Don’t Go to College, Miss V.

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Dear Miss V:

Your home school education has worked well. At age 16, you have beaten the system. You jumped through all of the mandatory academic hoops without ever having walked into a tax-funded school classroom. You have not received a standard textbook education. You are ahead of your chronological peers.

You will soon be off to college. I understand that you have done well on several CLEP exams, so you will be entering with some college credit. You have also won a full-tuition scholarship in piano performance, so your parents will not have to fund the bulk of the costs. This is good. But it is not entirely good. There are no free lunches in life.

The scholarship is a major temptation: a private education funded by your own talent and hard work. But college will cost you more than money. It will cost you time: at least four years.

Usually, a 16-year-old’s time is cheap. High-paying jobs are not plentiful these days even for college graduates. This means that the opportunity cost of going to college is usually quite low. Such is not the case with you.

You are a gifted pianist. You have a strong work ethic. But you are an even more gifted painter. There are a lot of very fine classical piano performers out there. There are not many gifted painters.

What if you devoted the next four years, including summers, to improving your skills with the paint brush? At 8 hours a day, five days a week, 50 weeks a year, the total is 8,000 hours. In Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers, we learn that 10,000 hours of intense work usually are required to become a virtuoso. This investment of time does not guarantee such status, but it is necessary, though not sufficient.

If you devoted this amount of time, plus three hours a day plus Saturdays to more CLEP exams and upper division distance learning, you will be able to earn a B.A. degree in four years, including summers. You can do this for about $15,000. That is a rigorous schedule, but it can be done. It is what virtuosos do. If you can find a mentor who paints well, that would be ideal. You can finish college with distance learning in four years, even when serving as an apprentice.

Of course, you could not practice your piano, which you are devoted to. So, what about six hours painting and two hours with piano? That would cut your painting time to 6,000 hours. That still puts you ahead of your peers.

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Gary North [send him mail] is the author of Mises on Money. Visit He is also the author of a free 20-volume series, An Economic Commentary on the Bible.

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