Unschooling his Way into College

Brad with two of his fellow students

Snoopy dance! My son was accepted! My homeschooled son was accepted to University of Hawaii, Maui!

But wait a minute. If you read the post I wrote about interest-led learning during GeekMom’s education week, you might remember me saying that my son had opted NOT to apply for college.

He’s a musician, that boy. He’d looked around at various colleges but in the end just couldn’t justify the expense. Berklee College of Music was the only program that even piqued his interest, but even that didn’t quite fit his needs (or frankly, his budget). How would an ‘ukulele fit in with all of those orchestral instruments?

This college quandary was the blessing and the curse of raising a child with an acute awareness of his interests. He’d had the ability to pursue his passion and expand on his particular interest to create a one-of-a-kind education for himself. He played his ‘ukulele, he jammed with other musicians, he created a website, he performed, he taught. Today, his site is one of the top ‘ukulele destinations on the web (with nearly 3 million hits to date) and he’s teaching music at the local middle school and through the University of Hawaii.

If he was going to spend money on college, he wanted to do it his way. He’s not at all interested in exchanging his time for the credits that a traditional college education offers, spending two to four years of his life taking irrelevant courses just to have a degree to hang on the wall. Since he’s not pursuing a career that requires a degree, I couldn’t really fault his reasoning. (Despite the fact that his great-grandmother bought him Harvard sweatshirts every year for Christmas, an Ivy League education has never been on our “must have” list.)

So what happened? What changed his mind?

He got word of a program that could have been written just for him. Developed by four-time Grammy winner George Kahumoku, The Institute of Hawaiian Music at UH Maui is a brand-new two-year certificate program. Limited to just 25 students, acceptance was dependent upon an audition. He went from “nope, not attending college” to standing in an audition room in front of four judges in just two weeks flat.

He heads off to Maui in early January, when he’ll begin tackling courses in music theory, Hawaiian language, recording, voice, and even hula. There will be access to mentors from within the music industry, and the students will leave the program with a CD ready for commercial release.

There’s been a lot of talk lately – in the news and among parents I know – about whether or not the expense of college is worth it in the long run. We certainly had the conversation a number of times around our dinner table. My son is a pretty no-nonsense guy. He’s not interested in making it big or making it rich. He’s interested in earning a modest income doing something he loves. He plans to pay his bills through various music related methods: performing, teaching, and advertisements on his website. He could do all of these things without a college degree, but he’s comfortable committing to this program because it’s so well suited to his needs. He feels that he’ll walk away from the program with valuable knowledge that will help him move his career forward — not just a piece of paper.

As he readies himself for living on his own for the next two years, he’s acquired a new interest: cooking. A diet of P, B & J sandwiches just isn’t going to cut it, so he’s spending his time learning recipes for inexpensive slow cooker meals.

If anyone needs me, I’ll be in the kitchen.

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3 thoughts on “Unschooling his Way into College

  1. Young people determined to forge a future based on what is truly meaningful and useful can’t help but rearrange our collective definition of success, and better yet, to bring about a more meaningful and useful society. Yay for Brad!

  2. Congrats on a thoughtful decision! My daughter is in a similar situation now: she is already in business and isn’t sure going to college (even for business) is better than just learning along the way?!

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