Don’t Drop Out
Alex Kern

Why go to/stay in college, versus bet on some startup?

  1. Because you don’t know what you don’t know. Intelligence is not a good substitute for knowledge. It’s a compliment. You may think you’re pretty smart, but a far less capable person who has seen a solved problem before has a tremendous advantage over someone who must figure every already-discovered thing out from first principles.
  2. Because amongst the things you don’t know you don’t know, is how to be a startup. You’ll need to hire some 50 year old business guy to run the thing if it is in any way successful. Betcha the guy you want to hire went to college to get his fancy MBA. The guys who fund ventures also went to college. They will be more impressed with you if you did too. When you go for your second round of funding, impressing the investors will be very important. You didn’t know that, did you?
  3. Because a degree says, “Yes, I can.” What does a four year degree say that is independent of field of study or quality of program? It says, to an employer or investor, “This person stuck to a plan for four whole years, achieving at a level that allowed them to graduate, against all the hardships and distractions that occurred during that time.” That’s a powerful statement. It is almost the only verifiable statement you make on a resume.
  4. Because you may send your resume to someone like me some day. I have 100 resumes in a pile on my desk for a single high-paid professional job. Eighty of them are unqualified on their face. I can’t afford to spend too much time on the first pass. I look at education, and dump everyone who didn’t go to college. Yeah, once in a generation, I might toss Bill Gates’ resume in the trash, but mostly I toss out a bunch of highly distractable, entitled, untrained applicants with short attention spans. See number 3 above. Every self-made man will recoil in horror, will want to tell me how wrong I am. That’s not the point. The point is, this is how the world actually works. Get used to it.
  5. Because you get four years exposure to a whole bunch of bright young people. You may have been da bomb in high school when you were competing with everybody born that year. College is humbling because everybody you meet did great in high school. Some of them are a lot smarter than you are, maybe for the first time in your life. Many people meet their spouse in college. Where else you gonna go to meet someone great? Bars? The original, thousand-year-old concept of a university required two things, a library of books, and bright young minds. As important as is the specific classroom learning, you may get more out of interacting with your peers and professors.
  6. Because even the coolest job only lasts a few years. Go start that startup and there’s a 98% chance it will die after a year leaving you uneducated and unemployed, and very tired of eating ramen instead of meat. There’s a 1% chance it will survive long enough to pay you a decent salary and give you some experience you can parley for your next position even if you didn’t finish college. But even then, it’s probably a job for 5 years, and what then? You still don’t have a degree. But you probably do have a spouse, a mortgage, maybe a couple of kids. Going back in school then with no money coming in is really, really hard. Paying your dues at a new job when you don’t have a degree is also really, really hard. Oh, I almost forgot. There is one chance in a hundred that you’ll get so rich you can retire. That’s better odds than hitting the PowerBall, but it’s still not a good plan to bet your career on.
  7. The world does not reward taking stupid risks. What did Gates and Zuckerberg really risk, knowing they had rich families to back them up if they failed? Their success is due in part to their own intelligence and ruthlessness, partly to being at the right place at the right time, and partly due to great backup plans that let them take risks. College doesn’t guarantee employment, but it sure helps. If you don’t have rich parents willing to take you back if your startup crashes, what’s your backup plan? Fry cook?

Only a college kid could possibly believe they will be that one in a hundred startup that succeeds beyond the dreams of avarice. Startups are most often the destroyers of dreams, not their creators. If you don’t like college, go on tour with a rock band, or be a surfer bum. At least then you’ll have some fun memories instead of the grind of 80-hour work weeks, eating noodles, and sleeping under your desk in that windowless, airless cavity you got such a deal on.

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