Why I’m Leaving GW to Attend MissionU

This fall, I will be a member of the inaugural cohort of students at MissionU, and withdrawing from The George Washington University.

Why does this matter, and why should anybody care? Although I do consider my acceptance a great accomplishment, I’m not writing this post to brag or let the world know about one singular decision that I’ve made. Rather, my hope is that there’s at least one student out there who wants more out of life, but feels conflicted with their choice to pursue or remain in a bachelor’s degree program, and that this article might inspire them to consider alternatives and make changes that will positively impact their life.

Before expounding, let’s take a step back.

Throughout my time in elementary and high school, I was never a stellar student. I went to competitive schools, and was considered by most to be a below-average student; a few B’s, mostly C’s, and the rare D. I wasn’t incapable, but frankly, at that point in my life, I just didn’t care all that much. I found plenty of reasons to re-watch that Kanye West interview for the fourth time, or stress over why that girl didn’t like me back, rather than study for a Calculus quiz. Given the experiences I had growing up and the people I hung around with, I had high ambitions, but I had no actions, confidence, or systems to match those ambitions.

It wasn’t until I got to college (at a state university in New York) that I felt the sting of my underwhelming academic performance in high school, as I watched many of my friends move on to some of the top universities in the world. I compared myself to them, and it made me feel like I had failed in life up to that point—that I was missing out on more opportunity. This motivated me to get the best grades I possibly could, with the goal of earning a spot at a “prestigious” university. That’s exactly what I did. After two years, I enrolled at The George Washington University in DC.

At first, GW was everything I’d hoped it would be: more challenging, greater security in achieving my lofty career ambitions, and a lot more fun. But in the summer of 2016, I worked in the environment that I’d been striving to earn a spot in, which was in the Wall St./investment banking world, only to realize that this wasn’t the right career path for me. When I got back to school in the fall, it was extremely difficult to justify the massive debt I was taking on to put myself through this education. Something had to change.

When MissionU was officially launched, admittedly, I carried a little bit of skepticism. Given my circumstances, it seemed too good to be true, but I was intrigued enough to begin their application process. After two months of interviewing and preparing application materials, I was accepted. Despite the fact that I’m about to enter my senior year at GW, it is my belief that choosing MissionU instead will offer more rewards, at a lower risk. Here is why:

1. Financial. As I mentioned in passing above, I’ve been financing the large majority of my education using student loans. Staying another year at GW would result me accumulating over $100k of debt, most of which would have an interest rate between nine and ten percent. In pursuing a career on Wall Street, this debt load is reasonably justifiable. But as I also mentioned earlier, I realized this career path was neither something I felt best matched my strongest natural skills, nor something I could see myself enjoying for the rest of my life. If I wanted to live a life of passion, purpose, and abundance for myself and my family, I would have to make a change. An additional $55k in debt principle wouldn’t have helped in that ambition in the short- or long-term.

2. Example. I’m not the only person who has been through these circumstances. This year, 44 million Americans bear a cumulative student debt load of more than $1.4 trillion, and those rates are rising steadily as the cost of education continues to increase. College has been sold to us as the primary route to success, and we’re told that those people who have achieved great things without the help of a college degree are simply outliers who were tremendously lucky. And while we all can’t — and shouldn’t — expect to be the next Mark Zuckerberg because we followed a similar path, the fact that there are no other alternatives in this current environment is unacceptable. We finally have one in MissionU, and I feel compelled to be a part of it so that more people who have similar life experiences to mine can see the tremendous results that I hope to achieve after graduating from MissionU. Their pragmatic approach aligns the incentives of both the academic institution and the student, at a much, much lower cost. It all makes sense on paper, but we need people to stand up and support this thesis. I’m happy to be one of those people for the potential benefit of millions of others down the road.

Do I attribute getting into MissionU, in part, from the bachelor’s education I’ve received thus far? Yes. Is college inherently bad? Absolutely not. But it’s undeniable that there are a tremendous amount of people in this country who feel they have no other options but to follow that path laid down for us, which has probably been an instrumental piece to the rising costs we continue to bear. I hope me and my classmates’ participation in MissionU, and the accomplishments that result from it, help blaze a trail that others can follow and expand upon. Having gotten to know a few of my new classmates thus far, I’m feeling pretty good about it.

If you’re interested in checking out more about MissionU, or innovation in the higher education space in general, I recommend the following resources:

  1. Dr. Tony Wagner and Ted Dintersmith’s documentary and book “Most Likely to Succeed.”
  2. Adam Braun’s (co-founder of MissionU) interview on Lewis Howes’ podcast about MissionU.
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