Inspired in part by technology superstars like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Larry Ellison, all of whom dropped out of college to pursue innovative ideas, a growing number of high school students have felt encouraged to give wing to their entrepreneurial instincts.
A recent such renegade is 18-year-old Scott Millar of Brisbane, Australia. He grew up watching Star Wars and Iron Man and became fascinated with holograms. Holography is a photographic technique that records the light scattered from an object and presents it in a way that appears three-dimensional. In late 2015, after he came across a YouTube tutorial on how to create holograms, Millar plunged headlong into learning how to do it and formed his own company, BOP Industries (BOP stands for ‘Buy Our Product’) to make it a viable business. BOP creates hologram displays for events and marketing.
Another such teen businessman is Akshay Ruparelia, a 19-year-old Briton of Indian origin, who some two years ago chose to become a real estate entrepreneur instead of pursuing a college degree. His online portal doorsteps.co.uk is now a popular site for property sales, and at last count, he had sold properties worth more than 100 million pounds, according to a news report.
Will College Pay Off?
Deciding to bypass a college education to launch a business is by no means an easy decision. Millar says he decided to defer a university education in order to focus on his business because it demanded his full attention. “BOP grew very rapidly and I realized that I would not be able to run the business properly if I decided to continue my studies after graduating high school,” he says. “I knew that BOP Industries and I had so much more untapped potential and I really wanted to unlock that. It’s already been eight months and I’ve been loving every second and continuing to grow, develop and learn alongside my business.”
Millar admits that in 2017, when he decided to focus exclusively on BOP, it wasn’t an easy decision to put off college. He says it was “scary” since the firm had no structure in place. He also faced resistance from his high school. “My school was a very traditional school that placed a lot of pressure on students to go to university and also to study ‘good courses’ that were ‘stable’ rather than creative courses,” he says.
Millar was fortunate to have a strong support network in the start-up business space when he decided to focus exclusively on BOP. It also helped that he had already been running the business for a few years and was making money and dealing with some large clients. His parents were also supportive. “I had an agreement with my parents that as long as I was making money and making progress, they would support me,” he says. Also, his teachers and friends “had an inside view” of how much work he put into his business and were supportive, he adds.
Those who argue that college education is an absolute must may find it hard to justify prioritizing entrepreneurship over school from a cost-benefit standpoint. It is a definite hot-button issue for all involved, including parents, academics and students. In his 2015 book Will College Pay Off? A Guide to the Most Important Financial Decision You Will Ever Make, Wharton management professor Peter Cappelli questions conventional wisdom on the subject and delves deeply into whether it makes sense to go to college. Cappelli is also director of Wharton’s Center for Human Resources.
“The typical costs of college have risen by about four times the rate of inflation over the last generation,” Cappelli told Knowledge@Wharton after his book was published. “In the U.S., we pay a heck of a lot for it. The average American parent pays seven times as much for a college education as the average parent in the rest of the industrial world.”
What’s more, even for those who can afford it, a college education does not ensure a successful career. “I don’t think there’s any guarantee, there’s nothing written up that says college has to pay off,” Cappelli told KWHS in an interview.
Apps and Lidar Sensors
Dizzying price tags and the discussion about the return on investment of higher education (especially at the risk of paying back years of debt from student loans) have prompted some entrepreneurs to do what they do best: disrupt the industry. PayPal cofounder Peter Thiel is so convinced that bright ideas need support (and that students need alternate paths) that he has committed serious money to encourage teenage entrepreneurs. Thiel was the first outside investor in Facebook and provided early funding for such companies as LinkedIn and Yelp.
The seven-year-old Thiel Foundation “gives $100,000 [each] to young people who want to build new things instead of sitting in a classroom,” according to its website. A guiding principle is that college isn’t for everyone, especially right out of high school. In addition to the grant money, participants in the two-year program get support from the Thiel Foundation’s network of founders, investors and scientists.
In June, the foundation named 20 people that it selected for its 2018 class. Among them was Erin Smith, a U.S. Shawnee Mission West student from Kansas who graduated in 2018 and decided to forgo her acceptance to Stanford University to pursue her app idea that combines an algorithm and facial recognition software to potentially help diagnose Parkinson’s Disease.
