Contra College

Commonplace Book

Updated November 18, 2019

A living collection of quotes against college, with contributors like best-selling author Neil Gaiman, American Iconoclast H.L. Mencken, investor Peter Thiel, Mark Twain, Herman Melville, Elon Musk, and more.

I never graduated from university. I never even started at one. I escaped from school as soon as I could when the prospect of four more years of enforced learning before I could become the writer I wanted to be seemed stifling.

- Neil Gaiman

Some people get an education without going to college. The rest get it after they get out.

- Mark Twain

You see, in this country are a number of youths who do not like to work, and the college is an excellent place for them.

- L. Frank Baum

College football is a game which would be much more interesting if the faculty played instead of the students, and even more interesting if the trustees played. There would be a great increase in broken arms, legs, and necks, and simultaneously an appreciable diminution in the loss to humanity.

- H.L. Mencken

The discipline of colleges and universities is in general contrived, not for the benefit of the students, but for the interest, or more properly speaking, for the ease of the masters.

- Adam Smith

I can’t imagine a genuinely intelligent boy getting much out of college, even out of a good college, save it be a cynical habit of mind.

- H.L. Mencken

Some of the most successful men of the 19th century never went to college, and today, those who didn’t go to college are more intelligent, better informed and less easily fooled than the people who did go to college.

- Ayn Rand

Let’s not burn the universities yet. After all, the damage they do might be worse.

- H.L. Mencken

You can’t learn to write in college. It’s a very bad place for writers because the teachers always think they know more than you do—and they don’t. They have prejudices. They may like Henry James, but what if you don’t want to write like Henry James? They may like John Irving, for instance, who’s the bore of all time. A lot of the people whose work they’ve taught in the schools for the last thirty years, I can’t understand why people read them and why they are taught. The library, on the other hand, has no biases. The information is all there for you to interpret. You don’t have someone telling you what to think. You discover it for yourself.

- Ray Bradbury

At a time when the respectable bourgeois youngsters of my generation were college freshmen, oppressed by simian sophomores and affronted with balderdash daily and hourly by chalky pedagogues, I was at large in a wicked seaport of half a million people, with a front seat at every public show, as free of the night as of day, and getting earfuls of instruction in a hundred giddy arcana, none of them taught in schools…. [But] if I neglected the humanities, I was meanwhile laying in all the worldly wisdom of a police lieutenant, a bartender, a shyster lawyer, or a midwife.

- H.L. Mencken

A whale ship was my Yale College and my Harvard.

- Herman Melville

Elite students climb confidently until they reach a level of competition sufficiently intense to beat their dreams out of them. Higher education is the place where people who had big plans in high school get stuck in fierce rivalries with equally smart peers over conventional careers like management consulting and investment banking. For the privilege of being turned into conformists, students (or their families) pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in skyrocketing tuition that continues to outpace inflation. Why are we doing this to ourselves?

- Peter Thiel

I didn’t want any degrees if all the ill-read literates and radio announcers and pedagogical dummies I knew had them by the peck.

- J.D. Sallinger

The habit of looking at life as a social relation — an affair of society — did no good. It cultivated a weakness which needed no cultivation. If it had helped to make men of the world, or give the manners and instincts of any profession — such as temper, patience, courtesy, or a faculty of profiting by the social defects of opponents — it would have been education better worth having than mathematics or languages; but so far as it helped to make anything, it helped only to make the college standard permanent through life.

- Henry Adams

If I could meet my 14 year-old self I would tell him ‘read more books’ and ‘don’t go to college.’

-Roger Ver

Some boys go to college and eventually succeed in getting out. Others go to college and never succeed in getting out. The latter are called professors.

- H.L. Mencken

Our culture does not make such nuanced distinctions when it comes to pushing the value of four-year schools – we push them on EVERYONE. We’ve got it into our heads that a college education is SO important, that the cost is irrelevant, along with the actual demand for whatever major a kid might wish to declare. Thus, we’ve encouraged an entire generation to borrow whatever it takes to get whatever degree they believe will make them happy. Is it any wonder tuition has risen so quickly?

- Mike Rowe

Rather than wanting to go to university, I told a potential business partner as a teenager: “Let’s get out there, let’s get going!” Sounds about right.

- Richard Branson