150 Grand or $1.50 in Late Charges at the Public Library?

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150 Grand or $1.50 in Late Charges at the Public Library?

A college education, and especially one at a private institution, is quite expensive. But for self-starters, the movie ‘Good Will Hunting’ can offer a guide to attaining a quality education for a pittance. This write-up tells you more…

The title of this article, for those unfamiliar with the movie, is a direct reference to a quote from the movie ‘Good Will Hunting’. The line is delivered by Matt Damon in a scene that takes place in a bar, and that involves an altercation between a Harvard graduate student and his friend, played by Ben Affleck, who barely made it through high school. Modified for language, the quote sums up the value of a college education as follows: “You dropped 150 grand on an education you could have gotten for $1.50 in late charges at the public library.”

While the concept ignores that fact that a degree―and especially one from an institution with the illustrious history of Harvard―has market value, and opens doors to high-paying careers, it is also quite astute. For those who truly consider themselves to be ‘self starters’, and who possess self-discipline, a fantastic education can indeed be had for $1.50 in late charges at the public library (or less, if you are also organized and prompt). To be fair, a sharp mind and good reading comprehension are probably a prerequisite for truly educating one’s self in this manner, but for those with more interest in learning than actually receiving a diploma, doing it solo is a good option.

The problem, for many, is where to start. Certainly, there is a vast array of books available at the library on every conceivable subject, but without some direction, one is simply reading without any specific purpose. The challenge is to create a curriculum and reading list that fits certain goals. To begin, it is obviously necessary to determine the subject or subjects that one wishes to study. Thereafter, compiling a list of titles is the next step, but also the step that can be most troubling.

Luckily, there is a major difference in the manner in which college and university departments operate now versus just 15 years ago. Namely, the Internet. By digging a bit into the websites of large colleges and universities, one can find the course selections for various departments―including both undergraduate and graduate-level courses. Associated with course selections are, occasionally, the syllabus or reading list associated with the courses as well. Professors will frequently post this information online with the intention of disseminating it to their students. However, it is often the case that this information is freely available for the public to view as well, thus giving the self-learner a peek into the reading material associated with certain courses.

While searching the Internet is probably the easiest and most convenient method of creating a reading list and delving into learning on one’s own, there are other possibilities too. Other online options include forums and discussion groups, where the would-be self-learner may be able to connect with either students or professors to get an idea of what they are using for their courses. If that fails, however, old high school teachers may be a valuable resource. High school teachers that specialize in a given subject frequently have received degrees in both education and that specific subject. Though it’s unlikely that they will remember their own coursework from college, it is also unlikely that they will turn a deaf ear to a former student asking them about further learning opportunities, and may be invaluable in constructing a reading list that fits in with the ideal of self-learning.

Whatever the methodology of conducting research and compiling a reading list, the important element of self-education will always rest with one’s willingness to dedicate the time and effort to the process. Reading is one aspect, but reflection, writing essays or papers on the subject―which may also be discerned via online forums and chat groups―and even asking follow-up questions on those same forums are all instrumental in continuing the education process. For those with the drive, a free education is not only possible, but also quite valuable.

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