While not all of these students and ideas succeed, many of them, like Smith, postpone or even drop out of college to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams in a supportive environment. Austin Russell, 23, dropped out of Stanford University at 18 to accept a Thiel fellowship and develop Luminar, which builds lidar sensors, the industry standard for autonomous cars. Word has it that Luminar may become a market threat to auto innovator Elon Musk of Tesla fame. In a recent CNBC report, Russell, who studied applied physics at Stanford for only a short time before deciding on his alternate path, said, “Dropping out is definitely right for some people and can work really well if you’re very clear on what you want to do and how you want to go about doing it. And clear about just life goals in general…A lot of it is just about timing.”
Millar too benefited from grant money and mentoring. Earlier this year, BOP was selected as one among 10 participants for a three-month entrepreneurship program in Australia called the Collider Accelerator organized by Queensland University of Technology’s startup hub Creative Enterprise Australia. Participants get $30,000 in pre-seed investment and coaching from mentors. In the 12-week crash course on how to scale and run a business, participants focused on a different topic from sales to branding, product, finance, legal and more, with “world class mentors flying in from around the globe” to guide them.
With this kind of support network, as well as an entrepreneurial drive, Millar has not regretted his decision to pursue BOP full-time. “We have come leaps and bounds since the end of 2017,” Millar says. “We have spent the start of this year just building the business internally with new structures, team and process and also testing some of our new products and offerings.”
Millar has also reached a critical mass with BOP Industries, which has two business units – education and holograms. In holograms, it designs and manufactures the products, creates the content and works with clients on the ideation and creation of the installation. In education, it conducts workshops that are often paid for by schools. BOP is exploring a few options around government and corporate funding for schools that can’t afford its programs.
Even with BOP’s business growth, Millar still anticipates going to college. “I know that university will always be there no matter when I decide to go back,” he notes. For now, BOP is filling that gap in a sense. “Already the real-world learning, knowledge and connections have been beyond my wildest dreams and I’m finding myself as an 18-year-old that is fresh out of high school, being able to have in-depth conversations with CEOs of massive corporations.”
Notwithstanding tales of successful college dropouts, it still takes some courage to take the leap. “Leaving behind the safety of the classroom and choosing to build a business instead isn’t easy or glamorous,” says Allyson Dias, director of the Thiel Fellowship in a press release. “But our Fellows have found what we suspect to be true more broadly: young people learn best by doing things in the real world.”
As Cappelli puts it, “We forget that in Silicon Valley when it got started, only 10% of the people working in Silicon Valley had any kind of IT degree — and yet they built the entire IT industry.”
Still, he also points out, “The college experience has a lot to do with things other than just getting a job. People tend to report nice experiences from these places — that counts as something.”
Is college and entrepreneurship an either/or prospect? Not necessarily. It’s most critical to give some deep thought to your personal priorities when it comes to learning. And it is definitely an option to both pursue real-world learning as well as earn a college degree. Teen app developer Michael Royzen, who just graduated high school and is headed for the University of Texas, Austin, this fall, recently told KWHS: “I’ve thought a lot about my path in the past year. Initially, I wasn’t as keen on going to college until I got into AI [artificial intelligence]. I realized that this state-of-the-art in AI research is moving so quickly that the only way to allow me to get there and to have the opportunity to push it forward is to first get my feet in academia.”
Talk with your parents and mentors, consider your options, and figure out a path that works for you.
- Brisbane Startup BOP Industries
- Akshay Ruparelia
- Peter Cappelli’s Book Will College Pay Off
- K@W: Will College Pay Off Interview with Peter Cappelli
- KWHS: Managing College Costs and Debt Podcast Series
- Thiel Foundation Announces 2018 Fellows
- Thiel Fellow Erin Smith
- CNBC Report on Austin Russell
- Collider Accelerator
- Thiel Foundation Announces 2017 Fellows
- The Thiel Foundation
Would you bypass college for real-world learning? Why or why not?
Debate the virtues of pursing college or entrepreneurship with your classmates and/or friends. What are some of the key pros and cons both ways? How did different perspectives help to shape or change your argument?
Do you think higher education will change in the coming years to accommodate learners in different ways? Is it changing already?
There are many ways to learn. But the most significant one, which is carved in our souls, is through life experiences. Any simulation can truly surpass a real world situation, and it’s impossible to substitute all of it with a book or even in a speech, because it’s impossible to feel the feeling of it without living it. But well, to have a good academic experience have it’s own essential learnings as well and can prevent you from commiting mistakes that may put you in trouble. So, personally, I don’t think that it’s a good idea to bypass college, principally if you’re in one that provides help for entrepreneur students, except if you judge yourself as prepared enough (something hard to be certain of).
