From Unschooled to College

One of my best friends, who was also unschooled, asked me yesterday if I had considered writing about my transition from unschooling to college. Specifically, what it was like to enter the classroom environment?

As a quick refresher, I was 100% unschooler until I began college at age 16. I enjoyed classes on semiotics, writing, visual art and art history at community college for almost 3 years before transferring to a private art school in San Francisco, where I received my BFA in 2006.

my old college library

my old college library

But, this morning, when I thought about my initial transition into college… I just remember feeling like it was surprisingly easy.

Not that it wasn’t intimidating, because it was at first. But whatever intimidation I felt from being an “outsider” to that system only fueled my intentions to navigate the system well.

I tested into the honors English classes – having never taken an English class, OR a written essay test before. I got straight A’s. At age 16, I just thought – how could good grades possibly be hard?

But, you know, at 29 years old, looking back, it’s obvious to me that I had one prominent thing that was setting me apart: I was taking classes completely by choice, completely based on interests I had had years of freedom to navigate and define. And I was there with an incredible sense of pride and responsibility for my participation in the academic environment – which I didn’t take for granted.

At 29 years old, looking back, it’s obvious that I was coming to classes from a different place than the majority of students.

I remember talking with friends at the time who were graduating from regular high school, and going into college simply because it was what you do next – it was the next box to check, the next hoop to jump through on the way to becoming a grown up. I remember people ending up in seemingly random majors—like “Communications,” or “Business”—but having no sense of their goals, no context for their continued studies.

Even at 16 years old, it was clear to me that a classroom was a specific kind of world. You enter that world and play by its rules as a means of experiencing or acquiring something specific that you want. Maybe what you want is just the credit to get you something else, or maybe what you want is knowledge or a skill. Maybe you just want to be in that class because your friends are taking it, and it is fun to be there. But I never saw the classroom as “the real world.” I never confused it for being the only way to learn something, or the only way to get somewhere… I just really liked being in school once I had chosen it.

The friend who suggested I write about entering the classroom from an unschooling background had a really interesting journey herself into academia. She grew up unschooled but began community college at a younger age than I did, and she is now a community college professor of Anthropology. Stay tuned for my interview with her, reflecting on the appeal of being a student and having a career in academia from the perspective of an adult unschooler. Should be a fun post!