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Successful Students Tend to Sleep More

Woman reaching to turn off alarm clock
Sleep helps academic success

Many students give up sleep to get good grades, but research shows that students who sleep more get better grades.

Members of the Student Health Advisory Council (SHAC), who provide a student perspective to University Health Service (UHS), identified sleep as a top focus this year. They consulted noted sleep researchers and developed recommendations for clinicians about how to address sleep with student patients.
It’s no secret that college students tend to skimp on sleep to squeeze the most out of 24 hours. But this generation is different, and researchers are increasingly focusing on college students because they are one of the most sleep-deprived populations. College students go to bed one to two hours later and sleep less per night on average compared to previous generations.  As a result, 75% of U-M undergraduates do not sleep enough to feel rested on five or more days per week, and 19% reported that sleep difficulties had an impact on academic performance in the past year.
The amount of sleep that a college student gets is one of the strongest predictors of academic success. Sleep plays a key role in helping students fix and consolidate memories, plus prevent decay of memories.  Without sleep, people work harder and but don’t do as well.
With these facts in mind, the Student Health Advisory Council made the following recommendations for UHS clinicians to consider in their work with students, which may also help you as you talk with your student.
Encourage students to adjust wake-up time, because it is may be easier to adjust than bedtime.
Emphasize behavioral changes to improve sleep. Medicine is rarely necessary.  Students can practice relaxation techniques before bed to increase quality of sleep, avoid doing homework immediately before (or in) bed, and avoid TV and computer use before bed.
Encourage napping.  Most students don’t get a full night’s sleep every night, and naps help them make up the difference. Research shows that napping 10-45 minutes (before entering REM sleep) can increase performance.
Advise students to avoid caffeine, especially later in the afternoon/night.

10 Habits of Highly Effective Students

The key to becoming an effective student is learning how to study smarter, not harder. This becomes more and more true as you advance in your education. An hour or two of studying a day is usually sufficient to make it through high school with satisfactory grades, but when college arrives, there aren’t enough hours in the day to get all your studying in if you don’t know how to study smarter.

While some students are able to breeze through school with minimal effort, this is the exception. The vast majority of successful students achieve their success by developing and applying effective study habits. The following are the top 10 study habits employed by highly successful students. So if you want to become a succesful student, don’t get discouraged, don’t give up, just work to develop each of the study habits below and you’ll see your grades go up, your knowledge increase, and your ability to learn and assimilate information improve.

1. Don’t attempt to cram all your studying into one session.

Ever find yourself up late at night expending more energy trying to keep your eyelids open than you are studying? If so, it’s time for a change. Successful students typically space their work out over shorter periods of time and rarely try to cram all of their studying into just one or two sessions. If you want to become a successful student then you need to learn to be consistent in your studies and to have regular, yet shorter, study periods.

2. Plan when you’re going to study.

Successful students schedule specific times throughout the week when they are going to study — and then they stick with their schedule. Students who study sporadically and whimsically typically do not perform as well as students who have a set study schedule. Even if you’re all caught up with your studies, creating a weekly routine, where you set aside a period of time a few days a week, to review your courses will ensure you develop habits that will enable you to succeed in your education long term.

3. Study at the same time.

Not only is it important that you plan when you’re going to study, it’s important you create a consistent, daily study routine. When you study at the same time each day and each week, you’re studying will become a regular part of your life. You’ll be mentally and emotionally more prepared for each study session and each study session will become more productive. If you have to change your schedule from time to time due to unexpected events, that’s okay, but get back on your routine as soon as the event has passed.

4. Each study time should have a specific goal.

Simply studying without direction is not effective. You need to know exactly what you need to accomplish during each study session. Before you start studying, set a study session goal that supports your overall academic goal (i.e. memorize 30 vocabulary words in order to ace the vocabulary section on an upcoming Spanish test.)