When I was 15 years old I moved and started living without my parents in a different state, where I did not know anyone. More than that: I moved from an interior city to a metropolis. And so I needed to learn how to deal with many bureaucracies by myself, to locomote my myself (it’s expensive to use taxis, so I use bus or other cheaper way). And when I began to be leader of social projects, I had to learn much more. It was more than an obligation, it was a necessity. I remember (and I think that I will always remember this) when I was going to pay a paypal and was out of (physical) money. I don’t know how it works outside Brazil, but here if you type your code wrongly three times, your bank account is blocked. And well, I did so (but I’m sure that my fourth try would be the right one!). To worsen, only my mom could go to a bank to unlock it and this service only is available at weekdays (it happened in a friday’s afternoon). Our fear was that she may need my debit card to unlock it, but fortunately, it wasn’t necessary. In the end, I only had to survive the weekend without any money. Ah! I was without food in my apartment too, that was the hard part of the story. I had plenty of stories, many more significant than this one, but I choose to tell this because it’s a case in which I learned something in a real life experience, but it was through a hardship. I would have learned the same thing in a easier way if I simply didn’t “bypassed” my mom “classes” about those things.
Other important topic to comment about is this entrepreneur part. Nowadays I’m conducting two startups. Actually, I kind of paused one to focus in the other. When I started them I just had some ideias and wanted to try them out, and then heard about an Accelerator program, in its last day of enrollment. So, I created two teams in this same day and inscribed us. I got surprised when I saw that both passed in the program, but I had not time to work on both, and one of the teams was not motivated, and that is why I can focus in just one. The point is, after we start this program, we got much better. The provided us with online classes and we had contact with more experienced people in this area. Of course, it does not replace the real experience of trying our startup out. But these learnings are not substitutes one of the other. They’re complementary. You grow much more when you do both: study the theory and practice it in real situations. That’s the reason that I would not bypass college, I know that I would have much to learn and improve there.
Would I personally bypass college for real-world learning? No. What about on a broader scale? Well, it depends. That may sound like a feeble attempt at an answer, but I’ll explain. First, I want to point out a detail that may seem petty, but is fundamental to understanding my response. I’ve never been particularly fond of the term “real-world learning.” What comprises this so-called “real world?” Is there anything less “real” about college than there is about business? They both play extremely important roles in the function of society as a whole, despite the fact that they are very different from each other. For the sake of argument, consider the world of entrepreneurship and business as a world that is different than the world of higher education, but is in no way more “real.” These worlds are not disparate; on the contrary, they are intimately connected, but merely offer experiences of differing natures. Michael Royzen’s story illustrates this perfectly. Royzen states that he was unsure about college, but that the AI research that’s going on at UT Austin is so connected and important to his business pursuits and his ability to “push it forward” that he has to be in the academic world – as well as the business world – in order to be successful. In the KWHS article “Prolific App Developer Michael Royzen Plans for a Future in College and AI Innovation,” the 18-year-old says that he hopes to remain in academic research until an opportunity to start his own business opens up, comparing how he envisions his entrepreneurial voyage to that of Sergey Brin and Larry Page, who founded Google.
With regard to the benefits of attending college after high school, American higher education is among the best – if not the best – in the world in terms of fostering the minds of the future and contributing to positive global change. Last April, I attended a panel discussion at the 70th annual Conference on World Affairs at the University of Colorado Boulder entitled “Do I Need a Degree? How Many?” One of the members of the panel was James Tanabe, an international circus producer whose cornucopia of academic degrees includes a master’s in international studies from the University of Pennsylvania and an MBA from Wharton. Tanabe proposed that there are three basic reasons why one would want to get a degree (or go to college in the first place): the knowledge that comes with it, the resources available in obtaining it (access to special programs or professors or scientfic instruments), and the benefits of having it (professional connections or as a step along the path to further education). Tanabe illustrated his path through MIT as an undergrad similar to how I envision my college experience going. He enrolled in classes because he was interested in them, without a definite plan as to what his major was or how he was going to get a certain degree, and in the end his degree just kind of popped out of what he had done because of his desire to learn. I’ve worked with a grad student at CU on her environmental research regarding beavers and their ability to mitigate the effects of drought. I’ve spent weeks and weeks of every summer since I can remember on CU’s campus in science camps. My mom works at the university as a coordinator for a research project on behavioral genetics. The personal connections that I have to higher education mean that bypassing college doesn’t make any sense for me. But what about everybody else?
