College: To Go, or Not To Go [Updated]

As an entrepreneur, you have to make a lot of difficult decisions in your life. I’ve had to make many of those decisions for my business, but not until recently, have I had to make such a big decision that can affect my entire life — to go, or not go to college. Even Louis Gray, one of Teens in Tech Networks advisors, and a personal mentor, has written a whole blog post on this issue: The Great Debate: Is College the Right Path to Succeed?

Here’s my position. College is either the best four years of your live, or the four years of your life where you’ve wasted those four years, and wasted a lot of money. I don’t want to look back when I’m 30 and say that I wasted four years of my life in college, when I could have been working on my next startup, or working with an awesome startup. I simply don’t want to regret making such a decision like that.

On the other side, we have people telling me the some of their best friends, and partners for life where found at college. Also, that college is a great way to make connections. Seeing that I’m in Silicon Valley, and an active member of the tech scene, I don’t feel like making connections is something that college is going to teach me. Another reason. Entrepreneurship. My philosophy is that entrepreneurship can not be taught. It is something that you learn along the way of your business as you grow.

Please leave all your comments below — I really appreciate any comments and/or opinions.

Update: Thanks for all the comments and opinions. Looks like I’ll be going to college. More details to come. Follow me on Twitter to stay up to date.

84 thoughts on “College: To Go, or Not To Go [Updated]

  1. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Reed College in Portland, Oregon, but let me share the stories of two people who attended Reed – Steve Jobs, and me.

    Steve Jobs attended Reed for roughly one semester, and concluded that he was wasting his parents’ money by attending. He dropped out, had some other life experiences, and achieved a certain level of stratospheric success.

    I attended Reed for four years, got my bachelor’s degree, eventually got an MBA, but from a business perspective it’s pretty safe to say that I haven’t had the success that Steve Jobs has. I presently work in a 20,000+ person company and would probably be classified as middle management. I certainly don’t have the control over my business that Steve Jobs does.

    Yet I’ll argue that there are experiences that I’ve had that Steve Jobs will never have in his life. The chance to pursue multiple fields of study – not on your timeline, but on someone else’s, forcing you to get something done on schedule. (I don’t think anyone at Apple would tell Jobs to get the memo written by tomorrow, or else.) The chance to meet people that you never would have met otherwise. The chance to have a freedom that you will never have again.

    With all due respect to everything that you’ve already accomplished, I’d strongly recommend that you spend the time in college. If you skip this opportunity now, it will be nearly impossible to make it up later.

  2. Hey Daniel,

    I know exactly what you’ve been going through… I’ve dropped out of high school, I’ve dropped out of college, and I’ve contemplated this at least 4 times throughout my years in college.

    But here I am, still in college. And here I am, enjoying the incredible friends I’ve made, leveraging the knowledge I’ve gained, and happy that I decided to come back.

    A few things happened. When I dropped out of college (the first time), I thought about how pointless the degree was. I knew that I had a pretty good resume, and having that stupid piece of paper (a diploma) wouldn’t help me out in life. And I insist that my mentality is still correct. When anyone told me to just get the diploma, it made me closer to saying “fuck off, I don’t need college.”

    But one person single-handedly changed my mentality. A very successful entrepreneur called me 3 days before classes were to start up again. He dropped out of college before his senior year, and another very successful entrepreneur convinced him to go back. He passed on the information to me, and here I am passing it onto you:

    College has nothing to do with the degree, and everyone knows it. It comes down to making friends, building relationships, and most importantly, finding closure. As someone before mentioned, “If you never go, you’ll never know.” And that has plagued my mom for all of her life. If you go to college for just two weeks, you’ll probably fall in love with it, because it’s the complete opposite from high school. You get to choose your field of study. You get to choose your friends. You get to work on whatever you want to work on, and college will only aid that.

    If you went to college for only 6 months, those would be the most exciting 6 months of your life. And even if you ended up not liking college, I guarantee you that you’ll never regret having gone for that one semester.

    Feel free to call me to discuss this further if you’d like. 🙂

  3. A few things you should note is that (1) you will always have some way of improving yourself in some way, and you must do so, and that (2) nothing is forever, and it’s not that you learn the facts verbatim in college but that you learn how to look above and beyond them for the true meaning.

    You don’t need college to learn these things, and it can impede it at times.

    In argument for going, it’s a different experience than anything else, and one of the keys to a successful and happy life is experiencing as much as possible. The books aren’t necessarily holding secrets, you could just go to Amazon’s repository of knowledge.

    Your life won’t be permanently ruined either way. More importantly is that you aren’t limited to just focusing on school, meaning that you could still be entrepreneurial while also being scholastic. It even opens new direct markets to you.

    To summarize, I recommend you go and if you determine that it is not turning out to be a productive endeavor, quit. Don’t get short-sighted and fail to see if your efforts are worthwhile and meaningful.

