Peter Thiel is an entrepreneur and venture capitalist; he was a founder and CEO of PayPal and early investor in Facebook. He has suggested that students in college who want to be entrepreneurs may do better by dropping out. Here’s a short clip on his search for young tech visionaries from CNBC. The program will air on August 13 and 14.
“ On September 29, 2010, Thiel said he had created a new fellowship called the Thiel Fellowship, which will award $100,000 each to 20 people under 20 years old, in order to spur them to quit college and create their own ventures…Thiel has argued that although education is definitely useful for some career paths and people do learn many valuable things in college, there are many career paths, such as entrepreneurship, for which higher education is not useful and it simply leads them to waste years when they may have been doing something more productive.” – Wikipedia article on Peter Thiel
We applaud Peter Thiel’s fellowship program. But we also understand that this is for a very select few.
Everyone knows that Steve Jobs didn’t complete college, but he was very influenced by what he learned there. And it took a lot of college-educated people to turn his dreams into reality. Michael Dell got his business going from his dorm room and then left college. Peter Thiel himself has a philosophy degree and a JD (law doctorate) from Stanford University, and he teaches a course in entrepreneurship there.
In technology, most start-ups have engineers with bachelor’s and master’s degrees as core founders, and in biotech, founders typically have PhD or MD degrees. These entrepreneurs usually spend some years working in larger companies before starting their own; this allows them to gain valuable business contacts and experience. A lot of the potential success of the Thiel Fellowships will come from providing these young entrepreneurs the right set of mentors and contacts.
Dropping out of college may give someone a faster start in business, but it will narrow their options. There will always be new start-up possibilities in the future. And few people of college age will be able to attract start-up capital unless they have some unique connections, or are one of the extremely fortunate ones to receive something like a Thiel fellowship.
Entrepreneurship in the presently booming areas of social media and cloud and big data is possible from the business side and perhaps from the technical (software development) side without necessarily going to or completing college. Software development is an interesting area, because it is both a technical skill and an art. It certainly requires good skills in math and logical thinking. It is also possible to become an expert coder in a self-taught fashion.
Some occupations absolutely demand a college degree and an advanced degree as well, including doctor, lawyer, pharmacist, scientist and engineer.
In comparison to social media start-ups, it’s harder to imagine chip design, genetic medicine and nanotechnology developments coming from non-college graduates and indeed from non-advanced degree holders because of the sheer technical difficulty of these fields, requiring years of study and research to reach the cutting edge.
Net-net, if you drop out, you may or may not succeed in that first start-up business, but you could have the option to go back to school later. If you complete your degree, you have more employment options available to you. But, two years in the right major could also be worth more than four years in one with few job prospects.
There are an increasing number of free and open resources for accelerating, supplementing or continuing one’s education. These include edX, Udacity and Coursera at the college and university level. These open courses broaden the options for those not able to attend college, including the ability to earn credits for some courses.
At Curriki our focus is on K12 and providing thousands upon thousands of curated free open source curricular resources to anyone in the world, whether educator, student, or parent, or life-long learner. These can increase a student’s capability to attend college and be successful there and on into their working life. There are also college-level resources available through the Curriki site.