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The UnCollege Blog

The Cost of Being a Perfect Student

By Alex Clifford

We've all been through the school system. I don't know about you, but I’m really disappointed with it.

When you're in school, you’re on this giant treadmill. You've got to keep running and running, and keep getting good grades. Then, at some point, you realize it's all been for nothing. You've been scammed. You think to yourself, what was the point of the past decade I've spent cooped up in a classroom?

I was such a geek. I'd start studying months before exams. I'd spend my lunchtimes in the library. I'd be working at home. I was miserable half the time, and stressed the other half. And I just wonder: what was the point? Why did I convince myself that I got satisfaction from that? Realizing that none of this matters is a hard feeling to have. It's like someone jabs you in the chest and says “I've just taken the best years of your life. But here's your certificate.”

I used to think to myself: “I want to get a highly paid job, and to get that I need a degree. To get that, I need good A-Levels and GCSEs.” (A-Levels and GCSEs are the exams in the UK, where I'm from). In reality, I didn’t need any of it. None of my employers ever asked what grades I got, or if I had a degree. Most importantly, I didn’t actually want a boring job that a degree would get me, no matter how highly-paid I was.

School misleads you. You’re encouraged to achieve “academic success,” which really just means doing things that are easy, repetitive, and dull. We are so invested in the system that we don’t realize it is turning us into really boring people. And that's sad.

Academic success and grades mean little in this modern economy. If you want to get yourself a career, good employers only care about your experience, your interest in that field, and your willingness to learn.

So where do we go from here? We should learn things that we want to learn. That’s what education is really about: becoming so excited about an idea that you want to be learning about it all the time.

Instead of confining your learning to lectures, you use the Internet. Instead of churning out bland essays, you write blog posts about things that interest you. Instead of limiting yourself to college professors, you meet experts in your field. And so forth.

I'm 19. I still don't know what I want to do in the future. What I do know is this: in the last year, I've learned more than I have in the other 18. I’ve had more real-life experiences. I’ve accomplished real things. I’ve met fascinating people.

I wouldn’t have done all of this in university. In fact, I’d probably still be a socially awkward geek who focused way too much on making the grade for exams. Now, I — and everyone who believes in the UnCollege ethos — am focused on a new goal: becoming an amazing human being.