5. Never procrasitinate your planned study session.

It’s very easy, and common, to put off your study session because of lack of interest in the subject, because you have other things you need to get done, or just because the assignment is hard. Successful students DO NOT procrastinate studying. If you procrastinate your study session, your studying will become much less effective and you may not get everything accomplished that you need to. Procrastination also leads to rushing, and rushing is the number one cause of errors.

6. Start with the most difficult subject first.

As your most diffult assignment or subject will require the most effort and mental energy, you should start with it first. Once you’ve completed the most difficult work, it will be much easier to complete the rest of your work. Believe it or not, starting with the most difficult subject will greatly improve the effectiveness of your study sessions, and your academic performance.

7. Always review your notes before starting an assigment.

Obviously, before you can review your notes you must first have notes to review. Always make sure to take good notes in class. Before you start each study session, and before you start a particular assignment, review your notes thoroughly to make sure you know how to complete the assignment correctly. Reviewing your notes before each study session will help you remember important subject matter learned during the day, and make sure studying targeted and effective.

8. Make sure you’re not distracted while you’re studying.

Everyone gets distracted by something. Maybe it’s the TV. Or your family. Or maybe it’s too quite. Some people actually study better with a little background noise. When you’re distracted while you’re studying you (1) loose your train of thought and (2) you’re unable to focus — both of which will lead to very ineffective studying. Before you start studying find a place where you won’t be disturbed or distracted. Some people this is a quite cubical in the recesses of the library.

9. Use study groups effectively.

Ever heard the phrase “two heads are better than one”? Well this can be especially true when it comes to studying. Working in groups enables you to (1) get help from others when you’re struggling to understand a concept, (2) complete assignments more quickly, and (3) teach others whereby helping both the other students and yourselve to internalize the subject matter. However, study groups can become very ineffective if they’re not structured and if groups members come unprepared. Effective students use study groups effectively.

10. Review your notes, schoolwork and other class materials over the weekend.

Successful students review what they’ve learned during the week over the weekend. This way they’re well prepared to continue learning new concepts that build upon previous coursework and knowledge acquired the previous week.

We’re confident that if you’ll develop the habits outlined above that you’ll see a major improvement in your academic success.


Colleges Take Aim at Improving Student Success

Participating in undergraduate research or an internship can help students graduate on time and boost their chances at a job.Students on the quad.

Bringing first-year students together before classes even start can help them feel comfortable and give them the tools to succeed.

Want to boost your chances of having a great college experience, finishing on time and landing a job after graduation? You can dramatically raise the odds by picking the right school – and that doesn’t mean the most elite one that will take you.

Sometimes the reasons college freshmen don’t return for sophomore year are financial, of course. But often the problem is one of dissatisfaction, of feeling disconnected from the college community.

As you research schools, look for programs that aim to help students thrive. For example: “first-year experiences” that bond freshmen quickly to professors and a small group of other students, internships and research opportunities.

“I’d be looking for [colleges] that make some of these mandatory,” says George Kuh, director of the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment.

First-Year Experiences

With so many students bailing after freshman year, colleges have stepped up their efforts to become “stickier.” One way is to bring students together before class begins in a meaningful orientation. Another is immediately putting small groups of students into frequent contact with each other and a faculty member in a seminar or other intensive experience focused on critical inquiry, writing and team learning – the toolbox needed for success in college and a career.

“We look to get students connected early and often to the right people and right resources,” says Bernie Savarese, director of University Orientation and First Year Experience at Ohio State University—Columbus. New students also take a series of classes designed to help them settle in and succeed, with topics ranging from personal finance, time management and study skills to healthy eating and coping with anxiety.

Peer leaders keep an eye on newbies, helping them to establish relationships on campus and supporting anyone who is having trouble transitioning to independent college life. Since initiating the program in 2001, Ohio State has watched its retention rate climb to 94 percent from the low 80s.

No matter where you choose to go, get involved in activities that will help you form ties right away, urges Savarese. “The things you do in the first six weeks of school can pay dividends 10 times going forward.”

A pair of international students studying.

