“Should I drop out of college?”
If you find yourself struggling with this question, you are not alone, and you’re not crazy.
You are at a point in your life where it is natural to question.
Perhaps what you’ve been raised to believe is wrong.
Maybe the path you have always been on is not the right way anymore.
This is a time in your life where it is important to do some serious self-examination. It’s your future at stake here, and the sooner you get clear on your general direction in life and who you are, the more time you will have to build the life of your dreams.
I say “general” direction because trying to plan every detail of your future is wasted effort. Life constantly throws you curveballs, and what you think life will be like three months from now could be very different.
What’s important is that you get solid on the big picture, that is to say:
Do you want to work for someone else? Or do you want to work for yourself.
After talking with many Successful Dropout entrepreneurs and also pulling from my personal experience, here are some things to consider when trying to decide if you should drop out of college to pursue entrepreneurship:
You should stay in college if…
You want to be a professional
- Medical field
If you want to have a professional career in any of these areas, you will need to stay in school. They all require degrees, and for good reason! Also if you are an athlete on some sort of full ride scholarship, that might be your shot to get to the next level and you have a real opportunity with staying in school as well.
You want job security
If you want the safety of a solid 9-5 job, you should stay in school.
Now, I will say that many places (Google included) are becoming more open-minded when it comes to hiring people without degrees. It’s definitely possible! But the majority of employers still judge your eligibility based on your schooling. So that’s the safest route at this point.
Do you avoid taking risks at all costs? Do you want a steady paycheck every month? That’s good, it’s normal!
But entrepreneurship requires taking risks and accepting the possibility that what you have built could take a turn for better or for worse at any time, and ultimate responsibility rests on you. If this isn’t attractive to you, keep pursuing that degree!
You are lazy
Do you have a great work ethic?
Are you self-disciplined?
This is where you need to do some self-examination and really be honest. If you are thinking of dropping out, but you know you are lazy, stay in school!
If all you are used to is working 24 hours a week, you still don’t know about work ethic. If you can’t wait to be done working or studying so you can watch your favorite TV show or play Call of Duty, you will have a hard time finding the drive and discipline it takes to be an entrepreneur!
You have a habit of not finishing things
If you are constantly starting and quitting things, stay in school and at least finish that. To start and build a business takes an incredible amount of patience and perseverance. This is another area where you will have to be brutally honest with yourself.
You are accepted into an ivy league school or other prestigious institution
If you get accepted into a prestigious school this is an opportunity that not everyone enjoys and you will want to seriously consider taking advantage of it. Again, really be honest with yourself, if you are on the fence about entrepreneurship and you have an opportunity like this, I would advise staying in school.
On the other hand, if you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that entrepreneurship is for you and you think the best decision is to pass up an ivy league school, then you are in good company. I know MIT, Princeton, Yale, and Harvard dropouts who all made that choice and became successful entrepreneurs.
You have a full ride scholarship
Again, if this is your situation you really need to get clear on what you want to do in life. A full ride is a HUGE opportunity that shouldn’t be taken for granted.
You should drop out of college if…
You are completely undecided with your career path
If you are spending the time and money to go to college and you have no idea what you want to do, drop out.
Because most people who are undecided in school are using their parent’s money, and there’s no reason to do that to your parents.
You are young, you can take a couple years off at 18 and 19 to figure out what you want and you can always come back to finish your degree from 20 to 24 years old, no problem.
If you do this though, I am not entirely in support of taking the typical “backpack around the world for a year” approach to discovering yourself.
You need to try many things with the goal of discovering what you want to do long-term...which is most likely not living out of a backpack and sleeping in hostels (although that’s possible!)
Sure, you can travel a bit…but also get a job, get an internship, start a business or two…take action! Treat this season of your life like a job fair going from booth to booth! Unless you give it a shot and get your feet a bit wet, you will never know.
And if you enter this season of your life with the goal of experimenting, you can start and quit something with integrity once you find out it’s a path you don’t want to be on, since your objective in the first place is to discover what your long term pursuit will be.
You have a strong work ethic
If you know school isn’t right for you and you have a strong work ethic, you will be able to make it in the real world without a degree. Whether you start a business right away or find a temporary job, that strong work ethic will keep the bills paid and eventually propel you to success.
You are disciplined
If you have great self-discipline, you will be fine in the real world without a degree and you will make a great entrepreneur.
Do you work out regularly and take care of your body? Are you good at replacing negative habits with positive ones? Are you timely? Do you do what you say you will do? Are you good at managing money?
If you routinely self-examine and make plans to better yourself and then you follow through on those plans, then success is only a matter of time.
You are competitive
If you are a very competitive by nature you are at an advantage when it comes to the real world and entrepreneurship. Competition is the fuel that will drive you to be better and achieve more.
