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Dear Mom, I’m Dropping Out
I’m dropping out. I know this is a shock—just last semester I was planning on completing four years of school despite being able to graduate in two and a half. However, I hope you can set aside the rising feeling in your chest of resistance against “the plan” and hear me out.
What changed? Two years ago and a 10 minute walk away from where I am now, I had just moved into La Citadelle, the hotel-turned-McGill-dorm I was assigned. To say I was terrified would be an understatement; luckily the draft from the silent central AC wicked away my sweat. Having finished my last year in high school on a high note (where I felt for the first time I was getting the “high school experience”), I was ready to tackle college but unsure of what to expect aside from crushing beer cans against my head.
I never stopped to think about why I was actually going to college, but surely it couldn’t have been that bad of a decision; 99% of my class was matriculating with me. Now I know we were all going for roughly the same three reasons: the education, the social environment, and the credentials that would secure us good careers.
My first year, I tried to strike a balance of education and socialization, but being the type A personality that I am, I picked work over play for most decisions that came my way. Covid only exacerbated this; my second year I took the quarantines and closures as an excellent opportunity to overwork myself by taking seven classes a semester, justified by the productivity boost my sick new dual monitor setup would give me.
As I submitted my last assignment for the semester—a 20 page technical paper on approximation algorithms that I crammed in 3 days during finals week—the wave of relief solidified what I already knew: classes gave me no free time to pursue my passions, think, or breathe. And so I concocted my plan for the next two years: use the extra credits I gained from the past year to coast through the next two, take the least amount of classes possible to focus more on the college socialization experience and do what I wanted to do.
Then I went to California. My friends Cole and Jerry decided on a whim that they should fill a six person house in Palo Alto with 12 friends of friends of friends. Skeptical of their organizational skills, I decided to hedge my bets by staying in New York for a bit while the California house figured out how to avoid a Lord of the Flies situation.
About a month in, it was clear the arrangement was livable, and some straw-that-broke-the-camel’s-back argument with my parents caused me to book a flight to SFO the same weekend. I overpacked, got charged $100 for a bag that was 1lb overweight, took a 20 minute $126 taxi ride (the taxi was right there and I was too scared to order an uber for fear of running around the airport, unable to find the pickup zone—sue me), and unloaded my bags in front of five people sitting in plastic chairs around a beer pong quality table, hacking away on their thinkpads running i3 with rounded corners in the open garage of 924 Colorado Ave.
I made myself at home in the room above said garage (it would be a few days before I realized that the shrieking sound that would wake me up in the middle of the night was people opening the garage door to take out the laundry that they inevitably forgot in the dryer) and introduced myself to my fellow Gamma School-ers. Gamma School was the affectionate name we had given our co-living arrangement—some combination of the Lambda School coding bootcamp and a similar group home run the previous year called School 2.0.
The next two months would be best described as a speedrun of the college social experience: networking, parties, regretting not having a fake ID to get into better parties, week-long hackathons, downloading twitter (c’mon, I was in SF), but most importantly meeting like minded people. People who wanted to make a change in the world, and crucially were actually working towards that goal by building startups to solve problems they saw.
I felt at home with these people; I enjoyed learning about their unique paths through life and they enjoyed the fresh meat to which they could shill their worldviews: crypto will replace fiat, the education system will be overthrown, Huel will eventually substitute all food (okay maybe that one was me shilling).
With my socialization meter full, the seeds of college skepticism were sown. If I could be immersed in this community while building out solutions to real problems, learning the ins and outs of running a startup and using industry standard tools, what would be the use of credentials issued by a university thousands of miles away that still taught PHP for web development? Would success in the far more complex task of building startups from the ground up not be credential enough?
To elaborate on the nitty gritty reasoning, I feel that all a degree will give me is the ability to select “bachelors” for “highest level of education completed” instead of “high school” on an online job application, and if I’m applying through an online form I feel like I’m doing something wrong anyway. The resume benefits are still there—I can still write “Education: McGill University, Honours Computer Science, 2019-2021, GPA: 3.95, Courses: Distributed Systems…” Furthermore I’ve already secured a full-time return offer from Facebook, and the significance of education after your first full time role significantly decreases. With education, socialization, and credentials achieved outside of college, I struggle to see a reason to remain.
Of course I understand that dropping out is nonetheless a risk, but if you want outsized returns, you will have to take outsized risks. To properly assess the risk I should make my plans for the foreseeable future explicit. I will put my 12 page google doc of ideas to use—my main objective is to work through as many as possible until I hit product-market fit, or, in layman’s terms, one of them takes off. You say that credentials hedge against this risky path, and I agree. However, this hedge isn’t free; finishing college will come at the cost of tens of thousands of dollars. With a Facebook offer in hand, is passing some automatic screening really worth that money?
I also do wish to continue my education, only with classes that are actually relevant and applicable. These include Write of Passage, Teach Yourself Crypto, Learn UI/UX Design, and Scalability & Systems Design. This will of course be on top of the real world experience of building startups from scratch.
I realize that I’m in the final stretch of college now, but I just can’t bear to waste another second bogged down by things my brain screams are irrelevant when I think (dare I say know) I can replicate everything college can give and hopefully more.
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This essay isn’t intended to be the definitive argument to convince my parents as to why I should drop out; rather, it’s meant to start a dialogue where together we figure out what’s best for me and reach a conclusion where all parties are happy.
This essay oversimplifies certain aspects of the process; in reality there are a lot of alternative paths to purely dropping out (e.g. gap years, leave of absences, lightened course load) and anyone thinking of dropping out should consider all of their options carefully.
The decision to drop out is also highly dependent on circumstance. For example, if I didn’t have the return offer from Facebook I would be much more likely to finish school.
Finally, I don’t want to knock on college too much. At the very least, I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the people I met and the opportunities I was exposed to. However, I think that there’s no reason college should incentivize you to stay for longer than necessary (via a degree) once you’re ready to leave.