Starting a business after high school is far riskier – and potentially lucrative – than, but in no way inferior to, the college pathway. The article addresses several examples of young people bypassing college in order to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams, which vary from hologram technology to real estate, but there are common denominators in these stories that I believe are necessary in order to choose entrepreneurship over college. Aspiring entrepreneurs should have, as the article describes in Scott MIllar’s case, “a strong support network” when deciding to forgo a college education, as well as a rough plan for how building their business will be accomplished and the knowledge and personal traits to be successful in this plan. That’s asking a lot, but for the journey as an entrepreneur, these are essential. In Michael Royzen’s case, “trusting [his] gut intuition” and perseverance were the primary factors behind his success. Both the Thiel Foundation and the Collider Accelerator are highlighted in the article as providing phenomenal financial and educational resources to young entrepreneurs. Support from family and friends in embarking on an adventure as uncertain as starting a business is also a must. But I wonder: Are there stories of entrepreneurial success from businesses created by teenagers in the last few years that don’t involve a program like that of the Queensland University of Technology or the Thiel Foundation? Ícaro’s story in the comments also involves a entrepreneurship program. It seems as though there are few options when it comes to getting the resources that these organizations provide outside of the programs they offer.
Higher education is changing – and will continue to change – to accomodate different styles of learning. Technology should play an increased role in the classroom, not just to improve students’ learning experiences, but also because students need to know more about technology, which is constantly being changed and developed and improved and is playing an increasingly important role in daily life and society as a whole. But society will have to change, as well. Not everybody should go to college after high school. There need to be more paths Americans can take after high school that are accepted and supported by our social order. Vocational school and getting a job straight out of high school should be emphasized as viable options much more than they are. Young entrepreneurs with brilliant ideas should be able to pursue their business ventures without the ominous prospect of complete financial failure and the support of family, friends, and business experts, and I commend the Thiel Foundation, the Queensland University of Technology, and all of the other institutions that are offering support to adventurous young minds for turning these aspirations into reality. None of this will happen overnight. It will take far longer to implement such a dramatic societal shift, but most important is that any experience after high school is in the “real world,” whether it’s going to college, or developing a business, or finding the intersection of the two on a trail that nobody else has yet trod. Although the world doesn’t always feel “real,” our experiences in it very much are, and the kinds we need to stimulate our minds and grow as humans are shaped by our upbringings and the personal experiences that define us.
I have worked for my low-carbon technology firm for two years, I have attended conferences held by Department of Energy of the US, and got involved in hosing national conferences on low carbon techs in Beijing’s National Convention Center. And I am now negotiating cooperation with several firms. I have been so busy that there are a few times when I even thought about dropping out to focus on my job, but I didn’t follow through with this idea.
Many people have asked me why I did not just drop out and start my own business since I had much work experience and a team that was big enough that demanded much of my time managing it. By dropping out, you potential would be better tapped! So they said.
I have also read about similar subjects from the article called Would You Bypass College for Real-world Learning? Reading this made me think, for a long time. After researching some biographies (of Bill Gates, Elon Musk, and Jobs) and drawing upon my own experience. I have come to the conclusion that: there are not two identical leaves in the world, everyone gets his own life and we can’t completely copy others’ lives. So we need to identify our own real-world learning method, instead of trying to mimic others’ success stories. Some would think dropping out to make way for entrepreneurship is better for their lives , while others argue textbook knowledge is more useful for people to know the world. Therefore, everyone should have his own way for real-world learning.
For me, textbook study and activities are most effective methods for me to achieve real-world learning. I have spent 1/3 of my life on campus, 1/3 for social life and activities and the rest for sleeping. Next, I will speak from my own experience and explain what the best way is to achieve real-world learning for me.
1. Internships provided by school, club activities and workshops help us gain real-world learning off campus.
By attending model UN in first year of senior high, I learned about the concept of low carbon economy, which prompted me to start a low carbon economy institute and recruit talents of the school interested in this area; then, through the municipal junior high clubs association, I managed to expand my institute to cover the whole city of Chongqing (my hometown); after that, I participated in the national business summit on behalf of my school’s business club, where I met more students with leadership skills and convinced them to establish low carbon institutes at their own home cities as branch of my institute. My school’s club gives me all the opportunities and through attending all these events, not only did I coordinated a national research team with over 300 members, but learned more business knowledge and team work skills. So it is fair to say, attending club activities at school benefited me a lot. I believe that in university, I will learn more via many of the platforms it provides.