5 Can’t-Miss Best Colleges Rankings Lists

Undergraduate Research

One-quarter of the class of 2014 worked closely with a professor on research while in college, according to the National Survey of Student Engagement. The Association of American Colleges & Universities thinks that fraction is too low and is “really pushing” member schools to do better, says Debra Humphreys, vice president for policy and public engagement.

“The stuff I’m doing is making an impact,” says Anthony Recidoro, a 2015 University of Washington graduate in biology from Murrieta, California. His research on how zebrafish regenerate lost bone, skin and tails has implications for medicine, he says, and “probably ranks No. 1” among all his college experiences.

New students at UW get a briefing on the research possibilities as early as their orientation, and some 84 percent of undergrads undertake a project. Each spring, more than 1,000 students present their work at a campuswide symposium, and an impressive 87 percent of patent applications filed by the university in 2014 had student input.

When considering colleges, advises Humphreys, be sure to look for places where research opportunities are available to all students, not just honors or other subsets of students.


Employers want to hire people who can write and speak clearly, work in teams, think critically and solve real-world problems. Will you be able to do that when you graduate?

A great way to get some creds while in college is by taking on an internship – or several. That’s what Hannah Sedgwick of Tewksbury, Massachusetts, was looking to do when she zeroed in on American University in Washington, D.C. “AU was my No. 1 choice because of the opportunities of interning,” says the 2015 graduate in communications studies.

Sedgwick, who wants to go into public relations for a large entertainment company, incorporated six gigs all-told into her schedule, including one at Washington’s Newseum and two at nearby Discovery Communications.

Internships are an integral part of the learning experience for almost everyone at American, with 90 percent of undergrads doing at least one, says Gihan Fernando, executive director of the university’s career center.

Experiential learning is so central at many colleges that some, such as Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, fund on-the-job experiences. If your school isn’t an internship powerhouse, consider snagging one on your own.

Writing in the Disciplines

“There is a clear connection between writing and students’ critical thinking skills,” says Michelle LaFrance, director of the Writing Across the Curriculum program at George Mason University in Virginia. Students who spend time perfecting the type of writing required by their disciplines “make better connections with one another and faculty, and they learn more deeply.”

Those conclusions have inspired a growing number of colleges and universities to make writing a priority at all levels of instruction and across majors.

At George Mason, freshmen take an introductory class in which they gain an understanding of audience as they focus on writing and then revising. They later take a course on what it means to write effectively in their discipline.

“My class focused on what it looks like to write as a scientist,” says Joel Mota, a 2015 graduate in biology who concentrated on analyzing scientific research, case studies and journal commentaries, then writing in those styles.

GMU students also take one of 82 writing-intensive courses within their major. As a senior, Mota chose one on animal communication and social behavior that had him stretching in various ways related to science. Besides the three required courses, instruction on communicating well in writing is woven through the curriculum.

As is true with eating vegetables, notes LaFrance, “the payoff is extensive, but not always immediately apparent.”

This story is excerpted from the U.S. News “Best Colleges 2016” guidebook, which features in-depth articles, rankings and data.


Secrets of Successful Students

142019136.jpg - Blend Images - KidStock/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images
Blend Images – KidStock/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images
Updated May 28, 2016.

Have you ever wondered what successful students do to set themselves apart from the rest? The key is simple: successful students take charge.

There is no magic trick, power drink, or special gadget to help students excel in the classroom. Students stand out because they take charge of their time and their tasks, without relying on anybody else to tell them what to do.

Successful Students Control Their Calendars

Successful students don’t rely on parents or teachers to tell them when assignments are due or when test dates are approaching.

They mark special dates in their calendars and keep track of commitments and schedules.

Successful students don’t sit back while parents take charge of their lives.

Successful Students Prioritize

Do you like to stay out late with friends? Do you like to go to parties? Do you like to watch TV or play video games all night?

Well, who doesn’t?

Successful students take charge of their lives and balance their time between fun and work. They know that there is a time for sleepovers that keep them up all-night, and it’s not during finals week.

