Should You Quit School Because You’re Brilliant?

by Silicon Valley Blogger on 2007-03-0539

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:

Pankaj Chowdhry
Pankaj Chowdhry
Blake Ross
Blake Ross
Evan Williams
Evan Williams
Aaron Swartz
Aaron Swartz

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

The Pros

  • 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.

The Cons

  • 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!

Copyright © 2007 The Digerati Life. All Rights Reserved.

{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

Dave C. March 5, 2007 at 1:28 pm

Ok, so do I have to be in school and then quit school to become a rich dropout? Can I just say I’m a dropout and then become rich? If so, I’m totally down for that.

Ben March 5, 2007 at 10:50 pm

It’s nice to see some success stories. Of course, for every one of these guys there are many others still working at McD’s. I think to pull it off you need faith in yourself to keep going when things seem rough as well as a little luck.

Silicon Valley Blogger March 10, 2007 at 9:24 am

Becoming a multi-millionaire via a startup in Silicon Valley is still a little like winning a high stakes lottery, except you have a bit more control!

Wealth Building Lessons March 14, 2007 at 12:05 am

School is important because of the social lessons you learn. Thats important but going to school usually doesn’t make you rich, although it can help you get a better paying job.

Evan Carmichael March 21, 2007 at 10:59 am

Great post! I manage the blog at and this was a very timely entry. I posted some of the highlights and linked back to your blog at: Should You Drop Out Of School To Launch Your Business?.

Keep up the great work!

Evan Carmichael.

Dave Prouhet March 29, 2007 at 7:03 pm


It is my guess that for every successful story you hear (and believe) that there are thousands of less successful stories and the story you hear may not be what Paul Harvey says is the rest of the story. I understand partial stories make great press. But then there is that old saying don’t start to believe your own press…

Never the less, a great article can be defined as informative and slightly controversial…you have done a great job with both!


San Diego August 8, 2007 at 3:30 pm

I had this attitude and after two years of school, quit school to make some real money.

I don’t think a degree would have resulted in a better income, but it has narrowed my opportunities. For example, at this point in my life, I would love to practice law. Not for the money, but the challenge. For the lack of two years of discipline at the age of 21, I took away an option 20 years later that I could not forsee then.

Denver October 20, 2007 at 9:34 am

Somewhere there are photos of folks who were brilliant, quit school and didn’t succeed? Not everyone’s brilliant ideas will make it to the marketplace. How many of them now wish they had been just a little more patient?

living off dividends October 29, 2007 at 5:11 pm

can I just quit my job instead? 😉

Las Vegas Guy October 29, 2007 at 7:26 pm

Having quit school as well after two years, I haven’t regretted it. I stayed long enough to get a two year degree, which really didn’t help me get a job at all, everyone wanted experience. However, some of the things I learned have helped with my current job, so I really can’t complain. I do think that college is definitely not for everyone and its not the end all be all that it used to be.

Colorado Guy November 2, 2007 at 8:51 pm

I really don’t think college is what it used to be, in todays entrepreneur driven society college really isn’t Necessary. If your going to be a doctor, lawyer or a teacher then by all means go for it, but my suggestion to people that don’t know what they want to do; take some time off, really think about what you want to do. Don’t waste your time and money on a degree that isn’t going to do anything for you.

I dropped out of College at 22 and started my own real estate company, by the time my friends were graduating I was making over 6 figures a year, they were all happy to be making 30k, 5 years later, some are making 60k some are lucky enough to make 70k…I make 5 times more money working for myself then any friend I have who went to college. The majority of my college friends are 35 still paying off insane student loans and scraping by at some 9-5….

Just my two cents…only regret I have about not going to college is I cant spell 🙂

Bob in San Diego November 14, 2007 at 2:59 pm

I too was one who quit school after two years and started a business… While that business was successful, in spite of my not having a formal education, I found out the hard way that there definitely is a Glass Ceiling.

It is true that professional sales jobs like insurance and Real Estate do not require a formal education. But, if you ever do decide to change professions or move into the corporate world you will almost never receive an interview unless you have a 4 year degree. While the school of hard knocks does provide you an education, a formal education is something that lays the foundation from which you can build an ever better business.

P.S. it is a hell of a lot easier to get a 4 year degree when you are 20 then when you have a family, a mortgage, and a full time job. – Speaking from experience.

Aguilar San Diego March 14, 2008 at 1:34 pm

A big NO!

Homes in Colorado April 16, 2008 at 12:01 pm

Oddly, a person’s currency isn’t always money, or public acknowledgment. Sometimes what matters most is environment, and if staying in school is an important expression of who you are, you’re bound to stay there. If it’s more pain than pleasure, the smart person is going to leave.

Steel Smith July 27, 2008 at 11:45 pm

A very good piece of information, i really loved it 🙂 Thanks for sharing it here, I am going to forward this to all of my friends!

virginia July 30, 2008 at 8:43 pm

Pankaj is the man!!!!!

Revive Energy Mint, CEO September 3, 2008 at 8:49 pm

I agree with “colorado homes” I don’t think allot of people stay in school because of the money. School can be about so much more. Showing you acomplished something, expanding your knowledge, learning etc. To each his own, everyone needs to do what works for them!

world of signs May 20, 2009 at 1:59 am

i would say, stay in school! Money can’t replace the friends that you make in high school or Uni.!
That’s just my two cents!

Goran Web Design September 13, 2009 at 9:13 am

That glass ceiling is definitely an issue if you’re employed by a corporation, but if you’re the boss this really doesn’t matter. A university or college education doesn’t necessarily help much if you are doing your own thing, but when working for an institution the lack of a tertiary qualification might the one thing that trips you up in your quest of climbing the corporate ladder, all other things being equal. Competition between candidates for advancement can be really fierce, and that qualification could well be the deciding vote.

Mike September 13, 2009 at 1:46 pm

More school or not? The question is up to the individual. And more school doesn’t always lead to a more qualified person. I’ve encountered several people with alphabet soup at the end of their name, but are virtually useless in the real world.

Lisa September 29, 2009 at 8:56 am

Naturally, quit school and go for your dreams. School doesn’t necessarily lead to education, although for many, it helps.

Shennan T. October 4, 2010 at 3:03 pm

You shouldn’t quit school because you’re too intelligent, but you can try online college so that you may get your degree.

CMM February 27, 2011 at 1:28 pm

I’d say only if you think your brilliance is only temporary or will fade. I didn’t learn that much useful information in High School or College, but it was sure a better time than working a 9AM to 5PM job five to six days a week. My advice is that if you can afford it or get the grants to pay for it, stay in school as long as you can, learn as much as you can and have the best time that you can!

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