2. The secret to success is to know more people that can help you and university is a place full of human resources.
I am a frequent visitor to Wharton China’s alumni association. Every time I stand outside the CBD building and I can sense an atmosphere of elite. Every person I run into inside the building is either a top entrepreneur or researcher. Each time there is an alumni event, they will exchange name cards and get to know each other (I then went to make my own name cards), in an effort to expand social circle, as your alumni could be your future partners sometime.
I also visit Guanghua School of Management of Peking University, China’s best business school. I follow the school’s every recent development. And every time there is a lecture on energy or environmental protection, I will make time to attend it (though I was rejected a few times for not being a PKU alumnus). By attending these lectures, not only do I get to learn more knowledge, but manage to exchange contact information with many attending adults to know more people. I know many people, including some top professors of materials science and economics, via these meetings and also invite many business tycoons to attend events hosted by the Low Caron Technology Alliance at Beijing’s International Conference Center.
Though Bill Gates and Mack Zuckerburgs were all college drop-outs, but they both managed to utilized the power from their alumni. Take Elon Mask, he dropped out having been in Stanford for just two days, but he makes the best of his Stanford connections. When starting PayPal, he hired top graduates of Stanford by managing to obtain their contact information through his alumni. Otherwise, how could he have started PayPal, having not learned coding at all.
We can see from the above examples that university as a platform offers nearly infinite resources. And when we do not have human resources, it is difficult to put off things.
3. Bide your time
The reason I have not dropped out is that my company still does not have a project, especially a clean energy project in China, that is worth and gives me confidence in actually carrying out a drop-out. Take Bill Gates, he only dropped out because he was determined about starting a internet firm; in Zukerburg’s case, he was bent on expanding Facebook before dropping out; as for Elon Musk, after knowing he was not interested in physics and wanting to use the internet to develop an online bank, he dropped out. They all saw potential and prospects in their respective projects and had enough passion about it. That is why I am just waiting for my time. After knowing more about energy industry, or having a better project, I might start to think about if drop-out is doable.
The above is just my personal experience. Different experience leads to different conclusions. You are welcomed to make a comment on my ideas.
Hi Zhiyan. Thank you for taking the time to post such a thoughtful perspective on real-world learning. You are indeed very busy! I’m very intrigued by your interest in the low-carbon economy and your subsequent work in that area. I would love to speak with you more to develop an article about this topic for KWHS. It sounds like you have had many hands-on experiences that would be useful for other high school students to learn from as they begin to understand what the low-carbon economy is all about. I hope to speak with you soon!
Thanks for your invitation. It would be such an honor to share my real-life experience with other students and to popularize the concept of the low-carbon economy (LCE). And indeed, the initial purpose to establish the low-carbon economy institution is to promote the idea of this new-developed economy, to encourage more people to pursue energy-related occupations, and consequently to facilitate the development of low-carbon economy globally.
It’s such an excellent opportunity to spread the idea of LCE and to achieve our goal. And I will try my best to share my experience and provide relevant proof.
My e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Look forward to speaking to you!
I was just 5 years old when I had a conversation with my mother about my future and what I aimed to do with my life once I graduated from high school and pursued a series of endeavors that would eventually lead to a career that I was passionate about. At the time, and even now, I was driven towards becoming a lawyer are eventually starting my own corporate law firm that would be responsible for questioning the legality of contracts and relations between large corporations, investigating and ultimately bringing forth information that would determine whether or not a business’s practices were bringing harm to others.
And it was at this point that my mother gave me a piece of advice that has not only aided me in really focusing on what I want to achieve in life, but it also gave me a foundation with which I can extend and cultivate further beliefs, on similar areas of discussion, from. She told me that in whatever I decide to do, it is ALWAYS important to have a GOAL, make a PLAN, no matter how vague it may seem, and be willing to PUT IN THE WORK. Now, for other aspiring lawyers, or even other professions that require specific degrees in order to practice (like doctors), the path ahead may be along the lines of something like this: work hard to get into a university that you are comfortable with and perform well in the major of your choice, while at college forge relationships with people of different mindsets and similar goals, make use of the internship and research opportunities available and work as hard as you can, then go on to whatever graduate school you plan to attend and perform well there before being placed into the market. While in the market, cultivate your skills, learn from mentors, give back to the community, and as you gain experience, and if your goals are similar to mine, develop a foundation from where you can begin your own practice and be an entrepreneur.