Successful Students Take Care of Themselves

Do you live on junk food and lay on the couch watching TV every night? Students with poor physical habits probably don’t feel very energetic in the mornings, and they probably don’t feel good sitting in class, either.

Good food and a little exercise will clear your head! Students who eat junk in moderation (you really don’t have to cut it out completely) and work out in some way are more likely to participate in sports. That means they have more balance in their lives, feel better in the mornings, and are more alert in class.

You just have to change a few habits to feel better. Eat healthy foods, start walking more, take a yoga class, enroll in martial arts classes, or challenge yourself to do sit-ups at night. You’ll notice a change right away.


Is Student Debt the Reason Millennials Aren’t Starting Companies?

Is Student Debt the Reason Millennials Aren't Starting Companies?
Image credit: Shutterstock

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The share of young business owners has declined dramatically in recent years. Mitch Daniels, the President of Purdue University and the former Republican governor of Indiana, says he knows why. In a Wall Street Journal opinion piece, he places the blame on rising levels of student debt.

But the data suggest that student loans aren’t the only cause.

The fraction of young people who run their own companies has been declining for nearly two-and-a-half decades. The Wall Street Journal reported that the business-owning share of households headed by a person under the age of 30 dropped from nearly 11 percent in 1989 to under 4 percent in 2013 – a far steeper decline than for households overall.

Some economists believe that rising student loan levels are keeping young people from launching companies by soaking up their borrowing capacity. A few recent studies support this argument. Examination of data from the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances – the central bank’s effort to examine the financial conditions of American families – by two Northeastern University scholars shows that households with more student debt are less likely to start businesses than other households. A separate paper by researchers at the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia revealed that the U.S. counties with the greatest increase in student debt between 2000 and 2010 had the largest decline in the number of business with between one and four employees.

While these studies suggest that the rising level of student debt contributes to the decline in rates of entrepreneurship among young people today, mounting student debt is unlikely to be the sole cause of low levels of entrepreneurship among millennials. The decline in business ownership among young people predates the rise in student loan debt. Student loan debt took off in 2004, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York reported recently. However, the decline in the fraction of households headed by a business owner under 30 began about 15 years earlier. Moreover, data from the Federal Reserve Survey of Consumer Finances show that the number of young business owning households declined by a greater percentage between 1989 and 1998 than between 2004 and 2013.

As I have discussed before, attitudes of business ownership have changed over the years. Fewer young people are as interested in entrepreneurial success today as members of their parents’ generation were when they were the same age. Other life goals, like “raising a family” and “influencing social values,” are more important to young people today, careful academic surveys reveal.

More importantly, these changes in attitudes predate the rise in student loans. The fraction of incoming college freshmen surveyed annually by the Cooperative Institutional Research Program at UCLA who reported that “becoming successful in a business of my own” was “essential” or “very important” to them declined from 52.1 percent in 1988 to 41 percent in 2004. In fact, between 2004 and 2012, when student loan levels took off, the fraction of people interested in being successful at business ownership actually increased slightly to 41.2 percent. Similarly, the fraction of students who told the UCLA researchers that entrepreneurship was their intended profession declined from 3.9 percent in 1988 to 3.3 percent in 2004. (The fraction declined to 2.9 percent by 2013).

Before policymakers and pundits conclude that the rise in student loans is the cause of the decline in rates of entrepreneurship among millennials – and decide that debt relief is the way to boost entrepreneurial activity among young people today – they should consider that waning interest in entrepreneurship predates the student loan crisis by many years.


The Changing Economics of Student-Loan Debt: How to Pay It Off and Startup

President Obama may soon sign into law a new student-loan bill that reduces rates for brand new borrowers. But the rising cost of college will surely continue to hit students where it hurts: Their future.

College students who funded their education with borrowed money, left school in 2011 with an average $26,600 in student-loan debt, up 5 percent from $25,250 in 2010, according to the latest report from the Project on Student Debt at The Institute for College Access & Success.

