I´m not saying photo schools are a bad idea per se, they are just not for me. I've always been the kind of guy that have a really hard time to handle someone telling me what to do and how to do it. That could be one of the reasons why I never stayed in any "real" job for more that six months...
You'll need to work hard to become better. I mean a LOT of hard work. And most of that work will be done inside that pretty little head of yours. If a three year photography education isn't your cup of tea, here's six ways to stay out of school and still learn everything you need to learn.
There's a big difference between looking at pictures and LOOKING at pictures. Whenever you run into a awesome photo essay, find out why it is great. All the tricks and secrets of the photographer who took it is right there, in the images. If you find a picture mind-blowing, look at it and find out why. It is easy as that. Well, maybe not THAT easy but start digging and you'll realize what it is all about along the way.
Go to the library
Photo books are expensive. Unless they're located in your library. Then they are free. Need some inspiration? Wanna step away from the computer screen for a while? Head down to the library and plow through a few of your favorite photographers. And use step one in this list on every picture you look at.
Youtube is filled with documentaries about talented photographers. Watch them and try to pick up WHY they do as they do. That is the essence and what you should take with you. Why they choose to use the angles, equipment and way of mind that they do. ISO1200 is a great source for those of you looking for some visual inspiration!
Get a mentor
This part have meant the most for me and my career. A school will teach you how to set the camera, the correct developing time for black&white films or how to put together a good exhibition. BUt what about landing your first client? Or knowing how to set your goals? Or how to stay out of jail by actually doing your tax report the right way? Find a photographer that you respect and find interesting and get in touch with him or her.
Find your honest friends
Some friends (and your mother) thinks it is their duty to love and elevate everything you do. Whenever you tell them about a new project or show them a recently shot picture, they'll respond with a 'waaaaaooooow, that is biiiieeeeeautiful! You are soooooo talented!'. Even if what you show them is a blank paper with coffee stains on it. Sometimes, that kind of friends are a great asset. If you are trying to grow as a photographer, they're not. Find the ones that will tell you 'this is crap, what the hell are you doing?'. Right to your face. And when you find one of those friends, kiss her and hug her and tell her to never stop let you know when she hates your stuff!
Conventional educational school books are sometimes S-H-I-T. Using the same rhetorical rules (and language) as nazi-Germany they'll tell you all the parts of photography, including those parts that you have no interest in learning. E-books on the other hand, are jam-packed with hard facts about the specific fields that you need and want. Check out Craft&Vision for some great books to start with!
The first time I ever attended a workshop, my mind was blown. I'd never had as many epiphanies during such a short period of time. Being able to pick the brain of one of the best photographers in his field and to discuss the art of photography with like-minded peers will do wonders and you're career could take directions you never thought it would.