How to Drop Out of College and Drop Into Something Better


College may be an opportunity for lots of people, but you are young, ambitious, looking to take control of your own life. College feels like an extension of high school and, with it, an extension of adolescence. You’re not treated quite like an adult but also not treated quite like a student there.

You want something better.

Don’t be Cheetos Dude

Talk of dropping out of college tends to go one of two ways, either the person is Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Richard Branson, Larry Ellison, or Travis Kalanick, or the person is sitting at home, eating Cheetos on the couch, and wasting away.

Don’t buy into this narrative.

When we use the phrase “drop out” people imagine dropping out of life, dropping out of ambition, dropping out of the future you could have had for yourself. They imagine going into a state of stagnation (the economic models that guidance counselors love to cite that talk about how much more you’ll make as a college grad? Those assume you do nothing more worthwhile than go to college).

Cheetos Dude does come from somewhere. Lots of people do drop out of college because it is too hard for them, because they would rather be watching television, or because the demand of coursework is too much.

But you aren’t Cheetos Dude and don’t have to be defined by him.

Do More Than Your Peers

Cheetos Dude is defined by his lack of progress and lack of direction. To break out of being defined by him, you must drop out with more progress and more direction than you would have experienced if you had stayed in college. You have to hit the ground running and keep the pace up. Don’t let yourself get caught up in the apathy of everyday life that Cheetos Dude finds himself surrounded by. In short, you have to drop into something just as much as you have to drop out of college.

Go work at a startup, travel the world, or follow a self-led project in learning new skills. Maybe you decide to work odd-jobs while working on launching your own project or writing a book.

Or go learn a trade or a skill. Learn how to fly, how to do front-end web development, how to speak and write Mandarin, how to commandeer a sailboat, how to do day-trading, how to launch a digital marketing campaign, how to author a book, how to do accounting, how to do philosophy.

Create Your Structure

The important thing here is that you are always doing. Too often we fall into traps of telling ourselves that we will get to the next project tomorrow, write the next chapter in a few days, and finish that coding course after dinner, and never do. Both college grads and college opt-outs fall into this trap. The trick for you will be building a structure around your newly-freed life.

When we are in school and college, we have structure largely provided for us. We get some choice in this structure — which classes we take, where we live, which extracurricular activities we want to be a part of — but the structure of the day, week, month, and semester is largely outside of our control. And most people are okay with this.

When we leave college, we lose this structure. We can look for it in certain jobs, but these are almost always the stodgiest ones that require college degrees to get past the HR receptionist.

So, we have to create this structure for ourselves.

The discipline required to stick to this structure is difficult to develop outside of an imposed system that requires and rewards compliance. People are notoriously bad at setting realistic goals and even getting a sense of what “realistic goals” means. We underestimate our skills and ability to learn and overestimate the amount of work that goes into creation.

To create this structure, we have to get a good sense for what our skills are, what our goals are relative to these skills, and what we can do that rewards meeting these goals.

Simply Start

The best way to do this is to simply start.

Start a blog, start volunteering/interning at a local company, start performing regularly, just start writing code for a simple app. As you do these things, you get a better sense for what your skills really are and what you can require of yourself. You also find that creation begets creation and the process of sitting down to do something becomes easier.

Sound too simple? It’s really all you need.

I had a meeting with the head of UI implementation for a Silicon Valley-based tech company that works in the virtual reality space. He was looking for a young person that he could cull for a software engineering position in his department at the company and was looking for leads. This sounded like a job that most developers I know would kill to have, so I asked him what the requirements are — expecting a pretty strict list.

“They have to have a track-record of creating. I want to see that they’ve built an app. Even if it is just a notepad app that is essentially just a textfield. I want to see that they can ship something.”

That was it.

No fancy CS degree from Carnegie Mellon or MIT or Stanford.

No previous work experience at another tech company.

No massive portfolio of apps launched over the past few years.

He was looking for creators and knew that having created and shipped something was the best sign of somebody being a creator.

Each person’s goals and skills differ, so the path to building structure will differ for each — but this is the way to get started for anybody. Otherwise, you get stuck with the frustration of the not-quite, the mediocre, and the unstarted. You get caught up in what novelist Steven Pressfield calls Resistance — a force that prevents you from engaging in your act of creation.

Defy Expectations by Creating

Make it so that when somebody asks where you went to college and you tell them that you didn’t go that they have no choice but to be shocked. Go against their perception and their stereotypes. Maybe you won’t be a crazy-successful tech billionaire (why not you, though?), but you definitely aren’t going to fall into the stereotype that people think of when they think of college opt-outs.

You can leave college because it is too hard and because it is too much for you, and many people do. Or you can leave college because it isn’t good enough and is stopping you from accelerating your life in the way you want.

You can leave college to go sit on your couch, watch TV, and eat junk all day. Or you can leave college to go kick ass in the real world and be the person in control of your own life.

You can leave college to go work a run-of-the-mill job and live for the weekends. Or you can leave college to get a head-start on leading your own life.

You can stay in college and let your life be determined by the structures you’ve given yourself up to now. Or you can leave college, build those structures for yourself, and accelerate your growth.

What will it be?

Here are some programs to help you build that structure:

Feel free to reach out to me if you are looking to get started.


Zachary Slayback is the Business Development Director for Praxis, a ten-month program for entrepreneurial learners. Zachary dropped out of the University of Pennsylvania after seeing firsthand how college fails the most ambitious students. He writes regularly on education, schooling, and philosophy at zakslayback.com.

Originally published at zakslayback.com on June 15, 2015.