I Dream of Dropping Out

November 15, 2011

Learning, Political Theory


A couple of weeks ago my friend posted a link on my other friend’s wall on FB (And thanks to my newsfeed I too saw it and proceeded to click the link and read the article).  The title of the article is “The Dream of Becoming an Ivy League Drop-Out” and can be read by clicking here The article was about how Peter Thiel, billionaire entrepreneur, is “paying 20 of the best and brightest students in the country to drop out of college and, instead, to move to Silicon Valley to pursue their personal entrepreneurial passions for two years. He is bankrolling each of the students to the tune of $100,000 each.”

I’m not going to lie, the thought of dropping out of school scares me.  I am no Mark Zuckerberg (who is also mentioned in the article).  I am a science major, and I have humble dreams of living in the northeast and working for the government at a national park, and I do not expect to ever become a millionaire which I’m fine with.  I do consider myself an idea person, but I’m not nearly competitive enough to ever survive in the “business world” nor do I know how to run a business (except for a restaurant which wouldn’t earn me much money anyway).

Which shirt would you rather wear?

Reid Hoffman is also mentioned in the article along with the book he’s written The Start-up of You where he argues “that the old career rules no longer hold, and you’d better start approaching your life as a startup entrepreneur if you want to get anywhere in life” which is another sentence that made my heart sink. I could not survive in the United States if life became about marketing oneself and trying to come up with the next big idea (Granted the whole college application was a lesson on how to market oneself which I will have to repeat when applying to grad school). But I really don’t know the first thing about becoming a “startup entrepreneur,” and I’ll miss college.

It is ironic that this article mentions the word “entrepreneur” several times which is typically associated with business and business majors, yet most of the people noted in the article are working on/have innovated technology. Mark Zuckerberg – Facebook, and the other girl mentioned in the article, Eden Full, who is dropping out of college at the age of 19 to work on developing solar energy did not reach their success by being business majors. The people who are rewarded are those who are studying science because technology is what changes and moves our world. Plus technology makes money.

The article mentions how this might affect our nations top colleges especially since their top scholars are no longer studying. A theory is that colleges will start competing and comparing to see how many of their students will be Thiel Fellows, and essentially colleges will brag about how many of their students left the institution. There’s also the question of if having more Fellows will boost school rankings or not. Which I personally disagree with because having a student dropout is never impressive even if that person is paid $100,000 to follow their dreams and not graduate. I’m not paying the application fee, and first semesters of college to just drop out once something better comes along.

When I hear the phrase “college drop-out” I don’t think successful multimillionaire, but instead someone who struggles to find a job.  Especially with the bad economy it just makes more sense to continue with education in the hopes that I’ll eventually be able to find a job since I have been in school for so long.  Rousseau explains in society people are trapped because they worry too much about others opinion’s and we need to be validated by everyone around us to feel good about ourselves.  My friends and parents would not approve of me dropping out of college therefore, I have no desire to drop out of college.

I agree with Rousseau in that people do base a lot of their decisions about college and especially where someone goes to school. Reputation is everything, and picking a college and staying in college is no longer about where do I want to go? But also about will my parents and friends approve if I go here?

It will be interesting to see if anyone from Michigan becomes a Thiel Fellow in the future.  And click here to visit the Thiel Fellowship website to learn more about accepted students.

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15 Comments on “I Dream of Dropping Out”

  1. Matthew Vlasic Says:

    This is a great post because it is very relevant to the current wave of success college-dropouts are perceived to be having. I agree with most of what you say. The problem with dropping out of college and striving to become a mega billionaire, like Mark Zuckerberg, is that he is one of a huge amount of kids that have dropped out and most who don’t continue with their education do not accomplish what they would have liked to. Zuckerberg’s circumstance is very desirable, but extremely unrealistic because he is one of a million. His idea was awesome, he executed it, got a little lucky along the way and everything panned out. Things don’t just work like that for just anyone and that’s the problem with dropping out. It’s an all or nothing mindset and it is almost like gambling your future in hopes of hitting the jackpot that very people have hit no matter how incredibly brilliant they are.

