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Free Higher Education – Guy Crashes Elite College Courses for Four Years, Never Gets Caught

28-year-old Guillaume Dumas is a strong critic of the higher education system. In an attempt to make a political statement about how universities exclude people who cannot afford them, he spent four long years as a wandering scholar. He hopped campuses across North America, attending lectures and seminars for free, as an unregistered student. And although he didn’t receive a degree at the end, Dumas has used his education to start a successful online dating business in Montreal.

Dumas, who hails from Quebec, said that he first started campus hopping because it was fun. His parents didn’t even want him to attend college. “My mother got it in her head that I should become a butcher,” he said. “Her friend’s son was a butcher’s apprentice and he seemed to make good money. My father thought I should become a lumberjack in rural Quebec.”

But Dumas had other ideas. He applied to LaSalle College in Montreal and got in. And although he started college like any other 18-year-old, he soon got restless and was unsure of what he wanted to do with his life. He liked psychology, physics and philosophy, so he couldn’t decide on a major. He was spending $4,000 a year on his education, which he felt was a colossal waste. So he dropped out of LaSalle and started attending a few classes at the nearby McGill University. “It was so easy to look at the course listing and them show up for a class,” he recalled. “I thought, why couldn’t I do this at other schools?”

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Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Dumas then saved some money and used it to travel to the U.S., where he attended classes at Yale, Brown, Berkeley and Stanford. He worked part-time in coffee shops to support himself and spent the remaining time showing up at whatever classes caught his fancy. He also wanted to experience the social life at various schools. “I’m a pretty social guy, so I was invited to parties,” he said. “People just thought I was another student, so I just sort of went incognito.”

Dumas, who is a great fan of impersonator Frank Abagnale, Jr. (portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio in Catch Me if You Can), said he got a kick out of walking into any campus and blending with the students there. It became a kind of game for him to see how far he could take the ruse. And he picked up valuable lessons along the way – showing up for a course at the beginning of the semester, for instance, draws a lot less suspicion than showing up later on. He also found that it was better to keep his plans secret and trust no one.

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Photo: Guillaume Dumas

Although he started doing it for fun, Dumas soon began to view his unique educational program as a form of protest. “I was angry at how university education excludes people who cannot afford it,” he said. “What happened to the belief that sharing knowledge and great ideas should be free?” He also decided to use his experiences as a sort of experiment to understand what a university degree can get a person in life. He wanted to find out if Ivy League graduates get top jobs because of their degree or because of their connections. And he wanted to know if students really care about what they learn in the classroom.

Dumas accepts that one reason elite colleges are able to charge so much is because they give people access to a powerful network of alumni and other bright, ambitious students who may go on to do great things with their lives. But he insists that it is possible to gain all that without paying for it. He himself took the time to make friends in the classroom and at campus parties. And he has managed to build a community of friends who he trusts will be a valuable network throughout his career. And he says anyone can build lifelong relationships with smart, interesting people outside a campus environment.

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Photo: La Presse

Even though Dumas doesn’t have a degree today, he doesn’t regret anything he did in those four years. But he doesn’t recommend that everyone should crash elite colleges. “I freely acknowledge that this is not for everyone,” he said. There are careers for which a professional degree is mandatory, he pointed out. At the same time, he says there are professions like entrepreneurs, freelancers, and tech workers, where the work you produce is far more important than where your degree is from, or whether you have one at all.

“There are so many famous dropouts in the tech world – Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg,” he said. “It seems crazy that even people who plan to become entrepreneurs or developers still obsess about where they will get their degree.”

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Photo: Radio-Canada/Olivier Lalande

“Starting a business is all about your intelligence and your network,” he added. “None of your customers care where you went to college. All they care about is whether you can offer them a good product.”

Source: Fast Company

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