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Should You Drop Out of College?

This article was written by in Education. 11 comments.


College can be an expensive waste of time. Not everyone has the capability or will-power to make the most of higher education. That’s perfectly acceptable. If you look at specific cases, a bachelor’s degree is often not worth the time, effort, and money.

On average, college graduates earn more than those with nothing more than a high school diploma, and most of the time, college opens opportunities for earning back the investment. How do you know whether this generalization will apply to you? If your chosen career path involves a low-paying salary but requires a college degree, it could be many years before the cost of the degree is recovered by increased income, if ever.

People love hearing stories about famous — and rich — individuals who never earned their college degree. The typical examples include Bill Gates, who dropped out of Harvard to create Microsoft. Mark Zuckerberg also dropped out of Harvard following the success of Facebook. Lady Gaga left the Tisch School of the Arts to be a burlesque dancer, and soon after established an amazing music career.

These examples may give some hope to the underachiever, not performing well in college, or the confused high school student unsure whether he’s ready to take on more education. Some commentators go so far to say that the fact that superstars have gone on to become wildly successful without completing a degree is proof that anyone could, and should, do the same.

The thought is motivational in the “you can do anything you put your mind to” way, but it’s crazy. A select few can become wildly successful without a college degree, but that doesn’t mean a college degree is unnecessary. Nor is it necessary, but it opens doors that would not have been available otherwise. Although Mark Zuckerberg dropped out, he wouldn’t have had the same opportunities to create Facebook, although it’s difficult to argue a hypothetical situation.

Most of the time, opportunities come to these superstars (or they bring about the opportunities through their actions), changing their life path. This is not a typical situation and should not be motivation to ditch a college education. For a few talented kids, reading the stories of Bill Gates, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Harrison Ford — all drop-outs — might be the motivation they need to leave the books behind and realize their full potential without wasting more time earning a degree. But for most, the danger is it can instill a sense that there’s little value to education after high school.

Moderate success can be likely without a college degree, particularly for those who have an entrepreneurial spirit, even without billion-dollar ideas. And certainly not every college student is making the most of her time, seeking opportunities to develop. Society needs people to fill the roles that don’t require college degrees, so there’s no dishonor in not attending college, but someone who strives to reach his full potential in life should not drop out.

Be cool. Stay in school. Unless you are presented with a life-changing opportunity. But don’t count on it.

Published or updated November 4, 2010. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Luke Landes is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about Luke Landes and follow him on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar DonnaFreedman ♦90 (Newbie)

Those guys are definitely the exceptions. It’s like saying, “J.K. Rowling was on welfare when she wrote the first Harry Potter book, so I don’t need to look for work at all — I’ll just have a baby and go on public assistance,” or “LeBron James was a young teenager when pro teams were fighting over him, so I should develop my jump shot instead of doing my homework.”
I agree that not everyone is cut out for college. But how about trade school or at least a commercial driver’s license?
An old friend’s kid recently dropped out, less than halfway through the first semester. His parents agreed to let him live at home as long as he was working — but they also took him off their auto insurance plan, to give him a taste of what real-world bills can be like. (If you’ve ever been an 18-year-old male looking for car insurance, you’ll know what a wake-up call THAT was.)
Your first year or two on your own might feel euphoric, but pretty soon you’ll probably notice that people treat you differently if ALL you do is deliver pizzas or work retail: Your high-school friends who are in college are now in a different world, and people who don’t know you assume (unfairly) that you’re either not very smart or some kind of slacker. You’ll probably also notice that it’s hard to get ahead on that kind of salary.
Myself, I dropped out after one year for financial and personal reasons. I got my degree in December 2009, only 33 years after I started it. Not a route I’d suggest for others.

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avatar eric ♦1,549 (Half-Dollar)

Rather than telling every student to go to to college, I think it’s more important for them to analyze the costs and benefits of that chosen path. On the one hand, a degree typically entails better opportunities but if it comes at the expense of bone-crushing student loans, it probably isn’t a good idea anymore.

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avatar Briana @ GBR

I’m secretly battling this internally. I took a break from college because it was overwhelming, and now I’m working full time. I have the chance to continue, online within the next 2 weeks, but I’m really considering not finishing. I promised my family I would, and I definitely want to stay true to my word, but it’s hard. In my particular industry, yeah, a lot of positions require a BA, but the industry changes literally everyday, so not much of my education would be going towards my work. It’s more of a hands on profession. *sigh* I don’t know. Just something I have to keep thinking about.

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avatar Lisa

While I love hearing stories about the college dropouts who became rich, look at the colleges they were attending. They were not your typical community college, they were major universities. They obviously saw some value in education. I think having a college education is still valued, but if you have the drive and determination to create something you may want to forgo college to try it out while you’re still young. You could always go back to school at any time.

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avatar James

I would never advise anyone to drop out of college or university because for every success story there are probably lots of people stuck in a low-paid job going nowhere.

I think a lot depends on your strength of character. The people with the most drive and ambition will reach the top eventually regardless of whether they have a degree or not.

I myself finished university with a degree in Accounting and Finance from a top university in England but wasted 2 and a half years looking for a job. I eventually decided to start working for myself (with no money) and 10 years later I am now living a great lifestyle and have no money worries at all.

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avatar tigernicole86 ♦55 (Newbie)

I know some people who went to community college and because they found a business niche that really works for them, they’re living better than some people that I know who are going to medical school. They have less loans and are able to liquidate when needed.

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avatar faithfueledbennetts ♦264 (Nickel)

It is for sure different for everyone. I went through school hating every second of it but eventually completed my degree and do not do anything with it. I was ‘expected’ to go to school, I did not have the desire for that higher education. My husband on the other hand is just now going back to school in a specific field he really desires to work in and needs the training the degree will give him. All in all, do what makes you happy and try to do so with some wisdom.

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avatar kbburro ♦155 (Cent)

As you go through life you are always gaining more knowledge and experience. College is great place to start, but there are other options that should be given serious thought. Its important to remember that colleges are selling you a product. It may not be the best fit for you.

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avatar Cruxman ♦331 (Nickel)

This is true about colleges being a business. You have to like and have tried on the shoe first to make sure it fits.

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avatar Cruxman ♦331 (Nickel)

Be cool stay in school. What a true statement. I dropped out of school well get kicked out of school my freshman year. That was 13 years ago now I’m going to collage and rocking out! There isn’t any one going to stop me from getting a great job and if you do well watch out cuz I’ll run you over. This is my time to shine and shine I will!

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avatar Deepanshu

I am so confused now. I know 3 years back I had an option to choose either of commerce or science stream that would decide where I will head in life. I wanted to choose commerce desperately as I knew my destiny was entrepreneurship. But my parents forced me to take up science. Being small that time I couldn;t figure out what was right for me and what was not, so I agreed and I did ok enough in 2 years to land in the second best engineering college of my country. Althoug in first semester, I began to research much much more about avenues in entrepreneuship and slowly and gradually the more i researched the more I came to know that engineering was not my cup of tea :-( I had like gpa of 5 outta 10 in first semester and in second semester I haven’t attended univ for a single day. I can;t stand engineering. All the time I am reading and pursuing my passion, working sleepless nights. My parents think I m going to univ but all they don’t know that I bunk it :-( I will not be able to give exams this semester due to attendance. I wish there was a way I could tell my conservative parents that engineering is not for me. I don’t want to waste his hartd earned money :-( Plz tell me what to do ? I haven’t touched a book from last 4 months or so :roll:

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