I don't want you to take what I say for gold because everyone is so very different. I am 22 years old I have been cooking in kitchens for about 4 years. What I have seen in the kitchens is a bit of regret from students that went to culinary school it helped them get in the door but they are no farther than I who just kept bouncing around kitchens for experience. 4 years and I don't have student loans and I am not behind at all and if somewhat more ahead the skill level of most that went threw culinary school that i know.
If you are passionate to learn on your own question everything jump around some busy kitchens. You will learn :).