    If colleges started measuring their prestige on how many of their scholars elect to dropout in pursuit of money or their dreams, our high education will slowly lose its quality and excellence. The idea of measuring how many brilliant kids leave school is completely inverted and wrong because it goes against American ideals in a way. Yes, the American dream is that anybody can ascend however high and do whatever they want no matter who they are, but then again abandoning your education and blowing all of your hard work up to that point seems ridiculous unless you are absolutely sure you can do something positive by dropping out, which isn’t usually the case. A student’s dream should be becoming valedictorian of one’s class, accomplishing outside as well as inside the classroom or earning respect for one’s hard work and diligence in his or her educational pursuits. Looking at dropping out as a standard to how smart or how ready one is for the real world would undermine a lot of what many Americans have been taught as kids. It’s all about staying in school, working your tail off and earning your way to a high-paying and fulfilling job, while at the same time taking some calculated risks along the way and attempting to fulfill your grand dream. I know that huge risks can pay off and if one is so very confident that he or she can pull it off, that is great, but for the most part, I feel like we should all stick it out and graduate and then make it our mission to do whatever we dream of after that. Dream big and try to accomplish great things, but graduate first.

  2. srbarron Says:

    I agree in that you should have high aspirations and achieve them, but only after graduation. Although it seems profitable at the time to take the money and work in Silicon Valley, I don’t see it beneficial in the long run. What happens when you lose your job in technology or can’t invent something new and are fired? What do you have to fall back on? I think the fact that we’re all studying here shows that we value education as a ground for our future. We know that once we graduated from UM, we have something more than just our name and our traits to back us up, we have a degree from a prominent school. Yes there have been those who are successful after dropping out of college, but those are few and far between; those who fail or are unemployed rarely are mentioned. You only hear success stories from Michigan graduates, so even though it is costing us money now instead of earning it with an immediate job, the payoffs in the long run seem to outweigh the quick profit.

  3. nasearc Says:

    Although college serves to educate us and prepare us for the job market, but is it worth the money. Maybe these college dropouts have the right idea. College admission continues to rise and the middle class american is struggling more and more to send their children to college. It used to be that going to college was considered original and seen as getting ahead of the curb. Now if one doesn’t go to college they are seen as carefree and not worried about their future. So, what I am asking is, is it worth it to spend all that money on something everyone else is doing? Going to college isn’t as prestigous as it used to be. Going to college used to be the thing employeers saw as original, now it is a necesity. Maybe a different experience (like getting 100,000 dollars from some rich nut) would give you a different and original set of skills. However college often teaches people the skills they need to suceed in the career they are pursuing. But for me, a film major at the University of Michigan paying out of state tutuition, maybe dropping out could lead to better and less expensive things than college.

  4. chadmach Says:

    For colleges to brag about their drop out rate would be a major representation of the issue. There are so many other factors that make up that drop out rate that include emotional issues to a student just figuring out that college was not the right fit for them. The best way to for colleges to handle those situations where students have a million dollar idea would probably be to offer to facilitate that student in their endeavors while also maintaining them as a full or part time student. That would be the best thing the colleges could do. To me, if a college were to brag about the drop out rate (of geniuses) it had would mean, “well, sure these people first chose to go there, but the school did not offer to assist them and support this student.” Now, I am sure that many of the schools that these students may have dropped out of may not have known of their intentions, but I would think that after they realized it, they would try as hard as they could to have the former student be some part of their university.

    I really don’t think that the term “college drop out” should have a negative connotation put on it. Sure some of the drop outs won’t be the next Zuckerberg, but who said that was the students intentions in the first place? Some students just find that college is not the best place for them. One might find that college has formed into someone he does not want to be. Or it could be because she finds doesn’t want to find herself 40 years old and just paying off her college loans. There are many reasons for a person to drop out and I do not think that one should always see it in a negative light. We don’t know what is good for everyone else. We talked earlier in the semester about how Mill and Socrates are proponents of autonomy. Humans should be able to set their own goals and act on their own reasons, not act on others reasons or what others want. Which is what Rousseau has said has happened to modern society. It was stated very correctly in the original post that college is no longer about “where do I want to go?” but it is also about “where does everyone else approve of?” This means that we have lost our autonomy, we are concerned about what everyone else thinks and no longer can make our own decisions for ourselves.