At this point, I am going to shift towards my perspective NOW and the revelation that I had while reading this article and internalizing its message. My mother’s advice on having a goal and making a plan still resonate within me today. And while this plan may have been restricted to going to college, and following what some would call the “traditional route”, my perspective on this idea of a plan has greatly expanded as I have grown older and heard other people’s goals and opinions.
College can serve to be a wonderful institution that not only provides one with a degree that can be used to get a job, but also provides one with a large amount of access to opportunities that can expand their knowledge on their own areas of interest, such as research, clubs, or initiatives, as well as providing students with a source of potential mentors that can really influence the life philosophies of younger generations. This isn’t to say that there aren’t any mentors outside of college or the realm of academia, but for most students who haven’t formulated their networks yet, universities provide the perfect opportunities to meet with like-minded individuals and learn from other’s endeavors, as well as your own experiences as well.
Some professions require one to receive a form of formal education simply due to the legal circumstances in today’s world, as well as the goals and communities centered around these professions. For lawyers, in some states, it is necessary to receive a JD from law school in order to practice and receive the adequate education necessary in order to perform well on the BAR Exam. While it is possible to self-study and get certified to practice law in a FEW states, the time required to learn the material may hinder the ability of individuals to pursue other interests and make connections with other people. Law school not only provides a solid networking opportunity with other individuals and potential lawyers but it also gives a greater incentive for larger firms to hire law school graduates, who can eventually gain the experiences and backing necessary to start their own practices and pursue their own dreams. This scenario is the same for individuals who aspire to be doctors and then go on to own their own private hospitals or even individuals who want to publish hundreds of papers in the realm of science. These researchers would likely need PhDs or some other form of graduate certification in order to pursue their passion and leave an impact that they desire.
In other words, my opinion is that some PLANS do require individuals to go to college, simply because it makes sense and CORRELATES WITH ONE’S GOALS. Due to my ambitions of running my own corporate law firm, it would make sense for me to attend law school, gain experience, and from there begin my own initiative.
However, this does NOT mean that ALL plans require people to go to college. There are some issues with college that, in some instances, may not make it the best option for people (for certain reasons, at least). First, there is the cost of tuition. While financial aid is offered at these institutions, it is a broad fact that certain modes of college education can effectively force one to “mortgage their life” in order to pay for the price of admission. And of course, there is the misconception that getting a degree, at any level, will somehow guarantee that one will get a skilled-job or become a leader of society. It has been proven, time and time again by large corporations and institutions, that in the long-term, what determines success and opportunities is the responsibility that one takes upon themselves to learn from others and their mistakes, cultivate experiences and relationships, seek areas of improvement, and either find or make their own leadership initiatives in order to be recognized and achieve their goals. While college can serve as an opportunity for one to discover themselves, going into it with the wrong mindset can hinder long-term progress.
As seen with Millar, and other entrepreneurs mentioned in the article, his PLAN and goals were very clear, and he had already started a business initiative in previous years, that allows him to pursue his entrepreneurial passions rather than spend time in college right now. In his case, it makes sense, not just because of the circumstances, but because of how he put in the work and time to create the circumstances that were ideal for his growth and his goals.
This viewpoint of mine extends from my own comments on “Aspiring Entrepreneurs Take Note: 4 Tips from A Venture Capitalist Investor”. It is important to have a plan and be willing to put in the work that is necessary in order to complete your goals. For some individuals, going to college suits their goals and visions for the future, while for others, college may take away from time that can be spent on developing an idea that has ALREADY shown promising results and has the dependable potential for growth.
All in all, real-world learning can be achieved both in college and outside of college, due to the variety of opportunities and interactions that can take place. Rather than having a narrow mindset and stating that “College is bad” or “College is good”, the message that I was able to internalize from this article and the advice I received from my mother is that one should think carefully and choose a path that best suits one goal. While it is OK for goals to change, it is always important to have a plan and do what is necessary to implement that plan. And, NOT EVERYONE IS GOING TO HAVE THE SAME PLAN, because NOT EVERYONE IS GOING TO HAVE THE SAME GOALS AND EXPERIENCES. What worked for one person may not work for another. It is up to you to learn from your mistakes, from others, and from your own education in order to form your future.
