Some Thoughts On Dropping Out Of College To Work For A Startup

These days when you read about successful people who have made it really big in the professional world, you do notice that a good number of these people have been college dropouts. Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and others are examples of dropouts making it really big. Knowing this, it is natural for students to think if pursuing their college degree is actually worth it. When Steve Jobs or Bill Gates did not require their college degree for success, why would they?

This is an important question when it comes to deciding your career and sadly, the answer is not easy. It is a calculated gamble and it always does not go your way. The one thing that students should keep in mind is that your career is what you make of it. If you have a singular passion which keeps you awake at night, then clearly you have to follow it at whatever cost and let it lead you to ultimate success. There is no certainty when it comes to your professional life. Like Steve Jobs said at a commencement speech at Stanford,

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”

So if you are one of those students who are finding it tough to make a decision between a college degree and joining a startup, here are some points to consider.

1. Knowledge and Skill:

Students get enrolled in graduate courses so that they can pursue an industry related skill. When technology and the internet were in their infancy, students had to completely rely on college education to gain experience and to learn skills relevant to the industry. With the advent and mainstream use of the Internet, this has changed. Students, no longer have to completely depend on their college to get access to teaching. They can do so even on the Internet. New age online course companies such as Khan AcademyCoursera and EdX provide you with relevant courses which you can take online to supplement your normal college courses.

In short, the Internet is an excellent resource to acquire knowledge and to learn new skills. If you can successfully learn online, there is no actual need to go to college. College in this case only ends up being a degree provider.

2. Physical presence and collaboration:

We should not actually make the jump to colleges being redundant. Colleges and institutions have their own strengths when it comes to imparting education. Good institutions make sure that they are teaching their students the most updated curriculum and getting them more exposure to the industry. In India, this is not the case all the time and thus there is a need for students to supplement their learning either online or through internships/summer jobs.

Another positive aspect of college is that it nurtures social interactions between students and helps them collaborate with each other. For students this is important, because learning to collaborate with people is a key asset which will become valuable over the years when they climb the professional ladder.

3. Clarity about your passion:

It is not easy to segregate your various interests and list them in terms of priority. However, this exercise has to be undertaken by students. Clarity about what you want to do and achieve in the near future is paramount to your success. Say, you are studying for a software engineering course and you have been focusing on operating systems as a specialization. You already know that this is where your interest lies. Know all there is to know about your subject and get good at it. If you think that your college is the best place to pursue your passion then so be it. If it is not, then figure out the best way you can build your strengths outside of college. There is no point dropping out from college when you are uncertain about your purpose or your passion. Think about this very hard before you take any steps.

4. Handling risk and uncertainty

Once you have dropped out, you are on your own. There is no safety net and there is no degree. Some students might find this invigorating and some others might find this situation intimidating. Whatever it is you might be feeling, know that there will be a substantial amount of risk and uncertainty when you take this step. This should not really deter you when it comes to following your passion.

When you come to think of it, every thing worth doing in life is a risk that you have to take. You have not really been used to taking risks because you have lived a sheltered existence under the guidance of your parents. There is a first time for everything. Learn from every new risk your undertake and the results that you get. This way you will learn many new things about yourself and the world around you. However, make sure that you do not take ‘unnecessary risks’. Calculate the odds always and only then make a decision.

5. Startups

Working in a startup or running your own startup is a whole new ball game when you are a student. There is so much that you will have to learn about running a business such as company formation, hiring employees, constructing your business model, pitching investors, acquiring customers and so on. This will be a whole new world for you and you will get a chance to learn early on about how businesses work.

The startup culture is not very different from college culture. The only difference is that you are running a company and trying to add value when you work in a startup. Startups generally tend to go for students who are smart and can learn on the job. This is a perfect scenario for a student who is considering dropping out. The best way to get good at something is to do it instead of studying about it. Learning derived from this method will be more useful than just theoretical learning.

6. Making the decision to dropout

The decision to drop out of college will be one of the big decisions that you make in life. So do not do it in a hurry. Understand every little aspect of your decision and its ramifications on your life. Once you have sorted this out in your mind, the decision will be easier. Once you make it, don’t look back and keep at it.

7. There is no right or wrong

It is important to understand that when it comes to beginning your professional life, there is no right or wrong decision. There are only experiments and results. Experiment often, analyse the results and then make a decision. Do not look at everything from a perspective of being right or wrong. If you want to continue studying in college, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. If you have that constant nagging feeling telling you to drop out, then that is also perfectly alright. There is no set way of doing things. We can all reach our destinations by taking different interesting paths. The key is to enjoy the journey.