  5. rmwells3 Says:

    Let me start off by saying, I would rather wear the T-Shirt that says Michigan on it than a college dropout T-Shirt. It seems that more value will be given to my personal character when I present myself as a Michigan student in public as opposed to a college dropout. Looks like I’m continuing to make the right decision everyday because I love the reputation attached to this school on the world and the school itself in general. Go Blue!

    I personally think that college dropouts from institutions as successful as a Fellows should be no bragging point for that particular institution as the institution didn’t necessarily educate that person to be as successful as they presently are. Although, I agree fundamentally that every individual should chase their dreams and leave school if they have an entrepreneurial goal; I think one should highly consider the reality that that entrepreneurial goal will become as successful as Mark Zuckerburg’s. This is the role institutions should be playing. Those institutions should not promote the idea, but in fact, do the opposite.

    They should emphasize the importance of staying in school and getting an education as one’s education and academic excellence are vital to today’s business world. The necessity for an education has become a fundamental part of our social construct. We value potential interns upon their academic prowess and impressive extracurriculars when looking to hire for a job–so yes, college dropouts should have a negative connotation attached to them because only one in a billion are Mark Zuckerburg…Otherwise, a college dropout means someone who couldn’t complete their education and may be academically inferior to another applicant for the same position.

    I understand that there are always extenuating circumstances that could force a student to drop out of college, however, it should only be temporarily. A student can always go back and complete their degree, they just need to be motivated enough to do it. Society requires an education and deems it normalcy. In order to be successful, one must complete that education.

  6. weinben Says:

    The idea of dropping out of college to pursue entrepreneurial pursuits as a sustainable alternative to graduating with a degree and joining the workforce has grabbed the attention of university students nation-wide, given the new sentiments pertaining to class flexibility and status. Many people find college to simply be a tool to getting that special job, four years spent to justify why one is able to be a doctor, banker, lawyer, etc- a means to an end. This view of college education clashes with the past view of college as an educational experience, important into itself; a place to nourish and grow as an individual both intellectually and socially. By offering scholarships for entrepreneurialship, Thiel is attempting to attract those few individuals who feel they don’t particularly need a college education to succeed. But one must also keep in mind that the individuals haphazardly labeled “Ivy Dropouts,” like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, are people who are essentially too bright for college. These two particular individuals were known for being childhood prodigies in technologies, with both working with computers at extremely young acts. Their precious tendencies were signs of their superior intelligence and innovative abilities. Many kids feel like college cannot help them and turn to these people as prime examples of why college isn’t as important anymore. But they fail to see that these people are not like most people- hence Thiel giving out only 20.

  7. bonannianthony Says:

    I remember when this story came out about a year and a half ago. I am probably in the minority; but I kind of thought it’s a good idea. A lot of people go to college with no idea what they want to do or what they want to study. As someone who is in this group of people I would have no problem working on something for two years until I was 20. However, I don’t have a brilliant idea, so I am in school trying to figure out what to do with my life.

    However, as I agree with the program this guy is offering as a viable option for kids; I don’t think it actually correlates to “dropping out.” Sure Thiel is offering a two year startup for a business, but honestly if the kids do fail they can go back to school and finish their degrees. I personally know about a dozen to fifteen kids I used to play hockey with that are playing juniors for a year or two. To me, that is completely fine; and I sort of admire them for chasing their dreams. They will play for a year or two, try to get a college scholarship somewhere; if they don’t they all plan on just attending college as a 20 year old freshmen. So I find this program very interesting and I think it is actually a good decision for kids who have a viable business venture.