There is never only one path or even a “right” path. But what we do know, is that there is YOUR path. For some people, it may be going to college and pursuing the studies that are necessary in order to be successful in the careers of their choice. For other people, it may be to focus on an initiative that has been blossoming and is something that they are passionate about.
It is the unfortunate reality that more learning in our traditional academic setting is the exact opposite of what an entrepreneur needs. Many of our educational institutions have impressed upon students theory at the expense of real world utility, and, even worse, have killed creativity by rewarding structured, conventional thinking over creativity.
When I reflect on my high school, I find a structure which systematically destroys independent initiative in favor of strict adherence to sometimes arbitrary rules. Tests (particularly in AP Biology) too often emphasize regurgitation of memorized knowledge over real conceptual understanding, and even projects (advertised as “fun” and “creative”) often have a list of requirements several pages long and are graded solely upon their precise fulfillment. I remember being shocked at receiving a C on my first lab in physics. I thought that I must have missed an entire section of the lab, but when I looked at the rubric I found that my only mistakes were making grid-marks every two lines instead of every line on my graphs, not labeling some parts of my illustrations, and writing a four-sentence reflection rather instead of a five-sentence one. This training of students to follow directions at the expense of their own critical thinking is the exact opposite of what an entrepreneur needs.
I have slipped into the kind of thinking where I ask myself on anything school-related, “what do I need to get an A?” Unfortunately, for a long time, this kind of dependence on rubrics, guidelines, or even textbooks affected my thinking and my outlook on life in other ways. Even in my creative pursuits like playing the violin, I too often found myself thinking about what exactly I needed to accomplish before my next class. While this kind of discipline is necessary to an extent, it really sucks the satisfaction out of the activity and begets achievement rather than excellence. Ultimately, it took some self-reflection for me to understand this and to consciously stop myself from following this tempting thought process.
To be clear, I am also not suggesting that college is equivalent to high school; I understand that it allows for more freedom and creativity and that the “college experience” varies widely from person to person and from university to university (though from my discussions with friends and family, I have found that the shortcomings of my high school education that I mentioned are applicable to most universities, just to a smaller degree). Furthermore, I am also not saying that our educational system is structured incorrectly for everyone, nor am I advocating for all students to bypass college. In fact, many of the underlying principles our education emphasizes, such as the importance of following directions and memorizing (sometimes unimportant) protocols, is appropriate for smoothly transitioning a student into a typical 9 to 5 workplace. Moreover, our economy is structured so that a college degree is necessary to get most white-collar jobs, so college may even be a worthwhile investment for aspiring business owners if they don’t already have a concrete business idea that they have developed into a product. However, for entrepreneurs who have already taken these steps and have a scalable product, I think that bypassing college may be the right move.
Speaking to a 19 year old Nevada resident who decided to enter ‘the real world’ in the field of construction as opposed to entering college, and having him read this article, there are a few comments I would like to share:
It would be great to find out as part of your ongoing research in this area, how many high school students drop out or finish high school and BYPASS college out of need: Not as a decision based on options ‘to go to college or to not go to college’.
Out of the folks who are not able to finish high school or attend college given a certain need-based situation, it would be great to know what fields they enter: Construction, insurance, food industry, etc…. And then what kinds of jobs they land: administrative…And lastly , what kind of wages they make: minimum wage, or slightly above.
These are three important questions that Gabriel, our 19 year old ‘informal’ interviewee also shared with me…
In his case he entered a construction job, he started making ‘good money’, and had the opportunity to make three times the amount of minimum wage starting out, but then one of the three men in charge started to have family difficulties and was not able to hold his own and the project had to end. Gabriel plans to continue ‘trying out the entrepreneurial route’ despite this first hiccup, and remain in the construction business.
I wanted to share with you these interesting questions that came up, I truly believe the answers to these questions would place the story of Scott Millar of Brisbane Australia within a larger and clearer context.
Personally, I would not bypass college solely to gain real-world experience. However, much of my college search has been based on finding programs that do provide real-world experiences. As evidenced by this article and my own individual experiences, the perspectives gained outside of the classroom when you are forced to be creative and actually apply what you have learned are always what I remember and value the most. However, I do believe that good study is never wasted, and the concrete knowledge gained in the classroom provides a framework for practical application in the real world.
