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The Not Going Back to School Guide

The Not Going Back to School Guide

Maybe you dropped out. Maybe you don’t have the money. Or maybe you graduated. But the bottom line is you’re not going back to school this fall so … now what? Here are eight possibilities that might make you thankful you’re no longer living the higher-ed life:

Get a j-o-b

It’s not the most glamorous, but it needs to be said. “If a man will not work, he will not eat,” says the Good Book, and let’s face it—we all like to eat.


Maybe you don’t want one job. Maybe you can’t find one job. How about 10 jobs? Or 20? With some skills and some gumption, get out there and convince people to hire you for this, that and the other.

In this economy, organizations don’t want to hire additional staff (or full-time staff) because of the added burden of benefits. If they need a bit of extra labor, they’re much happier to pay some pleasant self-starter like yourself to bang out a project.

Make yourself a nice business card. In fact, make yourself 1,000 nice business cards, with your name, number, email and some inkling of something (or some things) you can do. Then see how fast you can give all of them away. If you can do it within a month, you’ll have more work than the USPS on Christmas Eve. A downside of this approach is you probably won’t have health insurance. So eat your vegetables. And check if you can stay on your parents’ plan, if you are poor enough to get Medicaid or if you earn enough to buy some.


While you’re at it, you might come across some place that needs a gopher of sorts for their work but don’t have much money to offer. Talk yourself into an internship, even if the pay is lower than you might like from normal employment.

Once you get beyond the initial stumbles and bumbles and office topography, interning can be a real trip. As you’re hardly paid and you’re new, expectations can be very low. So you can suggest off-the-wall ideas, ask stupid questions, make lots of mistakes and learn a ton about your area of choice.

Do fun school

While in the midst of a serene brain numb TV bliss, your eyes may catch an ad for a sushi bar. You suddenly remember your dream growing up of learning to make sushi (or arranging flowers, repairing motorcycles, writing children’s stories or playing tennis). You call your city rec department or the continuing ed arm of a college nearby and find they have a few dozen classes in everything from yoga to Yiddish.

Yes, these informal classes will cost you something. But compared to a semester at Cornell, you’ll be tickled at the prospect of nearly free education that you actually want to do. And who knows—maybe one day your sushi skills will land you some paying gigs.


We ain’t gonna lie—it’s cliché. But so is lots of life, so stuff it in a backpack and roll out. Machu Picchu, Great Zimbabwe, the Great Wall, Giza, those huge Buddhas and Easter Island. New York, New Delhi, New Zealand and Newcastle. Chinese cuisine, Turkish bazaars, Thai massage and Tiki bars. It’s the world, and it’s all out there waiting for you to see it and be it.

If you’ve not traveled extensively, you might have the idea that it’s expensive. It can be, for sure, but it doesn’t have to be. Check out for a fantastic accommodation networking service (and a super-cool example of a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization—see right). You may also be able to find an environmental or agricultural tourism operation where you volunteer some service and get to stay somewhere cool for a week or month, while maybe learning, too. And in many places, if you travel like locals do, and eat like locals do, you don’t need to drop much jing. Plus, as you go, you might be able to freelance (see above) for organizations you happen across.

Start a 501(c)(3)

That’s right, a nonprofit. Look it up and find it on wikihow, and, or go to the horse’s mouth at How hard can it be?

You decide on a purpose. You bring people together. You write bylaws. You have a little election. You each get a swank title. You ask some people for money for the cause, and you’re on your way! Oh, the places you’ll go!

Become a citizen journalist

You have a laptop. You have a camera. You have a cell phone. You are a citizen journalist! It’s like Harriet the Spy for grown-ups—put your tools in a cool bag (along with a flashlight and some snacks), put on your favorite jeans and sneakers, and hit the streets to find the story.

I’ve often thought every person has a story. In fact, when I meet people, rather than ask, “What do you do?” or “Where are you from?” I often go for, “What’s your story?” This little trick has yielded some amazing tales, tales worthy to be told to a wide audience. You do need to be able to ask such people if you can record what they say and take their picture, and then turn around and pitch it to editors. But if you can, you can do the world the service of spreading stories worth telling—pay it forward and all that.

Now to actually sell some of this stuff, Writer’s Market and Photographer’s Market are the old-school tools, but still with current application. But hit up Demotix, WorldAssignment, GroundReport, DigitalJournal and NowPublic, and you will feel cooler.

Join the Peace Corps

So, travel (see earlier) sounds good, but you’d feel a bit guilty about just floating around for fun. Your solution: make it meaningful. Peace Corps? OK, that’s going to be a bit of a wait—it typically takes nine months (or more) from when you apply to when you leave. If that timing sounds good, go ahead and check out

But there’s also lots of good stuff out there looking for strong backs, interested minds and humble hearts. There are a lot of missions organizations and churches putting together trips of various lengths and purposes, or you could put one together. Do your homework on,,,,,, or search online for more.

Or if you just head off to many non-English-speaking nations, you can begin speaking your fluent English and talk your way into an ESL teaching or tutoring gig. This can be stressful and challenging in some areas, and the pay is often not fantastic, but it’s worked for many before you.

Hopefully these ideas will inspire you and start your post-school time off well. Above all, remember: don’t get discouraged. The time immediately following school is one of those sneaky times no one warns you about where you’re not quite sure what to do. Enjoy where you are and get excited about taking that next step. 

This article is excerpted from RELEVANT. To read the whole list, check out the issue. Better yet, subscribe!

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