Why I’m quitting college

My decision to leave college to pursue an “alternative” education

I’m sure many of you have heard of the story of Sisyphus in Greek Mythology. It’s the story of a man who’s eternal punishment is to push a boulder up a hill, only to get to the top and find himself having to push the boulder back up the hill again.

My journey in college has felt just like that: a vicious cycle destined for a futile end.

I’ve been in college for almost 6 years.

Yes, 6. I entered into a 6-year program for pharmacy straight from high school. The decision was based on a culmination of years of pressure from my parents, who decided that I wasn’t smart enough to become a doctor and that becoming a pharmacist would be a “good fit for my personality,” as they would say. I had little idea of what I wanted to study, so I eventually agreed.

I quickly discovered I was stuck in a vicious cycle of rote memorization and regurgitation.

College started out well enough — I had a great scholarship and was earning straight A’s my freshman year. However, not unlike other traditional models of higher education, the pharmacy program uses heavily weighted exams as its sole measure of performance. It has taken its toll on me mentally. My academic performance began to decline as I saw myself having to memorize more and more, yet learning less and less.

I’ve reached my breaking point.

I’ve failed 2 courses, been held back, and am currently suspended from the program for a year. At this point, it’s crystal clear. I need to make a change in my life.

I have always thought of myself as a relentless person, able to get through any obstacle through persistence. I thought that, although I was miserable and struggling, it would be worth it in the end if I just kept pushing the boulder up the hill. But blind persistence is not the answer to life’s challenges. Time is the most valuable resource we all have, and I’ve just been throwing it away. I was becoming a modern day Sisyphus.

But it’s not all doom and gloom!

There is a way out of the vicious cycle, and I believe I’ve found it through innovation & entrepreneurship. Last year, at my college’s semi-annual startup business competition, I was able to dip my toe in entrepreneurship waters for the first time. Interestingly, it was the unbearable emptiness I felt for my coursework that pushed me to explore entrepreneurship. I went all in and created something out of nothing. I created a website, trademarked a logo, made a business plan, and pitched in front of hundreds of people. It was a liberating feeling.

Winning 1st place at Northeastern University’s Husky Startup Challenge!
Through this experience, I also had another takeaway. In order to get the most out of any venture in today’s market, an understanding of software is incredibly valuable, and arguably necessary, to be a successful founder or innovator.

With no tech experience, and no means to pay for 3 or 4 years in college, where am I going to start?

Starting May 1st, I will be attending Holberton School, a school based in San Fransisco, that uses an alternative, project-based educational model to train the next generation of software engineers. Their model is such a refreshing change from what I’ve been so used to and have had to endure for 6 years in college. Their website clearly states:

“Project-based learning is an alternative to paper-based, mechanical memorization and teacher-led classrooms that results in a greater depth of understanding concepts, broader knowledge base, improved communication and interpersonal/social skills, enhanced leadership skills, and increased creativity.”

With no upfront cost, and a startup mentality themselves, Holberton School has the qualities of what I believe makes up truly progressive education: one in which the school is not just invested in its own institutional goals, but also the aspirations of their students.

My greatest aspiration, and I believe, my greatest impact, will be through innovation and creation. Whether that’s building my own successful venture or working at a company with a software development team, I will work to make these aspirations a reality. I am going to build a strong foundation in computer programming fundamentals, develop my creativity and problem-solving skills, and surround myself with similar-minded people to achieve my goals.

College placed me in a vicious cycle, but I’m thankful that it also showed me a way out.

This story was made for my “Why Software Engineering, why Holberton?” essay application to Holberton School.

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Thomas Wang is a writer, entrepreneur, and software engineer.