Saddled with such a hefty debt load, many young entrepreneurs might put off or even forgo starting up, as launching and failing may put them in an even worse lurch. For those who proceed, they’re forced to juggle heaping monthly payments with the costs of starting a business. It’s a challenge some shy away from, but there are routes millennials can take to startup without student-loan debt wrecking their companies.

Here are four ways young entrepreneurs might approach eliminating or reducing their debt loads:

1. Income-Based Repayment: One way to handle high-cost student loan debt is to get rid of it entirely. In 2011, the president announced an executive action that expanded the Income-Based Repayment, or IBR, option for low-wage earners (like startup entrepreneurs) with federal student loans. The “Pay As You Earn” plan allows many students to cap their monthly loan repayments at 10 percent of their discretionary income and possibly have their loans forgiveness after 20 years of responsible repayment. Previously, the program capped federal-student loan payments at 15 percent of a person’s discretionary income and forgave loans after 25 years of on time payments. While borrowers may pay more interest over time, an IBR can help reduce your minimum monthly payments, which can help free up capital to put toward a startup.

2. Deferment or forbearance: There’s less flexibility with private-student loan debt, says Rohit Chopra, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s student loan ombudsman. Though minimum-monthly payments on private loans can be deferred through forbearance, interest continues to accrue on any unpaid debt. Forbearance isn’t an ideal option, says Chopra. But he adds, it’s often the best one available to young entrepreneurs.

Paige Brown went this route when she graduated from Vanderbilt University’s MBA program in 2010. The then 27-year-old set out to start a business while carrying a whopping $60,000 in student-loan debt. By opting to defer $20,000 in private-student loan debt, Brown says she was able to manage her other loans and launch the online hotel reservation service Dashbell.com in 2011. “I think other people were more worried about my student-loan debt than I was when I started the business,” says Brown. “You have to accept the debt is there and don’t let it stop you from doing what you want to do.”

3. Debt consolidation and a pay-off plan: Many college graduates choose to bundle their debts into one loan that requires a single (and potentially lower) monthly payment. Tufts University graduate Melissa Pickering consolidated $46,000 in student debt. Since 2005, Pickering worked as a mechanical engineer for Disney her first three years out of school, during which time she made minimum monthly payments of $389. In 2010 she put her entire savings into launching iCreate, a technology education company that manufactures interactive software for K-12 students. Three years in, the company is continuing to grow, and Pickering, 30, is on track to complete her 30-year student debt payment plan on time.

When crafting a payoff plan, Scott Gerber, founder of the Young Entrepreneur Council, recommends startups look into self-employed assistance programs offered by their state. Some local groups may also offer financial aid to support entrepreneurship in their community. But also, he suggests pragmatism: “I think the first thing when you’re starting a business straight out of college shouldn’t be, ‘Who am I going to get money from?” It should be, rather, ‘How am I going to start and sustain this business with the money I already have?”

4. Defaulting: Student-loan debt is notoriously difficult to eliminate. Even so, some entrepreneurs try to default. This is a course best left untried, as those who default on a federal-student loan can have their wages garnished without a court order and are subject to the IRS withholding any income tax refunds they would receive until the debt is paid off. Creditors typically notify the credit bureaus when a customer defaults on a student loan. Long-term effects of such negative information landing on someone’s credit report include difficulty qualifying for auto loans, home mortgages and credit cards with decent interest rates.

To stave off the fate, experts say it’s crucial for young entrepreneurs to be able to recognize if their startup is failing and act accordingly. Rather than funnel more money to keep a sinking business afloat, Gerber says “it’s best to cut your losses and then pick yourself back up and try again.” It’s not worth the risk of defaulting on a student loan, he adds.


What it Really Takes to be a Successful College Student


Are you thinking about enrolling in college? Have you recently enrolled? You may already have an idea of what it takes to be a successful college student, such as creating good study habits, developing test-taking strategies, and perfecting your time management and computer skills. However, there are five other important ways to become a successful college student, and we’ve let you in on the secrets below.

