So you’re young with some major street smarts. Do you have a touch of arrogance, high self esteem, and have lecture hall phobia? Perhaps you’re considering ditching school because you think you’re all that and have awesome ideas to boot. If you’re wondering whether you should earn a college degree, you’re not alone!
Silicon Valley is famous for its dropouts who have become some of the richest people in the world. New people are continuing to follow the footsteps of these well-known wealthy individuals, whose ambition and achievements are the stuff of legends (or just business bestsellers) far and wide. No doubt you can’t come across more inspiring tales that helped birth a new generation of incredibly successful academic defectors turned startup millionaires like these:
These guys were responsible for such web artifacts as the Firefox browser, RSS and Reddit. You can find out more about them and others in their predicament in this article.
So you want learn how to become a millionaire and hope to live and play like these guys one day? Before trying out to be like them, let’s hear what they have to say about their experiences:
Quit School, Launch A Business And Become Rich
- You can do what you want.
Everything that got you detention in school will get you funding in Silicon Valley. If you’re a non-conformist, you may have the right profile.
- You’ll get an alternative education.
Young people should seize the fleeting opportunity to get a different kind of education.
- You’ll use somebody else’s money.
You are building a resume and a company as well as creating valuable experiences on the dime of venture capitalists.
- You’re free to mark your own path.
The journey is the reward, especially for “outcasts”, “geeks” and “nerds” who were ostracized in school and for free thinkers who can’t be strapped down by structure and a conventional career path.
- You may get your just rewards.
Silicon Valley is a complete meritocracy – are you bright and do you work hard? Do you have innovative ideas? Then you may have a shot.
- You have more energy to work.
Your youthful energy is an advantage.
- You won’t be well rounded.
You’ll miss out on teenage life that helps round you out as a person as your peers will be on a different wavelength than you. Plus, you’ll need to work harder without a diploma and a formal education.
- You’ll be lonely.
You can always go back to school, but your social life won’t be the same as your old friends move on. Could loneliness be a part of this experience? Some successful dropouts say so.
- You can fail.
The risks are as high as the potential rewards. Experiences of Valley dropouts vary significantly. So just because you decided to spend your time pursuing a dream doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to do well. Not everyone can win the startup lotto.
- You may not be well adjusted.
Young people thrust in a high pressure situation are bound to be shell shocked at a tender age. Even success can be too much to handle. I would liken this situation to young celebrities who face sudden fame, fortune and responsibility. Still, it could be a good problem to have.
- There’s a glass ceiling.
In the Valley, young people are frequently lured by high starting salaries and low barriers to entry, but as they climb the corporate ladder, there’s a ceiling often hit by those who don’t hold degrees. There’s also that matter of proving yourself to skeptics when you don’t have that diploma.
- It takes a lot of sacrifice.
There’s much sacrifice and determination involved in nurturing an entrepreneurial vision: the cramped rooms, long hours hunched over a monitor, all nighters and fast food. Sure you’ll probably have some of that in an educational setting, but not to the same degree nor at the same pace. At this time in a student’s life, is it worth choosing over high school or college? What, no frat houses, sorority clubs, partying?
So What Do I Think?
If you are extremely talented, dropping out may not hinder you from making a fortune. In fact, some may argue that if you’re a business genius, school can actually crimp your style. More typically though, it’s possible to make it with some measure of success without that formal education, but you’ll have to work much much harder given society’s preconceptions. Plus don’t forget that luck plays a huge part in your circumstances. Going to school is supposed to be a safety net to make sure that you always have something to fall back on in order to survive, but you already knew that.
Just like anything else, schooling has an opportunity cost and to some folks, it’s worth it to drop out as they believe they can strike it big on their own time, effort and ability. In fact, Tynan from Better Than Your Boyfriend has done a spreadsheet measuring the numbers and statistics supporting the notion of skipping out on school. But the opportunity cost and value of education is significant and the risk of failing without a safety net is likewise significant.
Unfortunately, many people have an inflated sense of what they can and are able to achieve, and even with the opportunity to go to school, they nix it for other occupations. Anyway, they say, they can always get that degree later.
That’s them. I’m one of those people who stuck to the straight and narrow, who was boring and liked academics. I like certainty and derive comfort in the sure things in life. In my mind, I’ve decided to take my chances later, after everything else falls into place. So I’ve gone about my life in the traditional way — degree first, career next, risks and business later. That works for me.
But then again, I’m no Michael Dell.
This post is part of our Casey Serin (I Am Facing Foreclosure) Theme Week. I’ve asked Casey about his educational background, and this is what he said: “I only have a high school (HS) degree. Only took 1 unit of college, but really just for fun so I can say I ‘took 1 unit of college’. I was going to go to college right out of HS but was offered a salaried position at a dot com company with benefits and stock options and decided to go for it.” Somehow, I had a feeling that this was the route he had taken!
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