With MIT, Stanford and other universities putting their courses online, there’s an increasing opportunity for the serious autodidact. In fact, a really smart and motivated kid could forego college, get a Thiel fellowship, make money and learn whatever she wants simultaneously. What could be better than pursuing your passion and making a living?

That’s the romantic version

In reality, college serves several purposes; it signals to the world that you are smart or rich enough to have gotten into MIT or IIT or UPenn. It also signals to the world that you were part of an exclusive club whose benefits you reap long after you are done with the degree program. There are other, more genuine benefits as well: if you are so inclined, you are surrounded by people who can answer questions that might take you a couple of years on your own. Since learning is as much osmotic and social as it is explicit and individual, being around insightful people is worth the price of admission.

How can the autodidact defeat a well organized, well funded and immensely prestigious system? Not all of us are Ramanujan. If the traditional university system if organized in a top-down manner, the autodidact will have to self-organize. The flood of free courseware gives us a platform for catalyzing self-organization.