Every successful college student should have:

1.  Drive and motivation

You must be driven and motivated to achieve your goal when you enroll in college. You have to really want to earn your degree and be prepared to do anything it takes to reach your educational goals. College is not going to be easy; if it was easy, everyone would be walking around with a college degree. The best things in life are the things you have to work hard for and achieve on your own.

2.  Persistence

You must be able to keep going in the face of adversity. This can be a challenging assignment; there are many things that can go wrong while you’re enrolled in school, such as the loss of a loved one and the inability to access the Internet from home. You must persist and keep striving for success in your courses—do not let an obstacle become a wall.

It is important to connect with your student advisor whenever an issue arises that you need help working through; they are there for you and will help you develop a roadmap to your graduation, help you evenly balance your coursework, as well as anything else that could come up. There is nothing like the feeling of crossing the stage on graduation day after you have worked hard to obtain your degree—do not give up before you get a chance to know what this feeling is like.

3. Positive thinking skills

It is really easy to slip into a pattern of negative thoughts, like the test was too hard, there is too much reading or there is no way to get everything done. You must change from negative thinking to positive, solution-oriented thinking. Instead of thinking you are going to fail the test, think about how the test is going to be challenging and think of ways to prepare.

All Rasmussen College campuses—including Online—offer tutoring seven days a week, which is one option if you would like a little extra help in a course. Tutoring is a great way for you to stay positive about your coursework. It is important to remind yourself that you can do it. You will be amazed at everything you can accomplish with positivity on your side.

4.  Support

When you enroll in college, you need to find and rely on your support system; this can be your family, friends or fellow classmates. Rasmussen College prides itself on SUPPORT+—the college’s guarantee to go above and beyond in providing the support you need to succeed.

Know who your support system is at school—know your advisors names, your librarian, your learning center coordinator, your deans and everyone else on campus who is there for you. Know what resources you can access before you need them, and ask questions. This will help alleviate the stress you feel when you really do need some assistance and support. Remember: you are not in this alone.

5. Organization skills

In order to be successful in college, you must become organized. This can mean many different things: scheduling your time, creating an assignment calendar, utilizing to-do lists, using binders with tabs or creating folders on the computer for each class. Being organized can help alleviate the stress that you feel; when you know where to go to access everything and have a plan in place, you will feel more relaxed.

Also, try meeting or speaking with a Learning Center Coordinator if you need a little extra push getting organized. Organization will ensure you are on-task and completing all assignments on-time—this is a crucial skill you will utilize in school and in the workplace.


Bill Clinton Says Student Debt Is Holding Back Potential Entrepreneurs

Bill Clinton Says Student Debt Is Holding Back Potential Entrepreneurs
Image credit: Noam Galai | Stringer | Getty Images

What do these companies have in common?

Yes, they are all incredibly successful, but there is an even starker connection. They were all started by college students.

It’s no secret that higher education is commonplace for young entrepreneurs, but in an era where the approximate balance of the nation’s student loans is growing by $2,762.27 a second, potential entrepreneurs could be holding back from pursuing their business ideas.

At this year’s Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) America 2016 meeting, former President Bill Clinton and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute President Shirley Ann Jackson discussed just that — the connection between America’s entrepreneurial future and the $1.2 trillion Americans hold in student loan debt.

Students have broad access to entrepreneurship in higher education, but perhaps don’t have the means to actually apply those teachings to business opportunities. Studies show that college-educated adults who graduated with no student debt have seven times the average net worth of a young adult that graduates college with debt.

Clinton suggests the problem lies in the structure of the student loan process.

“A college loan is the only loan you cannot refinance, which I think is insane,” he says. “Your education is more of a lifetime asset than any home you’ll ever own.”

This is a roadblock, more often than not, for minorities.

More than 40 percent of African-American families have student debt, generally taking on around $10,295, according to a 2013 study by the Urban Institute. Twenty-eight percent of white families held debt, averaging $8,020.

