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Alternative Business Schools

As every entrepreneur knows, there are many routes to success beyond the traditional classroom.

The School of Hard Knocks
Concentrations: Finance, social policy, entrepreneurship
Total enrollment: The entire U.S. lower and middle classes
Annual tuition: Your dignity
Teacher-student ratio: 1 to 300 million
Students who graduate within four years: Very few
Rolling admission: Yes
Acceptance rate: 100 percent
Students receiving financial aid: 0 percent
Average starting salary after graduation: $7.25 an hour
Notable alumnus: Oprah Winfrey
 

Dropout U
Concentration: Information technology
Annual tuition: $0
Students who graduate within four years: 0
Students who graduate within six years: 0
Students who graduate, ever: 0
Degrees offered: 0
Extracurricular activities: Devising something world-changing in your basement
Notable alumni: Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates
 

The Streets
Concentrations: Pharmaceutical management, supply-chain management, human resources
Total enrollment: Your crew
Average age at entry: 14
Evening program: Yes
Part-time program: Hell, no
Notable alumnus: Jay-Z
 

Online University
Concentrations: "Finance," "Information systems," "Marketing," "Accounting"--and more!
Annual tuition: Cheap!
Academic calendar: "Semesters"
Evening and weekend programs: Yeah. Or, like, whenever.
Average starting salary after "graduation": Uh, competitive?
Accreditation: "Yes"
Notable alumnus: Shaquille O'Neal (MBA, University of Phoenix, '05)
 

Five Years in the Wilderness
Concentrations: Foraging, fishing, hunting
Total enrollment: 1
Average age at entry: 19
Room and board: Makeshift
Extracurricular activities: Whittling
Evening programs: Yes, but not safe
Meal plan: Depends on what you mean by "meal." And "plan."
Notable alumnus: Chris McCandless (1968-1992)
 

Boxing Career
Concentrations: Jabbing, bobbing, weaving, narcissism
Average age at entry: 20
Average age at graduation: 48
Room and board: We'll start you out in the room in the back. There's a cot in there. It ain't a palace but it's a place to rest your head. Lights out at midnight, kid. And no girls!
Prerequisite: A toothy but captivating smile
Extracurricular activities: Grilling sandwiches. On both sides. At the same time.
Notable alumnus: George Foreman
 

Prison
Concentrations: Weight lifting, reading whatever's in the prison library
Total enrollment: 2.5 million
Annual tuition: Free
Room and board: Included
Academic calendar: One day at a time
Total faculty: The number of convicts who've been there longer than you
Internship opportunities: Not really, no
Meal plan: Yes!
Current students: Jeffrey Skilling, Dennis Kozlowski, Bernard Madoff, Bernie Ebbers, Sam Israel, John Rigas, Timothy Rigas and so on ...

Ross McCammon is an articles editor at Esquire magazine. To learn more about Esquire and to subscribe, go to esquire.com.

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This article was originally published in the October 2010 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Alternative Business Schools.

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