  8. lukeythekid Says:

    While I personally would not be interested in becoming a Thiel Fellow at the present moment, I can definitely see why people would want to. There are several important things to consider about the type of person who is smart enough to be accepted, ambitious enough to try and start their own groundbreaking business, and cocky enough to believe that they will succeed.
    The fact that they’ve been accepted as a Thiel Fellow would not look half bad on a resume, as well as the fact that the ex-student in question would very likely be coming from an excellent school. Their reason for dropping out would be explained, and they would end up looking like a pretty competent candidate for any position that they are applying for.
    However, these people will most likely never end up at a job interview in their life. As the president of Harvard, Larry Summers, said in The Social Network, “Harvard undergraduates believe that inventing a job is better than finding a job.” This kind of person, when they fail they’re not just going to say “Well that didn’t go well, I guess I’ll start filling out applications for McDonalds.” They’re going to try again. And again if their next venture fails.
    We also have to consider the very likely possibility that these people WILL succeed – looking at Peter Thiel’s past ventures, it’s pretty obvious that the man has an eye for successful businesses. Students who are chosen will not only be smart as hell, but should also have a pretty clear idea of what they’re going to do with their $100,000. For anyone that has any chance of getting this kind of investment, they’re going to need a pre-made business plan, and a damn good one. In addition, once the student gets the money and starts to go through with their idea, other investors are going to pour money into these projects. Who the hell wouldn’t have confidence in a first class, motivated Fellow sponsored by Peter Thiel? That $100,000 is going to grow quickly and probably almost be unnecessary once these projects start to get off the ground. The credibility and driving force behind these students is going to make it pretty difficult to fail.

  9. samyoovpolsci Says:

    TO be honest, i have the same fear as you do. I know i’m no Mark Zukerburg, and the prospect of dropping out of college does scare me. However, i do understand why some people would follow the $100,000. Entrepreneurship is all about taking chances, and what greater chance than dropping out of a great university, getting a $100,000 grant and following your dreams. BUT having said this, it is a MASSIVE risk to take. Those entrepreneurs that we know about are only the top few who were able to succeed out of all those who tried and failed.
    In our current society, college degrees are to a certain degree a social status. It only makes sense though. Our society is highly competitive, hence the need and the desire for people to graduate from better schools. IVY league degree is safe. Although in our current economic status, its difficult for everyone to get a job, having an ivy league degree would probably put you ahead of the others.
    At the same time, if someone does indeed have a brilliant idea, and getting a college degree is just time wasted, then by all means, the person should have a go and take the chance.

  10. briank726 Says:

    I agree that college has become too much about reputation. Today’s society compels us to believe attending a prestigious college is crucial to our success and survival. It is sad that the name overshadows the actual education students receive. I am applying to law schools now, and it is a sad fact that it would be almost impossible for me to get a high-paying job unless I attend a top 5 to 10 school. The quality of education is almost completely undermined by grades and the name of the institution. And being a college dropout, even not enrolling at all, is stigmatized, unless a person ends up accomplishing something fantastic regardless. I think there is just nothing we can do about it, and that we have to play by the rules of society unless we are exceptional like Mark Zuckerberg. Ideally, everyone finds what they love to do and leave aside the need to earn so much money and have the reputation of having attended a prestigious school. Until that happens, Rousseau will be right in his views of society.

  11. Jake Weimar Says:

    I think Peter Thiel has the right idea. Having a college education as great and important as it is can only get you so far in the job market. Having a degree means much less after you get your first job. The Thiel Fellows are just getting an early start in the industry that they want to be in. Peter Thiel has just found better incentives and a better way of getting young people into the market place.

    I also believe that colleges should not start to brag or try to lose students to programs like the Thiel Fellowship. Colleges would lose their integrity by doing this, and all the money they would make off of tuition from these students. The university also loses all the research these students would be doing if they become graduate students. I don’t think the universities will ever brag about or want to lose students to Thiel Fellowship programs.

