Wanna Build a Startup? Skip College.
I have a lot of regrets in life. The biggest by far is finishing college.
By most people’s counts, I’m fairly educated. I have a Masters in Electrical & Electronic Engineering from a top 10 university in the UK.
When I tell people—which is incredibly rarely—they usually assume I’m a, well, Electrical Engineer. And that I learnt about electronics and stuff.
The truth is, I spent four years of my life learning pretty much nothing.
I attended 4% of my classes in first year, and I’m not sure I did much better the rest of the years.
I scraped a 2:1 with a few percent less than the required grade.
I drank. A lot. And made a lot of bad decisions.
In fact, the only thing I really learnt how to do was make friends and alienate them quickly.
OK, so I didn’t exactly roll into college knowing nothing. Most of my education was private ‘til then. Even the state schools were top of their class.
Because I was pushed super hard to succeed my whole life, I was expecting much the same at college. I thought I’d turn up and learn all the time.
What I didn’t account for was being surrounded by kids that hadn’t been pushed. Ever.
It’s a weird experience, and one that I know a lot of people with a similar background to me have. I think of my education as normal, but actually it was anything but.
They tried their best
Maybe my experience was different to most.
The lecturers did their best, but catering to people that don’t know what a resistor is and trying to teach them advanced circuit theory is a tough ask.
They didn’t have the time or patience to try and help everyone to succeed. There was an expectation that if you wanted to learn more, you had to do that yourself.
None of the skills is transferable
One big argument for going to college is that it build life skills. To a certain extent, I think that’s true. For me, it was my first experience living away from home.
I grew up a lot. I got through my petulant adolescent stage. I met someone to spend the rest of my life with.
But none of that is because of college. I didn’t learn that in halls, I learnt that living in regular ol’ rented accommodation.
You can easily do the same without college.
And how about other transferable skills?
Well, they might be able to hook you up with a recruiter to find you a job. A job you likely could’ve apprenticed for before college, but maybe with a marginally higher salary. You can even use that salary to pay off your huge student debt.
Basic computer skills? Touch typing? Networking? Social skills? You’re on your own.
Teach yourself instead
All this raises an interesting point. If you’re going to teach yourself, what exactly is college for?
You’re learning from books. The coursework you submit gets glanced at for 3 minutes. Exams are reused for 8 years, and you can just memorize the answers.
Even then 90% of what you learn will bore you to death.
What’s the point?
You may as well stay home and teach yourself shit you’re actually interested in. It just takes some dedication.
Learning to learn is the best thing you can do. And you can do it at home for free.
So yeah, I hate college. I think for people like me it’s pointless. But I don’t think all hope for education is gone. It just needs to be brought up to date.
Learning is a personal thing. Everyone learns at their own pace, and has different interests. Until curriculum is totally personalized, I don’t see the value of sitting in a classroom.
There’s some work towards personalized learning already, with a few startups working on tailoring education to children.
It’s pretty neat stuff. It’ll work out if you learn best on your own or in groups, what you need to spend more time on, and pace out your day/week/year for you. The teachers are there just to assist with your self-paced learning.
I’d love to see something like that at college-level. Imagine lectures that’re 100% optional, and you can dip in and out as you please. At the end you’re given a degree certificate with a list of the modules you’ve taken, and the skills you’ve learned.
Education needs to evolve. It’s been a while since anything real has changed. And it’s getting old.
So should you go to college?
I think it depends on your background and your ability to learn. If you like structure, and wanna get a cushy 9–5 job for the rest of your life, the establishment is likely for you.
If you wanna build a startup, there’s a million better uses of your four years.
Everything I know about startups has been learnt post-college. Everything.
If I’d started four years earlier, I’d be four years ahead.
The biggest thing to realize is that it’s up to you. College definitely isn’t the only way. There’s so many other ways to design the life you want. Maybe one of them would be a better fit.