I REALLY WANTED to go to college, I swear. High school was a breeze, all my friends were on their way to what they imagined to be life-sculpting secondary education experiences, so I begrudgingly convinced my parents to take me on a tour of college campuses up and down the West Coast. (Cal Poly San Luis Obispo's most famous alum? "Weird Al" Yankovic.) Problem was, my folks never wanted me to go. The trip made it clear to me that my family cared not for higher education, and if I wanted to go to school beyond my free public high school education, I'd be the one paying for it. Seeing how my stripmall photo-processing job paid me all of $4.75 an hour, college wasn't in the plans.
So what did I miss? Plenty, at first. I was driven to jealousy by friends who could swipe a digital meal card and watch a grilled cheese magically appear, those who could master a gravity-defying kegstand, and those who lived in dorms with cool Che Guevara posters adorning their wall. And while I dropped out of a terrible community college after a few months, my friends all got a decent education at real colleges. I was consumed with regret for never having a resident advisor to hate, for never dropping in on a class, or for never having the dean glare at me disapprovingly after I pulled off a hilarious prank that involved either undressed coeds or the opposing school's mascot, possibly both. (I also regret learning so much about college from '80s movies and USA Network's Cinemax-lite "Up All Night" program.)
But as I traveled at ease, dropping everything for trips to India and Europe, or traversing the country countless times with a bevy of forgotten indie bands—two things I could never have done if I'd been enrolled in school—it dawned on me that I didn't miss all that much by skipping college.
Sure, I'll never experience school spirit, the thrill of knocking boots in a dorm room (to do it now, in my 30s, would just be creepy), or be taken under the wing of a wizened professor in a tweed blazer with leather elbow patches (damn you, '80s movies!). But I avoided the panic of choosing a major, the burden of final exams, and the looming fear of the reality that awaits most grads.
Most importantly I circumvented the crippling burden of school loans. Last week the New York Times featured a financial piece on the havoc excessive student loans bring to relationships, profiling a medical student who'll owe $250,000 (one assumes she will eventually pay that back after becoming a successful doctor) and a "part-time photographer" who owes $170,000 (she's fucked). Considering my financial ineptitude—I would have taken a Stafford Loan to buy a case of Bud Ice—I'd be the sort of "part-time photographer" who'd owe half a million dollars for a degree I no longer use. Phew, dodged that bullet.
Of course most people exit college as well-rounded young adults with degrees in hand and without the soul-crushing responsibility of paying off loans well into retirement. I just wouldn't have been one of them. While I missed plenty—especially the Rudy-esque opportunity to make the football team and inspire countless thousands with my scrappy undersized-white-guy heroics on the field—over time these regrets have faded. Truth be told, skipping college was one of the greatest decisions I ever made.