At a time when the cost of post-secondary education deters many high school graduates from pursuing a university degree, more people may wish to consider making the most of free public education and pursuing higher education as an autodidact.

The prefix auto is from Greek and means “self.”

Didact is also from Greek: didaktikos: “apt at teaching.”

Autodidacts design their own courses of study and pursue them by taking advantage of whatever materials, lectures, and knowledgeable acquaintances are available. In this day of free libraries and online databases, there is no lack of opportunity for the person who chooses autodidacticism.

Abigail Adams, Jane Austen, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Beatrix Potter, and Frederick Douglass were autodidacts from birth because they lived in historical periods during which formal education was denied to women and slaves.

Hans Christian Andersen and Robert Burns never went to school because they were born to poor parents; free public education was not available to them.

Many well-known autodidacts attended school until early adolescence. Doris Lessing dropped out of school at the age of 13. Jack London at 14. Malcolm X completed eighth grade.

On the other hand, Joseph Campbell, author of numerous works about mythology, got as far as completing a master’s degree, but balked at the irrelevancies he would have to pursue if he went on to obtain a doctorate. Instead, he became a recluse for five years and read about religion, philosophy, and myth for nine hours a day.

Autodidacticism has to do with studying what one wants to learn.

Not everyone can go to college; not everyone needs or wants to. But everyone who wants an education can get one as an autodidact.


List of Autodidacts Who Made a Difference