have the skills to do the job.

    1. I love this statement: “Out in the “real world” employers generally could care less about a degree outside of the scope of your career.”

      This is so true because it seems like only your relevant skills are worth mentioning.

      My question to you Edward: do you feel that there are transferable skills between a wide variety of college degrees?

      1. Edward - Entry Level Dilemma

        To a degree, yes there are transferable skills utilized by a variety of degrees. Part of the idea of a liberal arts education is to make sure students know commonly needed skills like writing, critical thinking, rhetoric, and research. That said, you really don’t have to go to college to learn those things and, even if you do, they tend to be covered within the first year or two.

        I think that employers know that those kind of skills can be learned anywhere which is why most positions that require a degree, require a degree related to the position. When looking at job postings, you almost never just see “bachelors degree required.” You see “bachelor’s degree in ecology, environmental science, biology, or related required” for an entry-level range-land technician position.

        An employer is either going to want specific, complex skills than cannot be quickly taught on the job and therefore need to be learned in a program designed to teach those skills, or they don’t have such a requirement and, then, rarely look for a degree as a requirement.

  2. You’re right Edward, it does depend on how focused your education is.

    I’m finishing my degree in order to have a degree. Also to have something to fall back on. I’d rather not take an extra 2-3 years in school to essentially start all over. What’s more is, I’m an out of state student so I’m trying to get out of here as soon as possible.

  3. Edward - Entry Level Dilemma

    My experience has been that those types of resources are still open to you after you graduate, assuming you maintain a geographic proximity to your school. As an alumnus, I still have full access to all of my schools library resources. My problem is that I moved 1800 miles away so I can only utilize the online resources.

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