President’s Lawn, Tufts University

Back to School with

Be the founder of your own college experience.

One of the things that drew me to Tufts when I was applying to colleges was the Experimental College. The first paragraph on the home page of the ExCollege website reads:

The oldest organization of its kind in the United States, the Experimental College at Tufts University serves as a major focus for educational innovation, expansion of the undergraduate curriculum, and faculty/student collaboration within Arts, Sciences, and Engineering.

The problems surrounding education in this country need no elaborate explanation, especially those in higher-ed. Data don’t lie, and the cost of college in the United States continues to climb. What’s worse is that even after students (and often their families) shell out all of that money to pay for school, there is absolutely no guarantee that they will graduate with a job, let alone a job that can help the many who went into debt pay it off and get on with their lives. The sad truth is, there are too many students applying to the same jobs with the same credentials. It’s not enough anymore to just get good grades and participate in extracurricular activities (community service, sports, etc.). You need to have a compelling story — something that makes you stand out among a sea of 3.8 GPA’s, 100 hours of community service, and varsity letters when an employer is flipping through hundreds of *résumés. To **quote Chris Sacca, a successful early-stage technology investor:

Your GPA only matters to those who have no other reason to find you interesting.

The above is why Jack McDermott and I are excited to co-teach a for-credit, freshman seminar this semester on startups and technology called It’s thanks to the Experimental College that we’re able to teach this class, and as we’ve already told the students who registered, it will be unlike any other class they take in their time at Tufts. Between the two of us, Jack and I have spent the better part of two years working on our own startups (mine failed, Jack’s is still kicking), working for startups, and working for more mature technology companies. That being said, we’re aware that we are far from experts in any of the topics we’ll be covering, which is why we’re excited to complement our teachings with guest speakers in the classroom and field trips to Boston-area startups to hear from founders, employees, and venture capitalists.

Boston Startup Map,
via Kinvey

But let me be clear: The goal of this class is not to leave our students as passionate for startups and technology as Jack and I are, but to provide them with the framework to start to think about what’s important to them and what they want out of life, and then go get it.

A dream is just a dream. A goal is a dream with a plan and a deadline.
— Harvey MacKay

We want to get our students to start asking themselves, “What can I do today that’s action-oriented and measurable to get one step closer to my goal.” The answer to that question can likely be found outside of the classroom and it almost always involves doing, and doing makes you interesting, and interesting makes you hirable. The, “How cool would it be to work at/do XYZ after school.” that so many seniors utter as they approach graduation should be a reality for everyone. Want to be a photographer for National Geographic and travel the world? Start now. Take photos. Launch a blog. Share it with everyone. Be interesting.

Talking about personal growth and teaching them things like how (and why) to add value before they receive it and write an effective cold-email will likely be the most valuable lessons we impart on our students.Teaching it through the lens of startups and technology is only the vehicle to get us where want to to take them, and more importantly, have them take themselves. It’s just what we know. They’ll be the founders of their own college experiences.

To Jack and I, this is not a traditional class. We’d like to think we’re innovating on top of education, and we owe the ExCollege and Tufts a lot for letting us do that. As teachers, mentors, and peers to our students, we’ve both agreed that this will likely be the most valuable thing we do in our four years at Tufts, and we’re hoping to make a positive impact on every student in our class. If you’re interested in following along, sign up for our weekly newsletter on our website (which Jack designed) and follow along on twitter at @tuftsio. Want to get involved? That’d be even cooler. Shoot us an email at and, we’d love to hear from you.

- John & Jack

Discuss on Hacker News.

*You should never let your résumé be the variable that leads to a yes/no in hiring.

**We’re obviously not telling students to neglect their academics. It’s all about context.

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