Don’t drop out, or Why learning can still be useful

Original author: Alex Kern
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Less than a year ago, Y Combinator company offered me and my friends the opportunity to develop our startup by participating in their program.

I was not required to drop out of college; an academic leave of one semester would suffice. But I understood well that after an 8-month break, I could no longer return to academic cramming, regardless of the success of the company. In fact, a temporary departure would mean a final separation from the institution.

I discussed this decision with family, friends and teachers. Opinions were divided, so I searched for answers online. After reading many articles, I drew attention to some regularity: current millionaires and billionaires preferred to avoid the stuffy walls of the cloister of science in adolescence and youth. “The founders do not need a college,” I heard again and again. In contrast, every resource that motherly thoughtfully encouraged me to stay in college had other arguments:

Education will make it more realistic to get the job of your dreams . This is undoubtedly true, but this has never been sufficient motivation. The reward was too foggy.

Many successful people graduated from college.. This seemed a very dubious statement. And, besides, collecting “ticks” does not make me happy.

Education will be insurance for you . This statement seemed to me insufficiently convincing, because I do not want to spend the best years of my youth creating "insurance". I want to do something that I love - and now.

I felt that before me was not the whole picture. There is something reassuring about getting to know someone else’s arguments for making a decision, no matter how absurd they may be: it makes you more confident in your own choices. What value in higher education can be for a guy with the ability for technology and enough energy to create killer pieces? I tried my best to find an article in my language that would answer this question. Here is this article:

Universities and Self-taught


Perhaps the most obvious and often cited reason for staying in school is that the course you are studying gives you tangible skills. However, although this may be true, this does not convey the main thing - in educational institutions not only information is given about what to teach, but also how to study.

I often hear from other students the dictum that humanitarian education is useless. They will add to this belief that technical education is more valuable than non-technical specialties, as if it endows its “owner" with personal or intellectual superiority: a

degree in [English / sociology / philosophy, etc.] will not endow you with practical skills at work. Why not learn something practical?

Such judgments are anti-intellectual and show a blatant limitation of the mind . Each field of study carries intellectual value, regardless of whether you understand it or not. Humanities scholars have increased both the breadth and depth of human understanding of the disciplines that they found important. Monumental discoveries are often made in places where their practical application is not immediately obvious. This is the meaning of the world of university science.

Each discipline, by its nature, has different methods of study. Each gives new ways of representing entities and communication with each other. Alternative mental models are no longer divided into incorrect and true, they are simply different, and possibly incompatible. The analytical tools that you receive during the training process are much more useful than a diploma.

You may object that you can independently study various disciplines outside the institution. And you are right! Of course you can do it.

But you will not do it. You won’t because it’s not easy. Because you don’t know where to start. Because at first glance, any area that is not related to your real hobby will seem boring. Finally, because it is not easy to find time to study topics that are not related to your work or startup.

The school is pulling you out of your comfort zone. You may not like the field of study, but it’s important that you learn things for a while that you don’t like in order to be a fully educated person. Keep in mind that many important innovations are at the intersection of several areas. In fact, all the most valuable subjects that I studied were not related to computer science.

Good students are self-taught. Frankly, I rarely go to classes. Some would call me self-taught, but I do not think so. I always learn from someone, be it a teacher, a textbook author, or a team of authors creating Wikipedia articles. These are just different storage media, each of which has its own set of advantages.

It would be dishonest of me not to mention why I despised (and continue to despise!) Some training courses: bad subjects with a bad curriculum and bad teachers are a waste of time. Because in the ideal case, your classes should inspire you to learn even more, and not overload you with tedious work. Try to attend classes with professors who will expand the boundaries of your intellectual comfort zone. Avoid doing bad things at all costs.

Many of the most important subjects taught in educational institutions cannot be studied using textbooks alone. The school is a catalyst for experience that will show your physical, emotional and mental qualities. Studying in college offers you a wide variety of opportunities for acquiring new skills - both from your fellow students and from the faculty as a whole. You will never again have such an opportunity - even in a startup - to be surrounded by a huge number of peers who inspire you and encourage you to study harder.

You are not the new Mark Zuckerberg.

... and there’s nothing terrible in it!

In educational institutions, there is a problem with the cult of personality. It seems that everyone firmly believes that he will be the next CEO who runs the company with a billion dollar capital.

However, many novice entrepreneurs went even further, trying to imitate their idols in decision making and personal life. But if your life is only a shadow of someone’s story, then you will realize that such behavior is doomed to failure. You will never become the "new Mark Zuckerberg." This will not work.