I think that universities have recognized that and have began to expand their programs outside of the classroom and even outside of their own campuses. Business schools like Ross at the University of Michigan has an entire curriculum called Ross REAL that is aimed specifically at giving businesses students access to experiential learning, and job opportunities that push students to apply what they have learned. Further, when I think about the admissions process at colleges one of the biggest aspects of an application admissions officers look at is a candidate’s experience in their respective field or activity. Whether it is volunteering, a service job, or an internship, schools obviously value this type of experience when they are forming each year’s educational environment.
Importantly, these real-world experiences, whether they are part of a university program or just day to day life, all form the unique perspective that each individual brings into their educational or professional environment. I know that my life experiences outside of school and extracurriculars heavily influence how I apply myself to jobs and education. But, after all, we are all human, and we each have a different perspective on life, so the impact that these real-world learning opportunities have on us, is up to us. It is individual to each person so it is not always possible to determine which one is wholly better than the other, after all, each data set has its outliers.
Supportive parents or mentor are the key ingredient to overcoming social norms and pursuing uncharted pathways. High school counsels are very familiar with the traditional path forward for students, however not every student will excel in such an environment. I am currently in such a predicament, the outcome of my actions is yet to be determined! I spend my freshman year in high school under full pandemic lockdown, learning remotely, as did most of the world. My honors Algebra II class was thought using videos of my teacher recorded in 2009, most of the videos were not audible. Even in those unique days in March of 2021, in which I could attend school in person, we were forced to sit in class and watch the videos of my professor on our laptops, while he sat in front of the class looking at his computer. We were expected to complete the math problems accompanying the lessons during non-school hours on our own. Exams
were taken in-person, with a mask, 6 feet apart, under
strict time constraints. His class is where math went to
die. When I found out he was also going to be my pre-calculus teacher, I panicked. To find a solution around my problem, I came across a dual enrollment program that my public high school participated in with University of Colorado Boulder (CU Boulder). My public school district also paid for the university course tuition. It was a no-brainer for me to take my next math class at CU Boulder, to avoid my current teacher. My high school counselor had to approve the dual enrollment, and that is where the problem lay. My counselor was against the idea of me taking a CU class. It was my counselor’s option, that the dual program was for seniors who had exhausted all high school had to offer. He expressed further concern regarding my maturity level and readiness for CU classes. It also didn’t help that my math teacher did not support this endeavor, even though I had completed his class with an A. Here is where having supportive parents or mentors helps. It was my parents who advocated for my readiness for college class at the age of fifteen. I am not going to lie, I was very nervous walking into a pre-calculus class at a well-known state engineering school, but the alternative of taking the course at my high school gave me the courage to forge forward. I loved the CU math class so much that I also completed Calculus I and II at CU. The CU environment, although very challenging, is also very welcoming, much more welcoming than my high school. I have since decided to take chemistry and environment science at CU in my junior year, against the vehement objections of my high school counselor. The counselor expressed to my parents and I that my path is so unorthodox that I am
jeopardizing my chances of getting accepted into
universities. Although his words were quite distressing to my parents, they nevertheless, with trepidation,
supported my unconventional pathway. Challenging oneself and pursuing one’s interest is more important than conformity to norms. Make your own norms, break down barriers and take a leap of faith. As Dr. Adam Grant an organizational psychologist and a Wharton professor said in a 2018 New York Times article “Having an influential career demands originality”.https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/08/opinion/college-gpa-career-success.html
It’s unclear if my risk of pursuing an unconventional
pathway will lead to acceptance to my top university
choices, however, being true to myself is more important than conformity to the norm.
This opportunity cost is another of the best policies you can policy
I think there’s no question that there’s an opportunity cost. In the first place, if we choose to start a business first, we will lose the knowledge we could get in school. Second, we may also get scholarships in the university. We can’t get those things if we start a business.
Opportunity cost is the value of what you lose when you are choosing one opportunity over other. Going college versus getting salary. It is about personal priorities. Capelli stated that typical college cost in US have risen by about in times the rate of inflation over the last generation. I believe, college high cost effect many students decisions.
Opportunity cost in this scenario would be the cost of going to college rather than starting a business. Starting a business is risky, but it could get us money. However, we are losing knowledge that we could get from school. If we go to school, we can get the knowledge and a diploma, which could get use to get a stable job. However, you cannot get the value that you would from starting a business.
If you start a business and then go to college, there still would be costs. If your business is blooming, it will be tough to run while being in college. If your business fails, then you have a gap in your resume, which won’t look good to companies that you want to work for.