Book review: Hacking Your Education by Dale J. Stephens


I am not arguing against school, I am writing in favor of choices. You – we – must learn that we can make our own decisions. We can take data, evaluate them, and come up with a solution. We don’t need our teachers to tell us the answer. We don’t need our parents to give us hints. We, as individuals, have the power and capacity to make our own decisions. Hacking your education is a lifelong commitment. A lifelong commitment to forge your own path and define you own values. Not accepting what others want for you, but figuring it out for yourself.

~ Dale J. Stephens in Hacking Your Education (Ditch the Lectures, Save Tens of Thousands, and Learn More Than Your Peers Ever Will)

This is the sort of book that needs to get into the hands of every teenager.

In Hacking Your Education (Ditch the Lectures, Save Tens of Thousands, and Learn More Than Your Peers Ever Will) the author challenges young people to ask “Do I need a college degree?” and if the answer is No, it attempts to answer the how of hacking (building, creating) an education through non-traditional means. Ultimately, it’s a book about choice. And choice is good. That’s why I want all young people to read it. 

Dale J. Stephens grew up unschooling, so I’m not surprised he rejected the private, liberal arts university in which he was enrolled. I’m sure leaving public school at a young age made it an easier decision for him to purse learning away from professors, textbooks and lecture halls. Stephens tells how he decided to leave the university to embark on a journey to educate himself in which he travels, starts a business (, finds mentors and builds a network of people to help him get to where he wants to go in life.

So how does one go about hacking your way through those traditionally college years instead of getting a B.A.? The advice in the book ranges from the basic to the brazen, from going to the library to research a topic of interest to getting into a keynote session at a conference without a ticket. But most of what Stephens writes is unique and clever.

Other practical tips on hacking your education:

  • how to email a potential mentor when you don’t have their email address
  • how to build a learning community
  • how to use coffee as a way to build a network

Dispersed throughout the chapters are simple “daily hacks” designed to give the reader a jump start for learning. In fact, quite a few of the ideas in the book can be used by the ambitious young person even before they are old enough for college.

I like the phrase hacking your education compared to unschooling. Hacking feels more proactive, geeky and digital friendly. I suspect the average 18-year-old would understand what the title means without anyone having to explain it to her. I don’t believe the same can be said of unschooling.

As the mother of my own unschoolers, I appreciate all this advice, but I believe the real strength of the book stands on the stories of other young adults who successfully have hacked their learning into careers and full lives without burdensome debt. Stephens’ stories alone are inspiring and make this book a welcome addition to the homeschoolers/unschooler’s library.

Be forewarned: hacking your college years is not for the lazy. Learn this way and you are embarking on an adventure that will depend much on your ability to discipline yourself to DIY and not waste your time goofing off. Hacking your education isn’t for wimps but it’s not beyond what the average college-aged kid can accomplish.

My eldest child is only 14-years-old. She’s hacking her way through her high school years now. Will she decide to attend college? Continuing with her way of independent learning may be what she decides to do. I’m glad to support her choice. I’m sure having Hacking Your Education on the bookshelf will help her make that decision.


A note for my conservative friends: There is a tiny bit of language (f*ck and sh*t). I wish the author left these words out, along with the quip declaration of his preference for “boys and champagne.” I’m thinking of all the book buying, Christian homeschoolers who will probably not see Hacking Your Education at their convention because of it.


I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.



Great review....why do people have to cuss to get their point across? I will look into the book though.