Live your life. Do not try to become the "next" someone - be yourself. I bet your own ambitions are more interesting.

Startup culture is hostile to this position. I know those who “combed” Hacker News and TechCrunch in search of the exact steps they must take to turn their young company into a shining unicorn. If you do not have a detailed five-year plan, you have already lost.

Well, it went . You do not need a "life plan." Perhaps you do not want him. A college is essentially an invitation to study yourself. Use it.

Why is there a rush?


Socially unadapted entrepreneurs who are not educated become something of a cliché in modern media. Quitting training to build a business is now in fashion.

Some ingenious individuals earn capital on this trend, encouraging the best and brightest students to terminate their formal education ahead of schedule. In particular, Thiel Fellowship selects several students every year, offering them to leave the institution and instead receive a grant for two years and study under the mentoring program, which is designed to help them achieve new (usually entrepreneurial) goals. I have many friends at Thiel Fellowship, and, believe me, the program selects highly qualified candidates. The applause of the Fellowship for making it more socially acceptable that you can be a good specialist by leaving your school halfway or bypassing it altogether.

At the same time, I do not agree with the fundamental thesis of the program. These programs do exactly the same thing as higher education, which is based on the division in specific areas, against which they are opposed: they create a thin curtain of external selection. A reward - a diploma - does not mean that you have succeeded. Before you lies a whole unplowed field.

I got the impression that Thiel Fellowship is looking for students who are waiting to wait until they drop out of education, and all they need is the last argument that will push them to this decision. However, if this occasion comes from outside, then perhaps this will not lead to anything good. Ask yourself if your decision would be the same if you didn’t receive such an offer. If you understand that you would have left school anyway, paradoxically, programs like Thiel Fellowship might work well for you.

I am based on my experience and observations, saying that if you are going to create a company, you can, while still in an educational institution, make its prototype. If the business is going uphill, and your studies are standing in the way of its development, then this is the right moment to leave the school.

However, do not limit yourself. There are countless other projects that can be combined with study. In the first three years of my studies at the University of California at Berkeley, I created an application in our student-supported business incubator, muddied the currently largest hackathon, and developed a lot of open source software. I believe that all this was useful for my professional growth.

It makes no sense to wait for graduation to start working on what you love. Gather in groups with friends to work together on educational projects. Create something, create anything, even if it’s not a business. Do not miss the opportunity to attract additional funds from your development. Do research under the guidance of a professor. Use the resources provided by the educational institution for the benefit of your work. The important thing is that you do what you love.

However, the most important thing I did while studying outside of material wealth: I found a community of friends who kept me in good shape every day. Surrounding yourself with the “right” peer group is an important guarantee that your training will be a joy to you. Invest your time in developing your relationship. Life outside of student society can be isolated. But when you discover the real world, your friends are more important to you than ever.

Love yourself


Life is short. Your youth, being only part of it, is even shorter. For yourself you should receive a little (more) of joy.

You can experience many things only as a student. I think that all those who are promoting the idea of ​​leaving their higher education institution forget about the fact that we are all human. We are motivated not only by the prospects of long-term rewards. Here is a short list of things you are guaranteed to miss if you decide to leave school :

  • Acquaintance with people of your age with different worldviews, from the most different corners of the world and layers of the population.
  • Enjoying an excess of free time, which makes it possible for adventure (or just for a cool pastime for video games).
  • The opportunity to join one of a million student groups, or create your own.
  • “Extending the boundaries of one’s consciousness” in an environment where it is socially acceptable.
  • Using the summer period to try yourself in a different work environment for an internship, travel around the world or just spend precious time with friends and family.
  • Visiting various events: dancing, theater, choral singing and other types of performances with the participation of their classmates.
  • Creation of cool things, new friends for life, which can be met at student hackathons.
  • The ability to wear workouts every day.

The bottom line is that your student years can be one of the best times in your life. I met my best friends while studying in California. My fond memories are connected with this time.

I do not want to leave.


When I decided to refuse Y Combinator in order to complete my education, my decision surprised everyone. However, I myself was most surprised. All my life I have longed for an opportunity that will save me from classes once and for all. Nevertheless, when she introduced herself to me, I refused - not out of fear, but out of understanding.

I'm used to explaining why I stayed at the school. This is usually the first question they ask me when they find out that I was on the verge of leaving my education. But they rarely ask me how I feel about this decision. I would say that this is a much more important issue. Well, what do I think about this more than six months later?

I am happy that I am still at the university, todes him into a swing, and at the same time I can not wait for release.

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