Why I dropped out of College

The “American Dream” — a well-known idea amongst immigrants who come to this country to turn their dreams into reality. My parents did too as they came to this country in 2008, sacrificing their dreams to allow me to manifest mine. The way I was going to do that, they believed, was through education.

So I did, as I attended San Jose State University to study Computer Science. However, after going through three years of “education”, I had realized something — “education” is not “learning.”

If learning is listening to your professor lecture and memorize facts for midterms, then you’re, unfortunately, right. Students are tested on how well they regurgitate facts, not how well they understand concepts. Our system puts emphasis on rubrics and grading students than allowing us to learn. Instead of sparking curiosity, we’re suppressing it — instead of promoting learning, we’re inhibiting it.

I didn’t come here to memorize facts; I came here to learn. But our system has put too much importance on grading that students have lost interest in learning. For example, I was excited to take my first programming class freshmen year. As soon as the professor walked in, she began discouraging us by commenting on the importance of getting an “A” in the class. I needed to get that “A” since that was the only way I could get into my major.

Consequentially, my peers and I began to focus on our grades instead of learning. When we were assigned homework, we worked together and submitted similar solutions, whether we understood or not, in the desperation of getting an “A.” The learning had been overshadowed by the significance of grades.

During finals this past May, I went to the library and noticed my CS friends stressing out about their History final which they had been studying 4 hours for. Instead of working on their personal projects, they spent their time on a subject that didn’t correlate with their goals, only because their grades mattered more to them than their dreams. But hey, gotta make that Dean’s list, right?

My point isn’t to say that History isn’t important, but that imposing students to take courses is detrimental. I understand the value of GE courses in high school but why do we spend 2 additional years in college on the same material? Why aren’t we allowed to take courses we are curious about instead of being forced to take something we’re not?

I wanted to take a Typography class a year ago, but I couldn’t take it since I was an Applied Math major. To take that class, I would have to declare a Graphics Design minor, but I could definitely take a History or English course that I already completed.

That’s bullshit!

The goal of education is not to increase the amount of knowledge but to create the possibilities for a child to invent and discover, to create men who are capable of doing new things. — Jean Piaget

As I reflected upon my journey, I realized that 95% of “education” was self-taught, either through personal projects or internships. I wanted to learn JavaScript, so I used online resources and learned at my own pace, on my own time, that too for FREE.

If I could simply take free courses from an eLearning platform, why am I burying myself under student debt? Is this the “American Dream” our parents sacrificed for?

Last semester, I had an idea for a note-taking app, Notellica, that allowed students to create quick notes with features such as auto-organizing, smart color-coded categories, and much more.

I had this idea during my finals when I was spending multiple hours studying for each class. I, once again, found myself studying for material that didn’t correlate with my dreams.

I finished my finals that I had memorized quiet intensively for and left early to invest my time into solving a problem for myself and learning something meaningful.

After the semester, I woke up at 6 AM every day during winter break and spent all day building Notellica. I learned about server-side programming, JavaScript, databases, testing, deployment, etc.

When you stop worrying about being graded, you begin to focus on learning. When you enjoy your work, your due dates become your milestones and those milestones turn into self-motivation.

I enjoyed what I was doing because I was curious about it. Curiosity and innovation aren’t products of sitting in a class, listening to your professor, or taking tests — they’re products of experimentation and working on problems you want to solve for yourself.

In the end, I had developed a fullstack JS application that others could sign up and make use of. I was so excited to see the first few users signing up. Although, it’s currently sitting at mere 84 registered users, I built it for the sake of learning how to develop web applications, which I did!

There is no greater education than the one that is self-driven. — Neil deGrasse Tyson

Students have no motivation to take an initiative because they don’t know why they’re taking class x. For example, one of my friends was working on his startup and he ran into a networking issue so he emailed one of the Networking professors and went into his office. They discussed the problem for two hours, where the professor mentioned how rarely anyone in his classes asked him questions like the one my friend did.

Evidently, students are taking classes to fulfill “requirements”, whereas my friend did it because he was curious. Since students are too absorbed with their grades, they often neglect to make mistakes, experiment, fail, and learn. And even when we do fail, we’re rather punished by given a lower grade instead of being credited for trying (there goes your name from the Dean’s list).

Students would kill each other to get an “A” and that is what our education system has become — a place where students are ranked by GPA for their gifted memorization skills rather than one that allows students to fail and learn through collaborative effort.

But just imagine if professors encouraged students to work on autonomous projects and served as mentors who “guides” them, as oppose to lecturers who “grades” them.

An institution needs to be the eco-center for student growth and innovation where students have the freedom to learn, build, fail, and iterate — a place that values learning, not test scores. That’s the college I envisioned when I came to this country, but a kid could dream, right?

I realized that I needed to break free from this system and spend time doing something worthwhile. At the end of the day, college will always be there, but for one reason in particular...

Because I am 20 and I don’t have many responsibilities. I can eat ramen and live in a small apartment without worrying about a wife, kids, loans, etc. I can fail and compromise now, but not when I’m 27.

Education is not the learning of the facts, but the training of the mind to think. — Albert Einstein

In an era where countless industries are thriving, our education system remains stagnated. Education drives and shapes our future, for which we spend mindlessly on, yet we don’t stand up for what we deserve — we don’t question this system that limits our potential as students. For what? A piece of paper with our names on it?

A senior developer at Google I met told me:

A degree only shows you are committed to finish something. If you could show that through your projects or startup that brings real value to others, that’s more impressive than sitting in a class and memorizing algorithms.

Nevertheless, whether people believe in me or not, I do! I’m excited to take this next step in my life. It’s a risk, but I rather do this than regret later for not taking the chance.


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