  12. goldman13 Says:

    I think that you are letting the negative connotation of “college drop-out” obscure your overall view of this new idea. If you think about it, while we are sitting in classrooms and writing papers, people our own age (and younger) are out in the real world working to actually better society. We slave over grades, and they slave over new solar energy research that could possibly change the face of the planet in the years to come. Only certain people have the intellectual ability (see Mark Zuckerberg and Eden Full) to do this, and i wish i could be part of this group.

    I understand that the thought of leaving college and starting out in the real world is daunting, but how could you not take this opportunity? Given the choice, college is the safe thing to do; you could probably finish for undergraduate education, receive your degree and then pursue your goals. But where is the fun in that? These people have the chance to do something significant right now, and i think they’d be silly not to give it a shot. If they are smart enough to receive the Thiel grant, take the offer, but fail to achieve their goals, remember that these recipients are some of the smartest and most innovative people in the country. Even though they’d be “college drop-outs” i don’t think they’d be “struggling to find a job.”

    As you say, “Rousseau explains in society people are trapped because they worry too much about others opinion’s and we need to be validated by everyone around us to feel good about ourselves.” This is the chance (for some people, at least) to break out of that shell and do what they want to do, regardless of ocular opinion or the stigma that goes along with “college drop-out.”

    One line in your post particularly jumped out at me; “I’m not paying the application fee, and first semesters of college to just drop out once something better comes along.” I think this is absolutely the wrong view. We are in college to expand our opportunities in the future, and if one comes knocking on your door pre-graduation, its worth considering. There may not be another one behind it.

  13. dhp27 Says:

    I think dropping out college is such a high risk high reward situation. If one was going to drop out of college and they succeed, then bless them because the possibilities for them are endless. However, what happens if working at silicon valley is a huge failure? Then life can be really hard to find any sort of job in any sort of field. I feel that college is the opportunity for students to find their passion in life and find a career that can lead to opportunities that will last a lifetime. Dropping out of those opportunities is a big risk.

    I agree with your comment that “When I hear the phrase “college drop-out” I don’t think successful multimillionaire, but instead someone who struggles to find a job.” But if you turn out to be the next billionare because of the fact your time in silicon valley then consider your self to be one in a million because most people are not as sucessfu

  14. tylerhoffman1 Says:

    The author raises some interesting questions about the prestige and dedication required of attending a college or university. They make a solid argument about whether someone would want to wear a college dropout shirt of a UM shirt. Most would pick the UM shirt because it carries more prestige and a higher reputation than being a college dropout, which most equate to being a worthless human being. That said, Hoffman’s book brings up some interesting points, the world, especially in the labor market, is changing. It used to be required that one obtain a college education and perhaps graduate school training before they would be even considered worthy enough to make it in the real world. One final thought, the author also mentioned that business majors are not the typical college dropout, this could be do to multiple reasons. I believe this is due to science and art majors not being the business side of startups, but rather just carry the idea or concept/design of a product that qualified business majors will carry out. Creativity cannot be taught, and thats why I believe non-business majors are moving away from the idea that college educations are absolutely necessary for a happy life full of hard work!

  15. emilyloz Says:

    I DREAM of dropping out of college and becoming famous for how ‘awesome’ I am. BUT, as Rousseau explains, I care too much about what my family and friends would think. Most of my decisions are based off of the opinions of those who matter to me. I’m not saying that every decision I make is because of opinions thats don’t matter, because that is not the case. If i value your opinion, I will most likely make decisions around them. For example, I will admit that I feel really good about myself when I am able to impress people by saying, “I’m studying to be an engineer.” Rousseau explains my personality very accurately. I would not have gone to college if I had the choice, but my parents made it very clear that they would have been disappointed if that was not the path in which I chose. I love college, and the amount of fun that I have being a Michigan Wolverine, but sometimes It is really hard to not say negative things like, “I’m going to get my MRS degree” “I’m gonna drop out and work at McDonalds” etc etc. This school can be very challenging, but in the end, I think it will all be worth it.

    Of course I think it would be cool to be famous, super smart, good looking, and a billionaire, but in reality, I think about the feeling I will have when I can come back to Ann Arbor, and tailgate as a Michigan Alumni.

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