(More) Advice to the 16-Year Olds Out There

You know, as a man gets older (not “old,” just older), he labels his experience as worthy to pass on. Women…they have the miracle of birth, but for us guys, passing on knowledge is pretty much all we got. So, I guess, given the chance, we run with it. 🙂

Last week, a 16-year boy wrote to me, asking for advice. He admires his dad whose own corporate career included assignments abroad. The boy lived overseas for half his life, and wants to continue it himself. Very cool to hear.

Well, you combine the two things and it starts to explain the good feeling I get from e-mail chain between me and this young one.

In an early message, he talks about university choice. My reply suggested he shouldn’t worry about a “big name” university, since it’s the degree that counts more. Sadly a lot of parents push their kids to get into the most prestigious (most expensive) school. But if you ask the employers of today, having the 4-year degree from an average college is far better than the 2.5-year trial run at Yale.

When you have the perseverance to complete a degree, the job interviewer is thinking how you will complete projects. That can mean the difference between getting the job, and getting the boot. And isn’t being able to pay off school loans what matters most?

Enter the MOOC

What’s an MOOC? Read on Wikipedia for Massive Open Online Course. The MOOC is the answer to the question “What if I want to learn, but can’t attend and/or afford university?

Being able to attend a university is tougher than just a few years ago. Today high schoolers can take full university courses online, at their own pace, gaining all the knowledge they would if they attended the leading universities. In most cases, these courses are free.

Advice to all Youth: Learn from the MOOCs

So I mentioned to him about MOOCs.

Since you have a solid 2 years before you’re applying to universities, the biggest advice I could give regarding schooling is enrol yourself in a few MOOCs. If you wonder how college education will look in 10 years…look no farther than MOOC education. I am 100% certain that classrooms will be “flipped” in 5-10 years (Finally). So, think of a couple topics you’re really interested in, and take them online. Once you have that under your belt, you’ll be able to brag about it on your college applications and/or resume.

I think you already mentioned you like business. Ever heard of the Wharton School? 🙂 (if you haven’t, you should have, and will) Well, they recently put their whole foundation series online. For free. Just fucking incredible if you ask me. I mean, the Ivy league schools are putting so much material online, for free, it’s outright criminal to not take advantage of it. (I got my Masters purely through online course work) At the least, it’s what will become the differentiator between the desirable and very-desirable.

 It’s this particular advice I think every 16 year old should hear. Whether they act on it is their business.

Benefits to Learning from a MOOC

I recognize myself as a lover of learning, so I enjoy absorbing facts and “how to” just for learning’s sake. I think a lot of people are a little “geeky” that way. So, now that universities offer MOOCs, video lectures, online labs, etc., it’s like dealing free drugs right to the addict’s computer.

Real quick, here are some of the biggest benefits to learning online through Massive Open Online Course:

  • Work around your schedule, not the professor’s
  • Learning at Your Pace, not the professor’s
  • Collaborate with others – who are interested in the same stuff
  • Free
  • Rarely any prerequisites (prior required courses) needed. [Only had algebra? Sure, try advanced calculus.]
  • Meet people with same interests. (Read: people who may hire you, or work with you)
  • Did I mention free, flexible time and pace?

Yeah, some killer benefits here. There’s really zero reason not to be enrolled in a MOOC of your interest at any time.


Check out Coursera

Cousera has enough to offer to keep you very busy for life. But in case you need alternatives, click here

Beware – Completing a MOOC is HARD

There is one catch to offering something so easily accessible, for free. It makes leaving it so easy as well. I read somewhere that MOOCs have a less than 10% completion rate. I found that crazy low, and almost couldn’t believe it. But then I realized that maybe 9 out of 10 people signing up for the course, probably wouldn’t have paid for it if it costs money. Maybe a lot of people sign up for a course just to “taste test” it, or check out the materials to see how hard or easy it is. Whatever the excuse reason, not a lot of people who sign up for MOOCs end up finishing them.

Odds are, this is common knowledge to employers. So, to turn that around, if you finish an MOOC, you’re not only demonstrating a learned skill, but also perseverance above your average university classroom student. So, smart and strong. Nice bonus, eh?

If self-motivation is tough for you, try accountability with a friend. In other words, if you can’t alone, then buddy up. For example, if you want to learn to program in Python, but you’re “too busy”, then get a geeky buddy to take the course alongside with you.

Well, hope this helps open a new world for some folks.

Cheers, -Jeff

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An American who likes to move around.
I now live on the eastern Canadian seaboard. My job? A stay-at-home dad for two cute but demanding bosses. My wife? Also cute; not so demanding.
My wife and I both love travel. We met in South Korea, travelled across Australia, India, Europe and beyond. We lived in Czech Republic for four years. Many stories to tell and experience to share. If you let me, I will help you travel as we do.