Jay-Z was once asked in an interview if he feels insecure about not having a degree when he goes into a boardroom with a bunch of lawyers and MBAs. His response? “Never. They’ve lived a bunch of words but I’ve lived a bunch of life.”
As a dropout myself, I can understand this feeling. How could I possibly feel insecure about not having a degree that I never wanted and when I have 5+ more years of professional experience than anybody my age? For me, dropping out and starting my life early was a way to avoid the insecurity I see today in so many of my peers when they realize that they have no marketable skills that employers want and no knowledge of what they really want out of life.
More and more young people are beginning to realize this too. They see college as a 4-6 year postponement from the real world that costs far more than it’s worth and figure out ways to sidestep it entirely.
Over the last few years, I’ve been collecting quotes from these people about their decision to drop out of college and what they did instead. It’s helped me and I hope helps you make the decision to drop out and get started on your life.
People said I should do the responsible thing and go back to college. But I didn’t. I decided to irresponsibly chase my curiosity. I went down the rabbit hole, and I knew some people thought I was crazy. I was a college dropout, I was living with my parents and I was spending all my time coding, something that many believe a woman or a dropout cannot pursue as a career. Yet I didn’t care. I let go of what path I was supposed to be on. Later, I realized I had discovered my biggest passion. I did an unpaid engineering internship and eventually got my first job as a software engineer.
– Madison Kanna
This opportunity that is front of you—is it what you were going to school for in the first place? For me, that was it. I wasn’t going to stay in school for another year, graduate, and then cross my fingers and hope to get offered a similar job again. Fuck the marshmallow test—sometimes you have to take what’s offered to you right now…because later might not happen.
– Ryan Holiday
I didn’t come to college to be forced into useless classes nor did I come to become well-rounded. I came to college to study a particular field and differentiate myself in the job market. Even when I finally took some good classes, they were delivered in horribly inefficient ways. Anyone could learn this material from books and free online resources.
After 3 years of disappointment and thousands of dollars of debt accumulation, I was fed up. I stopped being afraid of stupid things and decided to break the mold. It was the best decision I have ever made.
– Nate Baker
I am so proud to say I’ve been offered jobs at very reputable companies that “ONLY HIRE COLLEGE GRADUATES,” as they are fond of advertising. I’ve been the only non-graduate in a workplace more than once, and it is not something I hide — it is something I sing from the rooftops. I have had many employers/interviewers say things like, “We don’t normally hire people without degrees, but you are interesting. At the age of 18, you didn’t feel the pressure to conform to what everyone else was doing, and that is the kind of maverick we want in our business.”
– Grace Slater
– Keshav Narula
When I dropped out of school, I was betting on myself. It was a good bet (one that surprised me, honestly). In less than 3 years, I’d worked as a Hollywood executive, researched for and promoted multiple NYT bestsellers, and was Director of Marketing for one of the most provocative companies on the planet. I had achieved more than I ever could have dreamed of — the scared, overwhelmed me of 19 could have never conceived of having done all that.
– Ryan Holiday
Looking back at my life, dropping out of college was the smartest decision I ever made. I left CU-Boulder as a sophomore against the better judgment of all my friends, family and classmates. At the time, they thought I was making a huge mistake. However, I was determined to prove them wrong, and this determination helped fuel my success.
– Logan Cheirotti
I’m not putting myself through five years of freaking college that’s expensive and to not have a guaranteed job at the end.
– Nathan Latka
In college I was learning things that didn’t help in anything I wanted to achieve. The classes were very boring, the people I was studying with didn’t seem incredible to me as to consider them colleagues or future members of my team. I was learning a lot of calculus, mechanics and electricity, but only theoretically because most universities don’t have the infrastructure to do practical classes on these subjects. And they don’t encourage you to think beyond passing the exams…I wanted to quit college.
– Carlos Sz
I was tired of losing money, time, and mental energy to college. I was more frustrated about the opportunities I was missing out on. I dropped out and it was the best decision I’ve ever made.
– Casey McGoff
After I dropped out, I began running studio sessions and selling the beats I was making to pay for rent and food. I didn’t have anybody telling me to do it that way; one day I just realized that people sell beats, and I had tons of beats. I made a post on Facebook seeing who wanted to buy my beats, and I’ve been selling them ever since. I’ve basically spent every day since in my studio working as hard as I can to be comfortable. I still haven’t gotten around to paying back any student loans, but I can eat now, I can pay my rent, I have some great friends, and I’ve had the privilege of playing and working with some of my inspirations in the last few months.
