I am leaving a top tier university.

A young entrepreneur’s dilemma.

by John H. Meyer


9/4/14

Exactly a year ago, I was nervous, yet incredibly excited to be heading to New York University to study computer science. At this point, I was already fortunate to be one of the first to develop a mobile app on Apple’s AppStore, starting my own company as a high school sophomore and developing well over 40 apps. I managed to gain over 4 million users of my creations from all across the world. I was able to begin supporting myself completely by the age of 16.

This week, I’m supposed to be starting my sophomore year at NYU. However, I’m embarking on a leave of absence instead…one that, for now at least, does not have an end date. I have put more thought into this than I have anything else in my life. Here are the four reasons why I’m leaving:

  1. In my field of work, a college education is not necessary. You do not have to go to college to be an entrepreneur and you do not have to go to college to develop software. Before I was fortunate enough to be offered an internship at Apple, I went through a fairly extensive interview process, during which I barely discussed my college education. In fact, the only thing they were curious about was my major. The interviewers simply cared more about my real world experience. What’s even more striking is a conversation I recently had with a marketing team lead at Apple who also routinely takes part in their hiring process. She explained to me how in recent years, Apple has had more success with interns who are either college dropouts or in their first two years of higher education. She explained a trend the company had become very familiar with recently: when a college grad is hired, he or she tends to come in with a “textbook based mindset,” and is incapable of learning the unique ways in which things work in their marketing department. A company with a market cap of $619 billion as of today is preferring to hire non-college grads for their marketing department.
  2. Waiting four years to get a degree before I can completely focus on what I’m passionate about is impossible in my mind. The startup space has never been more vibrant or exciting than it is today. I feel as if I have a duty to build all that I can during this time.
  3. In this industry, learning from experience and mentorship is far more valuable than learning from a textbook. I’ll be honest here. I love NYU. The school’s startup and tech community is so far ahead of most others I’ve been exposed to, which was a big surprise once I arrived. I have met so many amazing people working on brilliant projects at this school. However, throughout my year in school, I personally gained very little from my actual coursework, in relation to what I do for a living. And when I factor in the money it took to attend school for just a year, it became clearer that things simply weren’t adding up. I pretty much failed my mandatory intro level Computer Science and Calculus classes because all I could think about during those classes was what I was going to build in the real world once class was over. Focusing on homework and studying was a nightmare. When I’m churning out raw passion for my startup, it’s impossible for me to focus on figuring out calculus problems or planning a powerpoint for a fake startup in my entrepreneurship forum.
  4. I’m working on some simply amazing projects that I need to be putting 100% of my time into. My main endeavor is Fresco News.

A full college education is still fantastic for most people…

While I’m making the decision to not attend college at this point in my life, I want to make it very clear that a college education is still of utmost value to most people. In addition to bringing someone to entirely new ways of thinking, understanding, and problem solving, a college education can lead someone to discover a passion in a subject he or she never would’ve considered studying before. When it comes to disciplines like psychology, physics, writing, art history, and even music, the resource and experience of attending a university filled with inspiring professors, brilliant students, and countless opportunities for research is an unparalleled. College should not be treated as simply a place to get a degree, but rather as an incredible opportunity to expand and grow both personally and intellectually.

…but, the story is a bit different for most entrepreneurs.

In terms of supplying practical, real-life skills an entrepreneur must gain from experience and perseverance, college is not always optimal. I now believe that learning entrepreneurship out of a textbook can in fact do more harm than good— a belief which was validated after my conversation with Apple’s marketing lead. If you’re a person who wants to merely learn about entrepreneurship, go for the textbook. But if you’re an entrepreneur with the innate need to create things that make a global impact now, ditch the textbook and go do something.

So, my advice for likeminded entrepreneurs is as follows: Regardless of whether you’re an entrepreneur in or out of school, the best thing you can do is throw yourself out there and learn from experience. Meet other entrepreneurs. Have the guts to introduce yourself to that investor standing at the networking event you’re at. Network with people…constantly. I know I will never stop learning...in fact, I never can. If the desire I have to constantly improve myself as an entrepreneur fades for even a day, I know that someone else will run right past me.

Will I go back?

First, let me say that I am not interested in attending college simply to get a degree. If I attend college, it’s because I want to learn. A degree for me is worthless because I know I will never want to work for someone else and I’ve proven that any employer clearly prefers experience in my field. However, with all of this aside, there is still value for me at NYU. I’ll always be around campus because of their amazing tech community. And furthermore, there’s no harm in me going back part-time next year to take a business law or psychology class or two. This will clearly be on a class-by-class basis.

To infinity and beyond…

I may end up being wrong about some of my claims, but I definitely know that I’m following my heart in this decision. I’m not going to let society’s stigma against a college dropout affect me. I am living in an incredibly exciting and productive period of my life. And at this moment, there is no time for me to settle in a classroom.


Disclaimers:

  1. Try college. Everything in this post is based on me and my own personal situation. I encourage every entrepreneur to at least give it a try.
  2. NYU is an amazing school for entrepreneurs and tech nerds. They’ve got some incredible new efforts being put into place, especially with their newly added engineering school and new Leslie eLab. I consistently recommend NYU as a top choice for prospective students in this field.

If you’d like to follow me on my endeavors, I’ve got this brilliant thing called Twitter: @BEASTMODE

Lastly, I’d love to hear your story. The startup/tech community is one of the best in the world. Email me at johnmeyer@nyu.edu!

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