2 years ago, I dropped out of college.
It feels like yesterday when I was unfolding my acceptance letter into McGill University in Montreal. It was the most gratifying moment of my life to have been accepted into one of the top institutions in North America.
I remember saying to myself: “This is it. I made it.”
At school, I was surrounded by peers who were far smarter and more ambitious than me, and I took intriguing courses that piqued my brain’s curiosity.
Every moment was a privilege.
You may now be wondering, why the hell did I drop out of school if every moment was a privilege? Let me start off by saying — it was the hardest decision I’ve ever made. Not just for myself, but for my family.
My mom, who was brought up in a conservative Korean background, was more excited than I was to see me hurl my graduation cap in the air for convocation. The truth is, the phrase “self-employed” is not uttered lightly among our family, while dropping out of college is strictly forbidden. When I broke the news, apart from the immediate surprise, I could sense they were overwhelmingly worried about my decision.
The questions of doubts continuously piled up one after another every time we spoke. I knew I had to back up my decision.
I spent months doing research and spoke with several career advisors and successful business leaders before I made a final decision — I had to make sure I was making the right choice.
Now I’m going to share with you what I learned through this process to help you decide if formal education is right for you.
It’s Not A Safer Decision
A rising number of school graduates are realizing that they can no longer exchange their degree for a job upon graduation. The old promise made by our education system was that if you put in your time at school, you would be guaranteed a stable job as a reward for your efforts.
According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York:
“51% (1.5 million) of recent graduates were either jobless or underemployed in 2013. This is up from 47% in 2007. Yet, the number of bachelor degree-holders has increased by 38% since 2000.”
A degree is supposed to signal to employers and the world that you are above average. You are smart. You are hard-working. You are driven. You are worth investing in or taking a chance on. That may have been true at one time, but not anymore.
Skill Is More Important Than A Degree
Students entering college shouldn’t bet on today’s job market.
They should bet on the job market five to 10 years from now. And what the job market is going to require is skill — not a degree.
If we taught surfing like we prep for careers, you’d spend twenty years reading about how to surf before even touching one. The day you graduate, you’d be dropped out in the middle of the ocean and be told, “Good luck!”
Fortunately, learning a skill has never been so easy. There are plenty of places to learn skills online for free or cheap. Whether it’s learning how to program, trade stocks, use Excel, design — the list goes on. Some of the top universities around the world, like Stanford University, have also opened up free online courses for anyone who wants to sign up.
The best way to prep for a career is not to sit in a lecture hall for three hours listening to something you’re not truly passionate about.
It’s to do it on your own.
In this economy, businesses don’t have the time or capital to train you to become employable. To differentiate yourself, you have to learn in-demand skills — a framed degree doesn’t get you very far anymore.
It’s Who You Know That Matters
Whether you like it or not, this is the truth:
If you know the right people, you’ll find the right opportunities.
Rather than trying to score that extra 1% on your accounting assignment, start attending networking events and conferences. You can find tons at Meetup.com or Eventbrite.com. This is the best and most personal way to meet people who have similar interests and goals as you. Keep in touch, help each other out and grow your community.
“We are the average of the five people we spend the most time with.” —Jim Rohn
Start surrounding yourself with people who inspire you.
Dropping Out Isn’t For Everyone
This is a point I really need to emphasize.
A formal education is particularly important for those who are interested in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, mathematics). In these fields, not only is a bachelor’s degree necessary, but that alone may not even cut it. Master’s degrees and Ph.Ds are, in many cases, expected.
And for good reason.
You wouldn’t want a surgeon to perform surgery on you, knowing he recently received a certification from an online course.
Some specialized careers will always require formal education — period.
Rather than trying to decide whether or not you need a college degree, discover your passion. See which career path fits your interests, then assess whether a college degree would be an asset to your path to success.
I’d suggest creating a list of topics or activities you enjoy indulging yourself on outside of school and work, and thinking back to the classes that intrigured you most.
The point is, no one can tell you what your passions are, it’s all up to you.
I studied economics and finance at McGill and, although I knew the benefits of having a strong financial background, my heart was always set on being an entrepreneur.
It didn’t make financial sense to spend $20,000 and time on courses that were not significantly contributing to my long-term goal.
I’m not saying this is all easy.
The last 24 months have been the toughest times in life — emotionally and physically — from working 16 hour days, having to shut down my business, being homeless for two weeks, and working to start another one.
It’s also been the most enriching and life-changing. I’ve learned more about myself in these 24 months than I would have in 10 years. There’s nothing like looking at yourself across the mirror at your lowest moments to make you realize what you were meant to do in this life and settling for nothing less.
Throughout this experience, I’ve realized that if you want to make something happen, you can. The most difficult part is taking that first leap.
I had no idea what would come out of dropping out of college to pursue my dreams in the real world.
But one thing was clear.
The lessons I would learn from this experience would be far more valuable than my time spent in the lecture room. In life, there will always be an opportunity to try to get more money, cars or shoes — but the one thing you will never have more of is time.
I can now live a life on my own terms, pursuing the passions that I love, and waking up every morning excited to take on new challenges.
If you feel like you’re stuck in school — like you’re in a drought and you want something different for yourself — take my advice above and consider your options.
After weighing all your options, you still feel strongly about dropping out and feel confident that you want to do it for the right reasons, then do it.
It’s scary. It’s hard. But so is the status quo.
For many people in our society, the word “dropout” still leaves a bad taste in their mouths. But I want to point out one thing to keep in mind:
This article was written using a computer designed by Apple, co-founded by a college dropout: Steve Jobs. Once I’m finished, I’ll save it on Microsoft Word, a software made by a company that was co-founded by Bill Gates, another dropout. Once it’s published, I’ll share it on Twitter, co-founded by college dropouts Jack Dorsey, Evan Williams and Biz Stone, and Facebook, co-founded by dropout Mark Zuckerberg. Everything around you was built and designed by other dropouts who couldn’t stand for the status quo.
Break free and follow your passion. Learn by doing, not through a textbook. Embrace failure and do something that makes you feel excited to wake up every morning. Be different. Be unique.
This is what will matter in the end — not your degree.