– Riley Smithson
College, for me, was a lot like a bubble. I had a level of independence and responsibility, but I wasn’t yet part of the reality outside of school. Don’t get me wrong—college makes sense for those who feel happy there and want to be there. But for me, this bubble was suffocating. The longer I stayed, the more trapped I felt…This was a scary decision, but I finally made it, and once I did I felt I could breathe again.
I remember one moment very vividly: I was in the bathroom when I heard a few of my classmates complaining about having to go to class and discussing how many more points they needed to pass the course. These were the same girls I had to shush as I gave my painstakingly prepared presentation on historical revisionism earlier that day. It hit me right then that in three years’ time, we would all have the same exact diploma, we would probably compete for the same jobs and no employer would care about how many all-nighters I had pulled to deliver quality term papers…
…the impact has been way more positive than negative. The random skills I’ve acquired have allowed me to travel the world, learn a third language and work with amazing tech startups in Asia doing a range of things from digital marketing to product development. I am also no longer embarrassed — and am maybe even proud — to admit I am a college dropout.
– Fabi Pina
I remember pulling into a parking space one day a few months after dropping out, stressed and on the verge of a breakdown. Why am I killing myself over this?, I thought. It’s just life. Suddenly, a wave of calm washed over me. I was doing what young people are supposed to do: take risks. There is no need to stress over anything so seriously, let alone school (as someone told me later, he’d gotten sick when he was in college and missed 18 months of school. He’s 50 now and a year and half seems like two seconds). I’m not going to starve. I’m not going to die. There is nothing that can’t be undone. Just relax. Relax. And I did. And it worked.
– Ryan Holiday
In college, I had a pattern: Complete a yacht contract, attend a semester of school or travel somewhere new, repeat. The cycle of work/saving money/school made it so I didn’t have to take out student loans, and that was very important to me. I intended to finish my degree, but I kept getting exciting opportunities, so my decision to drop out was less of a specific revelation and more of a gradual shift in goals and priorities…
Staying debt-free has allowed me to take advantage of unique opportunities. With that freedom, I have been able to live an interesting and fulfilling life. For a while, I felt really insecure that I was the only one in my friend group who hadn’t finished her degree. I wish I realized sooner that education is not a race and the decisions I was making were the right decisions for me.
– Sara Manning
Growing up, college was presented to me as the next logical step after high school. It was “what you did” if you wanted to get a good job and make a lot of money.
Often missing from that conversation? The fact that college is a major financial investment, and that your future boss may not actually care whether or not you went.
I learned my lesson the hard way: Two universities and zero degrees later, I left school with nearly $50,000 worth of student loan and credit card debt. Ouch.
– Kyle Taylor
It was hard not to think of my time studying as a waste of time and money, so I tried to remind myself that the degree itself isn’t the only thing you’re meant to gain from a college experience. After all, I still learned a great deal from from my lectures. I made a great deal of friends. I grew as a person and became more introspective and independent. And if I want to go back and finish my degree – which I’m planning on doing – I can always do that.
I used my research and writing skills to become a full-time freelance writer. I had always loved writing, but it never felt like a viable career choice. Now, it’s not only a career that pays the bills – it’s one that brings me a lot of joy. I’m happier now than I ever was in university.
– Sian Ferguson
I’ve always considered my life decisions through an economic lens. So when the end of my Freshman year came, I was faced with a decision: continue with university and endure many boring and useless classes while accruing large debts or get started with my professional career right away. For me, the easier path was to hack my own way through the forest. At least then I’d be far into the forest by the time most of my peers were ready to step foot inside the tree line.
– Mitchell Broderick
A couple years in it was really starting to set in that college wasn’t for me. I decided to give myself an ultimatum. If I could book X amount of photography sessions, bring in X money by X date I was going to drop out. I made a quick website though google sites, posted a few ads on craigslist for wedding photography services, spread the word I was taking bookings and that was that. Literally the next day I had a few calls (from craiglist peeps, no joke) about my wedding services.
At the end of that week (and I remember this phone call like it was yesterday) I called my Dad to share with him the incredible news. “Dad, you’re not going to believe this, I had $4,000 in my bank account!” With that $4,000 I dropped out of college & never looked back.
– Molly Keyser
After a semester and a half of what felt like drifting through the motions, I had a sudden wave of doubt and fear. I was doubtful that I was doing or even knew what I loved to do, and I was terrified at the thought that I had become too comfortable. I wanted to replace my practical thinking with dreams that seemed scary and impossible. So I finished out my spring semester and that was it. While everyone else was preparing for the fall or taking summer classes, I was working three part time jobs in order to fund what was
about to be the best year of my life.
