We asked five Praxis participants to give their answers to five questions on a single theme. This edition’s topic will focus on the rewards, challenges, and lessons that come with dropping out of college.
1) Why did you opt out of college?
Simon Fraser, Placement Advisor: I quit college halfway through my sophomore year. I was growing a business at the time which was contributing to most of my personal and professional growth, and my classes were becoming a distraction. Imagine being immersed in solving a really hard problem and being forced to watch completely unrelated hour-long videos three times a day. It didn’t occur to me that simply not going to school was an option until one day my brother told me he dropped his classes. I dropped mine the next day.
Madison Kanna, Praxis Participant: I didn’t feel I was learning any real skills I would use in the workforce. Everyone around me graduated with massive debt and then struggled to find a job. I felt that my time would be better spent if I left college and gained tangible skills by learning on my own and working in the real world.
Taylor King, Praxis Participant: One word. 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.
Hannah Phillips, Praxis Alumna: Throughout my high school career, I knew that I didn’t want to go to college. Expressing my creativity in a classroom and doing art in a formal setting is not nearly as fulfilling to me as doing it on my own. Once I started to get paid for my photography and design work, I knew I didn’t need to spend four years and thousands of dollars on college.
Mitchell Broderick, Praxis Alumnus: The obvious answer is because of opportunity cost. 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.
2) What was the hardest part about it?
Simon: The hardest part was figuring out how to make money. Being an adult in the real world is a lot different than being a student in school. Students are coddled. They can convince professors to raise their grades by crying about a sore throat. Reality is harsh. Nobody cares if you’re sick. If you don’t make money, you can’t eat. Period.
Madison: My parents were initially against me leaving college. I had to show them that staying in school would actually set me back career wise. Trying to explain my choice to them made me think hard about my decision and solidified all the reasons why I believed college was not the right path for me. After I left college, they saw that I was much happier and more productive than before. They also saw that I was learning faster and moving towards the career I wanted. They’ve been my biggest supporters ever since.
Taylor: The short term feeling of isolation. You are essentially putting yourself in a class of one, so naturally, you’re not going to have a huge network at first, but you make one. You’ll find the road to the top isn’t crowded.
Hannah: Honestly, the hardest part about opting out of higher education was pushing myself to finish high school in good standing. I had mentally checked out of school somewhere in the middle of my junior year, and while I managed to keep my grades up I felt like everything I was studying was a waste of time.
Mitchell: Coming to terms with having wasted a year (and about $20,000) in college.
3) How do you explain your decision to people who think you’re weird?
Simon: I’ve always been somewhat of a contrarian, so at first, I enjoyed explaining my decision to people. They rarely understood what I was saying despite how clear it was to me. It took me a while to realize that it was never worth my time to get people to understand, so I stopped trying to convince people and resolved to focus on doing my thing. People won’t be convinced by logic, but they will shut up once they see you succeed.
Madison: If they are against the idea, I lay out the facts that made sense for me. Though, most people I’ve encountered don’t think it’s so weird anymore. There is so much evidence that shows that college is not getting students job-ready.
Taylor: To be completely honest, I haven’t had this problem, for one reason or another after people find out they usually just express how disappointed they are/were with college. If it does come to that though, I explain the value vs. price idea, and that I don’t recommend it to everyone.
Hannah: I relish in seeing people’s reactions when I say I don’t plan on ever getting a degree. I lay out my situation to them logically: I’m doing exactly what I’ve always dreamed of doing, which is making a living with my art. The lack of a college education has not handicapped me in this field, nor do I see it ever doing so.
Mitchell: I know it probably isn’t the answer most people are looking for, but I have never felt the need to explain myself, and certainly wouldn’t offer an explanation to someone who would claim my path is wrong.
4) Lots of people use college degrees to determine credibility. How do you signal your ability to create value without a degree?
Simon: Internally, my own credibility comes from the amount I’m growing and learning. When I use that as a compass, my effort and results are always better. When I focus too much on titles, grades or accolades, I begin to stray from my goals. You can easily sniff out someone who is chasing titles versus someone who is genuinely chasing their curiosity and trying to learn as much as they can.
Madison: I built skills I knew employers would find valuable and that were in demand. I created a portfolio demonstrating those capabilities. When I was interviewing for the junior software engineer position I have now, I had a portfolio of websites I built that I showed to the engineer interviewing me.
Taylor: I signal it through action. If it can be helped, I show that I create value before they know a thing about me, essentially proving credibility. If/when they find out I’m an opt-out, they won’t be as surprised nor think it’s that crazy-sounding if I’m doing my part.
Hannah: I try to let my work speak for itself. I’ve worked with over 100 clients in the past year and a half on a wide variety of different creative projects, so whenever a potential client approaches me about collaborating it’s easy for me to shoot them a handful of examples of past work.
Mitchell: I’m going to answer with an anecdote.
I was actually poached from my Praxis business partner after 3 years of employment in March 2017. I did not seek a job interview. I did not fill out an application or submit a resume. A business owner approached me, offered to host me in a vacation city (Naples, FL) for a long weekend, and during the weekend offered me a Chief Sales Officer position in his marketing company that he was now ready to scale quickly.
How did he know I could handle it? At my previous company, I had generated $3 million in revenue for the company over 3 years. I shared a Google doc to him with all of my sales statistics (both wins and losses).
As a team, in one month, with him generating great leads and myself selling and closing, we grew the company by 33%. Most companies grow 3% annually. How do I signal my ability to create value? I keep a very public ledger of my successes and failures, and I dedicated the first portion of my professional life to learning how to effectively communicate it to others.
5) Who’s your favorite college opt-out?
Simon: Richard Branson. I read his biography around the time I dropped out. When he was 16, he quit high school and started a magazine for the school district. He cold-called for 12 hours a day while everyone else was in school. He was building something and he kept it in the center of his focus, not letting anything distract him. He treated every one of his subsequent business ventures the same way.
Madison: My mom. She landed her dream job while in college, so she dropped out. Creating her own path instead of doing what everyone else was doing set the stage for her to spend the next 30 years bringing innovations to market and igniting movements that upended the status quo. She also Homeschooled my sisters and me. She built and ran businesses while giving me an unconventional and wonderful education.
Taylor: I wouldn’t say I have a favorite. One thing I’m learning very quickly is that the second I compare myself two things quickly happen. For one, I’m less focused on building my personal skill set and try and mimic someone else’s, and two, I lose focus on my goals. When you narrow your field of view to maximizing personal achievement, you move much faster towards those goals.
Hannah: Casey Neistat. His story is ridiculously inspiring and he’s one of my favorite creators at the moment.
Mitchell: Bruce Dickinson. He’s the frontman of the British Heavy Metal group, Iron Maiden. Bruce (and others in the band) intentionally built Iron Maiden into a massive brand that sells out massive venues globally 40 years after forming.
More than the success of Iron Maiden, however, is that Bruce has lived a life where he’s accomplished all of the things he set out to accomplish. He is an Olympic-level fencer, he’s a pilot (he actually flies the band and crew around for their tours in their own 747, Ed Force One), he’s an author of two books, he’s an entrepreneur and venture capitalist in the airline industry, among many other achievements.
It is this type of purposeful living that helps set me on my own path of achieving all of the things I’ve set forth to achieve.