You are good at making friends
It’s important to note here that both extroverts and introverts can be great at making friends and fostering relationships. I believe “extrovert” and “introvert” speaks more to what fills a person up or drains them rather than their social skills entirely.
Your network of relationships both professional and personal can be your most important asset as an entrepreneur.
If you are naturally good at making friends, you have a skill for success in the real world. If you don’t quite have this skill or you want to get better at it, read “How To Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie.
You are a continual learner
Education is a lifelong job and you are going to be stepping out of an environment where it’s required. No one is going to be looking over your shoulder to make sure you are learning what you need to.
You need to be motivated and excited to continue educating yourself!
If you love to read or listen to books, Google things or watch TED Talks, you will do well.
Learn to have a love for debates, questioning things, and learning from other people.
Bottom line, if you absolutely love to learn, you will go far.
Also, continual learning will come easy to those who pursue what they are passionate about.
You have a mentor
If you have someone in your life who has already been where you want to go and they are willing to take you under their wing and teach/guide you, you are in a great position to drop out. Having a mentor who is established, successful, and willing to coach you is worth more than any MBA!
A few things to ask yourself and think about…
If you are still trying to decide whether or not to drop out, here are some additional questions to ask yourself as well as some other thoughts:
- Is there a way that you can test your business idea while still in school? Getting proof of concept before dropping out can make the decision a lot easier. Once you have proof of concept though, don’t try and build your business and finish your degree at the same time.
- Are you a positive thinker? Or do you tend to more of a pessimist? Or do you consider yourself more of a realist? You do need to think critically about this decision…and the ability to think objectively and realistically about something is an important skill to have…but be careful that it doesn’t turn to pessimism. Thinking too “realistically” and trying to interpret the future can often push all the possible positive outcomes from thought. Being a positive thinker is a required skill as an entrepreneur. You won’t survive long without it. “As a Man or Woman Thinketh, So They Become.”
- For one a few seconds stop thinking so methodically about this. What does your gut say? This is a bit depressing I know, but think if someone held a gun to your head and said they would pull the trigger if you didn’t give a definitive answer in 5 seconds…
- Are you dropping out of school because you know you can have something better? Or is it because you can’t cut it in school?
- What other smart people in your life have you talked to about this decision? Make sure and ask them for information… not advice. A lot of people will give you terrible advice even if they are successful. Get information, and translate that into advice.
- Beware of the sunk cost fallacy. If you’re not sure what that is, it basically means that just because you started something, doesn’t mean you have to finish it. Instead, decide if you want to do it right now and ignore what you’ve put in so far, because what you have put in so far is logically and statistically irrelevant.
- Keep in mind that you can always go back to school. Many dropouts don’t actually “drop out”. Instead, they just take a temporary leave of absence which gives them the option to come back. That’s what I did….I just didn’t go back. Taking a “temporary leave” just feels better than cutting all ties, even though it’s essentially the same thing.
- If everything goes down the drain, what’s your exit strategy? It could be as simple as “I’ll re-enroll” but definitely have an answer! This is a good technique for fighting worry too. Think of the worst case scenario, accept it as a possible outcome and create a plan for that outcome. You will find that the worst case scenario is really not that bad. Stop psyching yourself out.
- I know this decision feels like life or death right now, but this is a first world problem. If you decide to drop out you’re not going to end up starving on the side of the road cooking over an open flame, and you won’t end up working at Burger King unless you repeatedly make a lot of deliberate, ignorant mistakes. You live in America, you are going to be just fine.
- Do you have any money saved? Do you have a source of income or a skill you can fall back on pay the bills? Do you know how to budget? Try and save a few months living expenses before leaving school, it will make you feel less pressure and the sense of security will allow you to focus your efforts on growing your business and generating more income.
- Who is your mentor? What is your support system? Who has your back now that there is no one checking to see if you turned your work in? You’re going to want to figure this out. Don’t plan to do this alone.
- Are you prepared for nobody to understand? Especially your parents?
- Be prepared for a divide between you and your school friends. Your experience dropping out will make you very different from your friends who are still in the institution. Are you ok with that?
- Are you being influenced by peer pressure? You will most likely receive a lot of it when asking these questions and it can make it tough to look at things objectively. There’s peer pressure from your friends, which is never fun. But there can also be peer pressure between your parents and their friends. They could be looking at another parent’s kid who is earning a degree and then put the pressure on you to do the same because they don’t want you to be at a disadvantage compared to their friend’s kid. There’s also pressure from those around you who already work in education. Your professors and teachers etc.
- Are you aware that “the proportion of people without any college education at Google has increased over time” according to a New York Times interview with their senior VP of people operations? Something to think about!
- Are you staying in school because it’s safe and comfortable? “Just because you’re winning a game doesn’t mean it’s a good game.” – Seth Godin