  4. As a fifth-year senior in college, let me say that despite the cost and the hard work, I would go here again in a heartbeat. And let me put in a little plug for my school – Kettering University ( We have a required co-op program, which means you go to school for 11 weeks and work for 12-14 weeks. You can work wherever you want, and some students have been self-employed, I believe. The university would definitely be willing to work with you, as they promote entrepreneurship (though not as much as I think they could). Plus you’d be going to school with lots of brilliant people with great technical skills – people from all over the world, too. On top of that, many of us are looking for work, so you have your labor force built right in. So come, take business or CS. It’s not so much about the program, it’s about the learning experience of fast-paced classes and working while in college.

    By the way, Kettering in no way pays me to advertise for them. I am just that enthused about the co-op program here.

  5. Try it for at least a year, you’ll regret it forever if you don’t. College was crucial for me, though the *degree* itself was not. I’ve never actually picked it up from Berkeley (even though it has Schwarzenegger’s signature on it, haha).

    When I was 16 or 17, I was running a successful web hosting company. Some people told me to not waste time with college as this was during the height of the dot-com boom and lots of people were trying to cash in on the bubble. In hind-sight I’m glad I went to college. It’s not just for a piece of paper, I feel that’s worthless these days if you are as skilled as you are. That said, NOT having any formal college education will look pretty bad to many hiring managers and that may create an uphill battle in the first decade or so of your career – even in the tech world.

    To be perfectly honest I didn’t learn a lot of career specific information in my EE & CS courses. In fact, UC Berkeley EECS explicitly teaches you to how to think and learn about the technologies and to understand them rather than just teaching you languages and patterns. What I *did* learn was how to stick through hard courses and deal with impossible schedules. I learned how to juggle an ever changing slew of courses, labs, friends, girlfriends, and projects. I learned from my own failures and the failures of others. I never learned these skills in high school or at work.

    The connections I’ve made in college have been invaluable, and will be invaluable to you as well – especially since you are such a strong networker.

    Of course, I learned a lot about dating in college. Most people do. I agree with Jolie – that will be a huge opportunity there as well. It’s a lot easier to experiment and fail and learn in a college environment than it is in an professional work environment or in silicon valley which is full of rich, successful, intelligent, ambitious men and very few women.

    Finally, and most importantly, you’ll have 1 (or more) years away from home, among people your own age. Many will have different cultures and beliefs. Many professionals in the tech world probably treat you differently, but at college people will treat you as a peer. College is a place to really open up and be comfortable in (or out of) your own skin. Take risks, try new things, see what sort of people you really want to hang out with and be around – sometimes you’ll be surprised by the answers.

    Hopefully this whole thing doesn’t come across as corny. I spent most of my time in college desperately trying to keep my head above water – I was running a web hosting company, running a Mac shareware company, interning at Apple, and trying to not fail out of UC Berkeley EECS – I still think it was WELL worth it. It still would have been worth it if I dropped out.

    You may find most of what you learn a total waste, but it’s not just about a piece of paper or the sum of what you learn in the classes.

  6. It’s so damn important whom you’re study with.

    College time is extremely fruitful in building relations with people that don’t care about what you do (not much people actually do anything meaningful while in college), but about who you really are. Don’t loose this chance, you’ll never get it back.

    Going for college & entrepreneurship at the same time, would give you much better lesson, then choosing either of them alone. This might be challenging and you’d have to choose between both of those to give up on, but that’s what will teach you how to do the best thing later on in your life.

    I don’t you should have any doubts here. For such bright guy like you are money should be of no question at all.

    P.S. Take college, go for Stanford, graduate and rock. That should be your path. And don’t worry. Not much people really wasted this time. It was at minimum a lot of fun. 😉

  7. I always liked the saying – don’t find yourself, create yourself. College is an amazing experience. You have everything to gain going into college. As far as the details of college and majors – do one that you find unique to your *combined* interests and passions. I also encourage you to find one that will give you a challenge. Also, apply to many colleges that you are interested in to keep all of your options open. I really recommend getting the majors audit, sitting into classes, getting the syllabus and talking to students. I made the decision to do CS to think differently about solving problems and challenging myself. It has applied to so many areas outside of coding. I am minoring in Digital Media (there are many great programs and courses focused towards the latest web technologies, media and culture, design, etc.) that also really benefited my Google internship specifically. Next time we catchup on university – feel free to let me know if you have any more questions, happy to help. 🙂

  8. That’s what I did, and it worked for me. Just don’t get caught up in the “You’re making a huge mistake!” stuff that people will say. Some people take it personally if you drop out of college.


  9. Hi Valerie,

    Anecdotes tend to be meaningless in this. I would never have been able to sell a business for over $1 million at age 26 had I completed college. It wouldn’t have been possible. I worked my butt off.

    I wouldn’t say Daniel shouldn’t go, though. Go for a year. I knew in my first year that I’d drop out. Actually, I knew in high school I’d never complete college, and when a college professor recommended I drop out in my first year and “seek my fortune” (this was 1999, in Silicon Valley), I took his advice.

