If you’re considering whether or not you should attend a formal college, or just learn computer science on your own, there are a few things you need to consider.
If you’re serious about obtaining a job in a computer-related field, a formal degree might be a good choice. A lot of employers will list some type of IT-related degree as a requirement, however, that being said, in my experience, most employers still hire based on experience, and, based off of reputation. For example, if you know someone who works for the company, you will probably have a better chance of being hired, than someone else, even though that person might have a degree, and you don’t.
If you’re planning on working for yourself, or starting your own company, the degree might not be as important. It’s been my experience that very few, if any customers, will ask if you have a college degree. Again, most of them are going to hire by word of mouth, or you might hook a few from time-to-time using advertisements.
I’ve been a computer science student for nearly 10 years, and there’s nothing that I’ve learned at the technical college, or at the university, that I couldn’t have learned on my own. The difference is, that a college course will (usually) give you some type of structure, and organization to the material that you’re learning, and you (usually) have access to a paid instructor, who can answer your questions. In some larger colleges, you might be required to go through lab assistants, to get your questions answered.
You’ll also want to note, that computer science is a rapidly changing subject area, and even if you do go to college, by the time you graduate, most of the information that you’ve learned, will already be obsolete.
If you’re not sure whether or not you want to attend a formal college, you can always contact your local technical college, or university, and see if they have anything they can offer you. Many colleges allow people to audit their classes. Some might charge a fee for auditing the class. You might even have to pay for the entire class; however, some colleges allow you to audit the class for free. The exact process is going to vary, depending on the college, however, when you’re auditing a class, you normally attend the class, just as a regular student. You’re allowed to sit through the lectures, and may or may not be required to complete the homework that is assigned to enrolled students. Generally, you will not receive a grade for the class, even if you are required to complete the work.
If your local college offers this service, it might be a good way for you to get involved, and get a better idea of whether or not you want to enroll as a student.
Whether or not you attend college, is going to depend on your employment goals, and your personal choice, more than anything. College is great for someone who needs the extra structure, and motivation of actually being in a class, but it’s certainly not required anymore, as just about anything you learn from college, you can learn on your own. The Internet provides access to information that wasn’t readily accessible in the past.
Ultimately, the decision is up to you, but you should make an educated decision, based on your particular situation. Don’t think that college is, or isn’t, a good decision for you, based off what other people have said.