Education Hack

Hi. Mrs. Sanford speaking.

One professional/general life development book that I’m currently reading (and loving) is Hacking your Education by Dale Stephens.

I first heard about this book a few years ago when I came across UnCollege in SF. UnCollege is a gap year program that focuses on mentorships, real world experiences and allowing students to take ownership over their education. The founder, Dale Stephens, wrote this book as a guide to reclaiming education and showing people that you don’t necessarily have to go the traditional route of high school –> college –> professional world in order to be successful. Although I bought the book a few years ago, I’m finally getting around to reading it.

Stephens’ book is very practical, and it not only has some great ideas on self-directed learning but it also has a solid message. He isn’t claiming that college is bad or wrong and that no one should suffer through (or enjoy!) 4 years of traditional college education; he’s pointing out that this route is not for everyone. What else could you have done with 4 year’s worth of time and $40,000-$150,000? Stephens describes his experience in school and how he became successful after dropping out. He also describes dozens of other examples of very successful people working their way into their dream jobs by networking, volunteering, taking classes independently, showing their work to the public and building up real life experiences that are valuable resume builders.

Some very direct advice and exercises in the book that resonated with me are :

Finding a mentor – look for someone who is already really good at what you want to be good at, young or old, and reach out to them. It never hurts to send an email asking to buy someone coffee.

Waking up early

hack wake up call

Making “To-Do” lists (and “To-Learn” lists) – be very specific about your To-Dos and find an “accountability buddy” with whom you can rely on to help keep you on track.

Forming collaborative learning groups – Whether it’s politics or cooking or learning French, find others who share your interest (you can find groups online or form your own with friends or acquaintances) and get together to learn and discuss.  

Volunteering – This is free work for the employer and valuable experience for you. Stephens’ even offers this example email to get you started:

hack volunteer letter

Creating a personal website or blog and WRITE (which is largely where the motivation for this blog came from) – Get your thoughts and your work out there! Some examples of easy set-up website platforms are WordPress, and Tumblr.


What I like about Hacking your Education is that Stephens is showing (and telling) that college is not the only way to success and happiness. Although the college bit is totally irrelevant to me (I’m way past that), having worked with students who struggle with learning differences, I understand how incredibly important it is for this message to be delivered: You Have Options. You Can Choose.

Yet it’s not just a message for students with LDs. Student needs and learning styles aren’t always accommodated in traditional academic environments, leading to frustration, boredom and often failure. This failure does not predict their future potential. I’ve known dozens of students who thrive in coding or engineering or art but have low self esteem because they aren’t “good” at school. These kids need the message as well. You Have Options. You Can Choose.

Again, though Stephens’ book is about hacking your education, it has still been a really valuable read, even for someone who has a Master’s degree. Here are a few things it’s inspired me to do, as well as a few things I absolutely plan on doing. I’ll follow up with these to-dos later.

I have:

  • Started writing more
  • Set up a blog
  • Made a list of things I want to learn (my list is at the end of this post)

I plan to:

  • Do the “52 Cups of Coffee” challenge *
  • Reach out to the city Sustainability Coordinator in Portland, Maine about volunteer opportunities

* 52 Cups of Coffee is an idea started by Megan Gebhart where you buy a cup of coffee for ,and sit down with, one person every week for a year. The first person suggests the second person, the second person suggests the third person, and so on.

While reading Hacking Your Education, I’ve come across many other resources that point to the same message. For example, in The New York Times daily digest the other morning, I came across a relevant article on Tech companies valuing skills over college degrees. You can find that article on the Resources page. There is also a link to a beautiful spoken word video by Suli Breaks entitled “Why I Hate School but Love Education.”

Okay, here’s my “To-Learn” List:

  1. Learn the basics of Microsoft Excel 
  2. Learn how to make (delicious) Sauerkraut that doesn’t just taste like salt
  3. Learn how to use WordPress with more ease

What’s on some of your “To-Learn” lists?

-Mrs. Sanford

*Want more “Hack”? Check out the Resources page for Dale Stephens’ TED Talk, a story on NPR, a link to his book, and more.

One thought on “Education Hack”

  1. Loving this! Keep going!

    My to learn list-
    how to sell houses.

    My to do list-
    take some agents out to coffee to hear about their first hand experiences

    I’m inspired, thanks Mrs. Sanford!


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