    I have no regrets. I actually rather enjoy being a college dropout 🙂 But then again, I never responded well to authority, and neither college nor jobs were the right fit for me.


  10. “If you went to college for only 6 months, those would be the most exciting 6 months of your life.”


    I must be more weird than I thought! College was boring for me compared to running a startup.


  11. Go to college.

    As someone said above, you are already exceptional. So do the math: what’s the ratio of great companies that are built by people who didn’t go to college *at all* vs. those who went (for the whole stint or at least a year or two)?

    Now, the point about not finishing is completely valid (because the ratio of great companies started by people who dropped out in the process is markedly different).

    The best entrepreneurs combine street smarts with book smarts. You should too. What you should study in college is something that will train your mind. It’s not what you learn in terms of subject matter, it’s what you learn in terms of mental model and analytical technique that is most valuable. This is something often learned more quickly in an intense, focussed, learning environment than it is learned in the real world, which never stays on point long enough to really explore and understand technique. You learn the tools in college. You learn to apply them in the real world. In your case, you might be able to do both in parallel.

    All in all, this probably doesn’t even sum up to two cents worth.

  12. I agree with Christian. I am also college freshman. college has an environment where we can learn lots of things regarding to our studies and more different things which can help us during our entire life. So, I think study in college would be a lot better rather than not going to college.

    Am I right Christian ?


  13. This, for what its worth, is the only thing I regret about not going to school.

    If you decide to leave school early, you may want to start developing and interest in fashion, advertising, art or a similar field dominated by the fairer gender.

  14. I can assure you that college is worth it. Even if it’s for a worthless piece of paper. Also, there are many people you meet in college, that are going into the same field you are that will eventually become your contacts later in life. And if none of that is appealing, I’ll take a class with you, and we can shoot spit wads at the teacher 😛

  15. As a recent college graduate who is, in fact, unemployed. I can tell you that you have to go to college. Why would I say that? Because it’s not just the degree that is invaluable, it is the overall experience. The people that you meet, the connections you make, the parties you attend, the clubs you join, the professors that you learn from, the independence – it is all interconnected.

    Go. Learn. Live.

    Just my two cents.

  16. I took five years to get through college. If you’re an entrepreneur, the only degrees that you’ll be concerned about in your career are the ones hanging on the walls of your employees’ offices. I am an entrepreneur and operate a successful creative firm. I’ve never once had a job where anyone asked about my degree largely because, for the most part, I have been self employed for the last 15 years or so. If I had taken that five years, I would be five years ahead of where I am today. College is great for some people – and I recommend that you interview some of them in the future but don’t go. You’ll regret it. Like Molly, you might have a lot of free time to reflect on how great college was and ‘interconnected’ your unemployment is to the rest of your experience.

  17. Hi

    i encountered your name on a dutch media, news and gossip site. It mentioned your entrepreneurial succes as a teen, with a coupled salary some ppl would say WTF too 😉

    You are probably already attending college, but i would like to make this general comment to any reader that ends up surfing through this article. Any reader/entrepeneur thats doubting whether to attend college, gather degrees or work full time.

    Above posted comments generally lean to attending college. Id have to disagree. Not that i would advice anyone not to go to college, but it is definetaly not the only way to meet ppl, women, have fun and/or be the womanizer that ive been in my life. But thats what not im aiming at.

    What im aiming at is passion.

    If you feel passionate about whatever it is your doing, go for it. Whether it is getting a honours degree, building your own company, attending harvard, playing the violin, or cheerleading for a queer basketball team. Passion is the only real thriver (is that an english word 😉 for real succes.

    None of the above comments has touched this. Keep that in mind when going through life. Whether spritually, intellectually, or socially. Passion is the real secret to happiness. People i know that look the youngest, feel the youngest but are the poorest have that one thing in common. And it has shit to do with whether they attending someting or not.

  18. Daniel,

    To go, or not to go! I struggled with the same exact decision. As a junior at the top Information Studies school in the U.S., I was very wary to stop taking classes. But I was launching my own business, ranking in business plan competitions and growing my team. It reached a point where I had to decide: in the long-term view of my life, what is the best move? Build a startup full-time while the window of opportunity is open, or go enroll in the system again and finish up my formal education.

    The connections and real-life education I got from running a business forced me to grow up quicker than my peers and learn more than any lecture could teach. I *always* have the option of going back to school. I made the right choice (the startup route) and I’m now happily leading strategic vision for, and helping change the way people market themselves online.

    – Pete Kistler

  19. Go. You will meet people in college who you would never meet otherwise. People who change your life, your thinking, your worldview.

    Go. It is the last chance you will ever have to spend time with a lot of smart people your own age. Everyone goes to the winds later.

    Go. Few ever go later. The more commitments, possessions in life the more difficult it becomes to go back. If you go later, you will already have missed out on the experience of growing with your peer group.

    Go. Let your debate be whether or not to go to grad school.

    Go, learn the art of learning, become one of the deep thinkers in your field, find your friends, find your best self.

    Go. You are so much more than what you have done so far.

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