What You Need to Know About Dropping Out of College

AlexEKorenCommunity member
Autoplay OFF  •  2 years ago
When should you drop out? When should you stay? What is it like dropping out?

What You Need to Know About Dropping Out of College

by Alex Koren, Thiel Fellow

I built a piece of software my first 2 years of college.

I got flown to SF and even showcased my work on stage. The response was overwhelmingly positive, especially to a chorus of “You’re only 19?!” I wanted to do more.

I asked to complete my masters instead of my undergrad

But was denied. It became apparent that degrees were no longer certifications of knowledge. They are really receipts with benefits (the value of which is arguable).

It was time to leave.

I saw my life diverge from academia to a very expensive room in Baltimore where I was working on my own projects. I applied for the Thiel Fellowship, knowing, Fellowship or not, I had to get out.

I had to start learning.

There is so much more to life and success than an A in Intro to Computing and Poetry 101. I had to start actually making use of my opportunity and begin cultivating real world skills.

For the first time in my 19 years, there was no agenda.

You need to learn to set real priorities and rules for yourself to live by. I started my first week working 6am to midnight. It wasn't sustainable. I learned to give myself leeway.

I had to be aware of burning out as well.

I once spent 2 weeks straight writing software for about 18-20 hours a day, not keeping an eye on nutrition, exercise, or sleep. I ended up sick for a month. They were just 2 weeks of stupidity.

I wouldn’t say that dropping out was inherently hard.

Once you’ve dropped out, that’s when life begins. We all know that if you want big things, they don’t come easy. That’s when my journey got difficult, but I reveled in it.

Should you drop out? It comes down to autodidactism & drive

If school is hindering your learning speed and from reaching goals that you've set for yourself outside of academia, then drop out. If you've got the passion, supporting yourself will follow.

If the risk is not appealing to you, stay in college

The only thing I ask is that you don’t let it make you complacent. In school there are defined goals and if you reach them, you succeed. Push yourself to reach your own definition of success.

What is higher than an A+ in school? Nothing.

Those limits don’t exist outside of academia, so make sure to set less tangible, but more meaningful goals than just grades. Schools create a set of standards and conformity. Break them.

If you dropped out: Chin up. Wear it as a badge of honor

But don’t let it define you. It’s a part of your story, not who you are. The ability to say that your passion for your work took you out of the norm is an amazing thing. Use it.

If I’d stayed in school, I’d be unhappy with my progress.

Those who know me, know that I’m incredibly hard on myself. If I wasn’t reaching the level of potential I thought was appropriate, I’d be kicking myself day in and day out.

Every day in school I asked, "Why am I here?"

So I actually answered that question. I wasn’t there for any other reason than because that’s what was expected of me. So I left and couldn’t be happier with my decision.

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a year agoReply
Thanks for teaching us the lessons you learnt through experince about recongizing boundaries and limitations.

a year agoReply
@lisa If you're working on important work, things that truly matter, the tech bubble shouldn't have to much of an affect on your work. In addition, I like to think of a tech bubble collapse as more of a restructuring of culture and values than an apocalypse in which all tech is lost. I can't see myself going back anytime in the near future, but I'd be a fool to ever say never. @lentis I completely agree. I'm really grateful for my two years in college. They taught me a lot of social skills, gave me some great friends, and a lot of awesome memories. I don't, however, believe it's the best option for many people, and it's extremely overpriced.

lisaSilver CommaCats
a year agoReply
Do you think things will change if the tech bubble collapses? Is there any scenario you'd go back?

lentisSilver CommaIf there's food, there's me
2 years agoReply
I think a lot of people use college to get the partying and fun out of their system. Get a lot of experiences out of the way so to speak

2 years agoReply
@abttera I don't think it will affect my career. If anything, I'm already ahead, having used two of my most productive intellectual years to further myself and gain real world experience which is more valuable (in my eyes). My motivation comes from an innate belief that I'm never as far as I want to be. I just expect more out of myself, always. @benj That's a great question. It takes no degree to trade on financial markets, so why not read up and trade? I'm sure that building a strong portfolio and a bit of charisma could land you a spot in the finance world. Numbers don't lie. Journalists can create blogs on their own, generating content as part of their portfolios. So can artists and musicians. I guess my point is that everything you learn in school can be learned elsewhere. All school and that degree is, is proof. If you can generate the proof, through some other means, of your skill, then why do you need the degree in the first place?

benjSilver CommaStoryteller
2 years agoReply
What about jobs that aren't in tech? Tech seems to be fine with skill without degree. But what if you become interested in a completely different field? Outside of tech seems like degree still necessary to move up the ranks

2 years agoReply
Do you think it will hurt your career to not have an undergraduate degree? What keeps you motivated to work on your projects?

2 years agoReply
@AlexEKoren got it! I've heard that freelancing can be quite lucrative!

2 years agoReply
@jeremiah, that's a great question. The Fellowship does come with money, enough to support one's self. However, I've been asked this question a lot and I stand by my idea that if you care about what you're going off to do, you'll find ways to support yourself. I've also done contract work on the side to help boost my budget. It might mean a few sleepless nights, but if dropping out was the right move, you'll love it.

2 years agoReply
The fellowship comes with money right? Would your decision be more difficult if you didn't get cash with it?