The grad school alternative for $10K or less

The grad school alternative for $10K or less

I recently read The Art of Non-Conformity by Chris Guillebeau, a book similar in theme to Timothy Ferriss’s The 4-Hour Workweek in that both inspire readers to think creatively in navigating their careers and lifestyles.

From a personal finance standpoint, I appreciate that the books celebrate the concept of spending your money on what you value most in order to achieve the life you want. Throughout his book, Guillebeau urges you to embrace your big ideas—whether that’s becoming an entrepreneur or biking across the U.S.—all while being fiscally responsible (making conscious spending decisions and remaining debt-free).

In the excerpt below from The Art of Non-Conformity, Guillebeau crafts a $10,000 alternative to grad school—pretty cheap, compared to the average $31,800 tuition for a 2-year master’s degree or $78,300 for a 3-year law degree. Obviously, his plan won’t work for careers that require an actual degree, and you should modify the tasks according to your interests and time/money constraints. But if you’re interested in higher ed without the hefty price tag, it could be right—and fun—for you. Enjoy!

The one-year, self-directed, alternative graduate school experience

  • Subscribe to the Economist and read every issue religiously. Cost: $97 + 60 minutes each week.
  • Memorize the names of every country, world capital, and current president or prime minister in the world. Cost: $0 + 3-4 hours once.
  • Buy a round-the-world plane ticket or use frequent flyer miles to travel to several major world regions, including somewhere in Africa and somewhere in Asia. Cost: variable, but plan on $4,000.
  • Read the basic texts of the major world religions: The Torah, the New Testament, the Koran, and the teachings of Buddha. Visit a church, a mosque, a synagogue, and a temple. Cost: materials can be obtained free online or in the mail (or for less than $50) + 20 hours.
  • Subscribe to a language-learning podcast and listen to each 20-minute episode, five times a week, for the entire year. Attend a local language club once a week to practice. Cost: $0 + 87 hours.
  • Loan money to an entrepreneur through and arrange to visit him or her while you’re abroad on your big trip. Cost: likely $0 in the end, since 98% of loans are repaid.
  • Acquire at least three new skills during your year. Suggestions: photography, skydiving, computer programming, martial arts. The key is not to become an expert in any of them, but to become functionally proficient. Cost: variable, but each skill is probably less than three credits of tuition would be at a university.
  • Read at least 30 nonfiction books and 20 classic novels. Cost: approximately $750 (can be reduced or eliminated by using the library).
  • Join a gym or health club to keep fit during your rigorous independent studies. (Most universities include access to their fitness centers with the purchase of $32,000 in tuition, so you’ll need to pay for this on your own otherwise.) Cost: $25-$75 a month.
  • Become comfortable with basic presentation and public speaking skills. Join your local Toastmasters club to get constructive, structured help that is beginner-friendly. Cost: $25 once + 2 hours a week for 10 weeks.
  • Start a blog, create a basic posting schedule, and stick with it for the entire year. You can get a free blog at One tip: don’t try to write every day. Set a weekly or biweekly schedule for a while, and if you’re still enjoying it after three months, pick up the pace. Cost: $0.
  • Set your homepage to Over the next year, every time you open your browser, you’ll see a different, random Wikipedia page. Read it. Cost: $0.
  • Learn to write by listening to the Grammar Girl podcast on iTunes and buying Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. Cost: $0 for Grammar Girl, $14 for Anne Lamott.
  • Instead of reading the entire Encyclopedia Britannica, read The Know-It-All by A.J. Jacobs, a good summary. Cost: $15.

TOTAL COST: $10,000 or less. 

Excerpted with permission from The Art of Non-Conformity by Chris Guillebeau. Copyright 2010 Perigee Books. All rights reserved.

What do you think of Chris Guillebeau’s One-Year, Self-Directed, Alternative Graduate School Experience? Would you do it?

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