The year 2014 was my first year as a dropout. I started it on a plane, taking me from my hometown in Virginia, to San Francisco. I spent three months living in a house with 13 other people from all around the world who were young and ambitious and curious about learning without college. I explored the fashion industry, interning under people who I looked up to and who could teach me real world skills. I learned how to network, how to market myself, and how to become someone who motivated myself to learn. I worked hard and took the time to learn about myself and others…
Looking back, I realize that stepping out of the traditional education system was probably the best decision I ever made. I got to know myself, I learned how to learn, and most importantly, I became comfortable with being uncomfortable.
– Taylor Fogarty
I called my parents up, and told them I was going to quit college.
- They were paying to send me to college because society expected it, not because I wanted, or needed it at the time.
- I had a 2.7 GPA (there went the respectable, big company job!). It was a mix of A’s in classes I’d enjoyed and continued attending — the computer science variety — and D’s in everything else. This couldn’t go on.
- Instead of going to class I was working on a web hosting business I’d started in high school, or working hours at the University’s engineering department. I loved to work. I was learning skills. I was getting paid.
- Quitting wouldn’t be irreversible! I could always decide to make another run at school (and when the dot com economy later crashed, I did just that — gave up my job, went back motivated and with renewed purpose — and that miserable GPA shot up to a 3.8).
So that October, making less than $10 an hour and still living in the dorms, I decided to quit The University of Michigan.
I soon found a job with a startup, Xtime, in California. They were looking for a junior engineer to help build and run cloud infrastructure — it was perfect. I might have taken the job for free, to learn, as an intern. They offered close to $80,000 full-time. I accepted on the spot.
– Adam Herscher
Most people imagine 21-year-olds to be huge party animals. Stressed college students. Young, naive, and bushy eyed. Avid social media users. Hungry kids looking for their first entry-level job.
I’m none of that.
I’ve completed six internships, wrote two books, launched a podcast, started freelancing, and worked with my role models. I understand where I am in life and the direction I’m heading. I’m clear with my values and strict with my priorities.
– Tam Pham
Partying was fun, but I couldn’t help but think how four years of this was going to stimulate me and prepare me to be a critical thinker and global citizen. My classes were unfulfilling, and I began to question the direction of my life…
…after an unfulfilling semester at school, I took the leap. I opted out of school for the second semester and came home, determined to travel and begin my real life education. I had a little under $4,000 saved up from working, and I figured I could make it stretch through volunteering. After hours of research, I stumbled upon Workaway, a cultural exchange site that offers different types of volunteer work all over the globe in exchange for food and accommodation. I hit the jackpot. Workaway would allow me to travel on a shoe-string budget, while also being able to foster bonds with local communities through volunteering.
– Jake Heilbrunn
I dropped out of community college in favor of gaining work experience in marketing. After 2 years I transitioned to digital marketing with a focus on AdWords and Facebook marketing. With the skills I gained and money saved from not going to school I used to open a business on the side in Europe. I’m currently managing a number of people who have masters in marketing and life is going well.
… they say that startups will hire without a degree, but that it’ll be impossible to get ahead in an established company.
Well they were wrong. At the end of the month, I’m going to…move to St. Petersburg in Florida to work as an analyst for the Tampa Bay Rays (MLB).
During the interview process, I found that my lack of a degree actually helped me in a lot of areas. Whenever I was asked about how I learned some algorithm or developed some skill, I had a story about either making it for a personal project, or learning it through work and seeing how it actually integrates with a system to create value.
On top of showing that I had as strong of an “academic” background as an academic, I also had the market experience to understand when certain practices were and weren’t useful. This made me a lot more interesting to the Rays, since I showed initiative to continually learn and had a different story to tell. They loved it.
Build a better signal and people will want you.
– Salem Wolcott Marrero
Value. It wasn’t because college “isn’t valuable at all” I think it can be. It’s simply the idea of price vs. value. For me, the value did not warrant the price tag, so I made moves.
– Taylor King
The simple fact is that you don’t need a degree anymore to succeed in life. I’ve spent the last four years since I dropped out of college running marketing at a startup, launching side projects, traveling, working with dozens of clients, and speaking at events around the world from Brazil to Bosnia. Three more years in college would have done nothing but hold me back.
If you’re unsure about college, follow the examples of these people and make the jump. You can always go back, but I doubt you will want to once you realize what can be achieved today when you get off the conveyor belt and take charge of your life.