Women are also taking longer to pay off student debt, according to a report completed this year by the American Association of University Women, despite being more likely to enroll and earning higher grades than most of their male peers.

Jackson suggests “a progressive kind of approach” to the problem, proposing partial loan forgiveness for those who start a business.

“Rewarding individuals for contributions to the private sector isn’t unprecedented”, Jackson says, referring to the EB-5 immigrant investor program, which is similar.

The speakers also said that young adults may be going to college even when they don’t need to, accumulating unnecessary debt.

“We need to re-dignify skills training in this country,” Clinton says. “It’s absolutely true that not everyone needs a college degree.”


This Dropout Is Trying to Keep Kids Out of Student Debt

This Dropout Is Trying to Keep Kids Out of Student Debt

Image credit: Uncollege

Dale Stephens just wasn’t meant for the classroom.

At the age of 19, he founded UnCollege.org, an organization that represents a growing social movement to fight the traditional notion of what higher education should be—and whether it’s worth the cost.

Stephens isn’t alone. As the costs of higher education have soared, the number of alternatives to college have, too. In the last several years, short vocational programs leading to a certificate have spiked, costing anywhere from a few thousand dollars to tens of thousands of dollars.

“Today’s high school graduates have a range of options for attending post-secondary education and entering the labor force,” said Tom Snyder, program director of the National Center for Education Statistics. “Graduates also can enter the labor market directly or combine work with studies at a post-secondary institution.”

A college dropout, Stephens, now 23, created UnCollege in January 2011. UnCollege’s Gap Year program started in September 2013, offering high school graduates another alternative to college—though it’s far from free itself. The program accepts a total of 45 students out of 600 applicants from around the world, willing to shell out $16,000 for the yearlong program, known as the Gap Year.

After that year, which includes traveling, volunteering, interning, working and meeting with personal coaches and mentors (you can call it a yearlong apprenticeship), about half the students end up going to college, with the other half ditching college altogether and going straight into the workforce.

Ask Stephens about the cost of a college degree, and he’ll begin passionately rattling off numbers that are cringe-worthy.

Average debt levels for all graduating seniors with student loans rose to $29,400 in 2012—a 25 percent increase from $23,450 in 2008, according to the latest data available from the Institute for College Access and Success. The national student-loan default rate rose to 10 percent from 6.7 percent over just five years, according to the U.S. Department of Education. More than 70 percent of U.S. college graduates have outstanding debt.

“What’s particularly scary about student debt is that it’s unforgivable in bankruptcy, so you carry it with you till you die,” said Stephens, who holds the title of chief educational deviant at UnCollege. He added, “I’m not saying education isn’t a good investment. … It’s important to understand what the ROI [return on investment] of what you’re investing in will be.”

In recent years student loans bypassed credit cards as the second-largest source of debt in the U.S. behind mortgages. On Tuesday, President Obama gave a speech at Georgia Tech that mandated clearer disclosures from lenders, a “student aid bill of rights,” and that the Department of Education create a new system to address complaints related to student loans by 2016.

Stephens said high school grads are increasingly distrustful of what a college degree can actually do for them. Responding to President Obama’s announcement, he said, “I believe the new ‘Student Aid Bill of Rights’ is a sign that our government is taking the student debt issue seriously but not necessarily offering a solution to help reduce it.” He gave as an example “The Pay-As-You-Learn Loans,” which cap repayment at 10 percent of a former student’s salary. “An improvement, but it can’t change how deep financially a four-year university could drive that person into debt,” Stephens said.

The un-education of Dale Stephens

Born in Winters, California, Stephens left school when he was 12 years old and spent the next seven years educating himself as a so-called unschooler, which many other children in his area were doing at the time. This meant he was taking a French class online, volunteering at his local library and studying history and all the standard subjects at home, on walks and during field trips.

Eventually, as his fellow home-schooled friends started going to college, Stephens applied and was accepted to Hendrix College in Arkansas. He quickly found himself disillusioned and detached from what he was learning. “Overworked professors showed up to class and expected us to care about what they were saying. Learning requires personal context and engagement, so sitting in a lecture hall is not how your brain works,” he said.

So like any millennial, he went online to find some answers. UnCollege was created in classic start-up fashion: Stephens created a landing page to see if there was interest and willingness to put down money.

He first blogged about his disgruntled feelings on the higher-education system. Within 18 months those thoughts turned into a 100-page book called “Hacking Your Education,” which he sold to Penguin. That led to about 30,000 followers across Facebook, Twitter and a weekly newsletter and $20,000 in speaking fees, which he invested into founding the organization. Stephens was also chosen as a Thiel Fellow, a program offering young entrepreneurs an alternative to higher education, created by tech icon and PayPal founder Peter Thiel, who is a vocal critic of colleges.

Based on his growing online following, Stephens created the non-college accredited program, the Gap Year, basically an online outline at first. To his surprise, people applied. “I got 250 applications in May 2013, and people from Seattle to San Paulo, Brazil, put down money for deposits,” Stephens said. He designed the curriculum and launched the program in the fall of 2013. This year he’s anticipating about 1,000 applications.

UnCollege has raised more than $100,000 in funding from investors, including from the founders of Generally Assembly, a digital trade school, and Learn Capital, an education-focused venture capitalist firm based in Silicon Valley, which has also invested directly in Generally Assembly.

Students who sign up for the Gap Year program usually have a clear picture of the general direction they want to go in. “For students who want to get into fields where you don’t really need a college degree (or anything where the product of your work can be easily evaluated, like writing, design and technology), UnCollege has been most helpful,” Stephens said.

The mentorship—which has featured leaders from Amazon, the Khan Academy and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation—and the self-directed learning aspects of the program are big parts of its value. They are designed to immediately link up students with people in the specific field they want to pursue, ideally through internships. Eighty-five percent of UnCollege students have a full-time job offer in their field of choice after the Gap Year. Two companies that have hired UnCollege “graduates” are education technology firm Fidelis Educationand photography company Light.co.

UnCollege, which has seven employees, earned about $500,000 in revenue in 2014 and has earned about $800,000 in revenue to date, based on tuition of the roughly 65 Gap Year fellows who have attended the program so far. “UnCollege breaks even financially. We’ve upgraded our participant’s housing, signed on a travel partner to provide better infrastructure for our participants while abroad and have done much more with the money we’ve earned,” said marketing manager Chris Kelly.

UnCollege opened a campus in Brazil last fall and plans to double the size of the Gap Year incoming class by the end of 2016, accepting 120 students per year. He’s focused on keeping the program small before pursuing more aggressive growth. “There’s definitely demand to keep growing this, and I think there’s benefit for people to take time to understand what they want out of college or if they want to go in the first place,” Stephens said.

John Gallagher is a big fan of the Uncollege movement. “When you opt out of the traditional educational system, you turn reality into your classroom,” he stated in a 2013 blog post for the organization.

The 19-year-old high school dropout has served as a paid staffer on 10 campaigns for political offices, ranging from New York State Senate to President of the United States, and now works at Indigo Strategies, a Washington, D.C.-based political consulting firm. He opposes paying for any sort of institutionalized learning, he said, claiming, “I feel everything I’ve ever learned was from doing stuff for people I was working for.”

Stephens said that while education should be a lot less expensive than it is now, it’s an investment, nonetheless, just as you’d pay for tutoring, online classes or a college degree. “We provide a structure and support for people who want to do it a little differently,” he said.

Lessons learned

  1. A complaint or critic does not a company make, but good ideas for disruptive business models are born in personal stories about challenging the status quo in entrenched industries.
  2. Knowing the direction you want to go in professionally is the key—how you get there does not necessarily require the same approach taken by everybody.
  3. Manage growth, rather than pursuing aggressive growth at all costs, even when (maybe especially when) an idea is catching on faster than you expected.