Drop Out and Grow Rich

In our culture going to school is given a lot of respect. Dropouts face a sharp negative stigma. They’re quitters. They’re losers. They’ll go nowhere in life. But is this really true? How big of a factor is college on success?

Here’s a list of some of the dropouts that I personally admire :

Bill Gates
Steve Jobs
Paul Allen
Richard Branson
Larry Ellison (Oracle)
Dave Thomas
Ted Turner
Henry Ford
Almost 1 in 5 of the US Presidents including Lincoln, Washington, Jackson, and Cleveland
Albert Einstein
Walt Disney
John D. Rockafeller
Mark Twain
Charles Dickens
Thomas Edison
Benjamin Franklin
Ray Kroc (billionaire founder of McDonalds)
Claude Monet

Every one of those people dropped out of school before graduating college. They account for 4 out of 5 of the richest people in the US.

What does college really get you anyway? For one, it’s a lot of fun. I basically considered it to be like summer camp. I got to live close to a lot of cool people with few obligations (other than class, which interfered occasionally). It’s also a sheep herding school. It teaches people to be obedient and subservient – deadlines are the biggest priority.

There are two distinctions I want to make. First is that there are some professions where college is not only helpful, but is necessary. You can’t become a doctor, a lawyer, or an investment banker without schooling. So if your passion is for one of those professions, I’m not suggesting you drop out.

The other distinction I need to make is that “College” is not equal to “Learning”. It can be, but isn’t by necessity. You’d be hard pressed to find a successful individual who isn’t obsessed with learning. Knowledge IS power, but school isn’t the best vehicle for that knowledge.

Well, going to school can’t hurt, right?

WRONG.

Entrepreneurs are harmed by going to school. It conforms views and does not at all reward individuality or thinking outside of the box – two essential traits for entrepreneurs.

People generally go to school from ages 18-22, or even longer. These are PRIME years. When you’re young you have the luxury of taking risks. You have few responsibilities, so if you go bust you can start over easily enough. Once you grow older and have a spouse and children, you may not have that luxury. College steals some of our most valuable years.

College-mongers just LOVE the statistics, don’t they? So do I.

According to the college-mongers, an average person with a Bachelor’s degree will earn 900k more in a lifetime than someone who never attended high school. First of all, I believe this is faulty logic because it’s considering all the people who couldn’t possibly get into school (most likely because they don’t have a high level of capability). This article is intended for those who have the choice. But… let’s go with it anyway, since it’s the closest statistic I can find.

I did the math on what a college education REALLY costs.

Here were my assumptions :

  • According to the College Board, tution prices for 2005-2006 are:

    Private School – $21,235 (rising at a rate of 5.9% annually)
    Public School – $5,491 (rising at a rate of 7.1% annually)

  • According to historic prices, the average return on stock investments were 11% annually

I was curious to see what would happen if the enterprising 18 year old decided to invest his money rather than spend it on college. Would he be able to close the 900k lifetime gap?

I made an excel spreadsheet and plotted it out to retirement age of 64.

The individual considering private school made up the 900k difference by the age of 41. If he waited until he was 64, his tuition would have turned into 10.7mil. For you college-monger stat people, that’s almost 12 times the earnings gap. Notably, he’d be able to live pretty nicely off his nearly $1.2mil in interest he’d earn yearly.

What about the public school hopeful? Surely he couldn’t make up almost a million dollars in less wages, could he? Of course.

He could reach 900k and retire ten years early at 54 and enjoy the average 108k in yearly interest for the rest of his life. If he waited until 64, his tuition money would have turned into over 2.8million, leaving him with 300k in yearly interest to scrape by on.

Then I took it a step further – Would a college goer EVER have more money saved than someone who didn’t go?

  • The average college graduate earns $45,400 their first year out of college.
  • The average high school graduate earns only $25,900 their first year out of high school.

To be more than fair I assumed two things. First, that the high school graduate spends 100% of his income on living expenses. Second, that the college graduate spends exactly as much as the high school graduate. In reality it would be a lot more, but I wanted to simulate them each having an equal standard of living.

I increased both salaries by 3% per year to account for inflation.

So what happened? The high school graduate who saved private school level money ALWAYS had more money than the college graduate, by at least $220k. The college graduate saved less than 1.3mil by retirement, only 12% of the high school grad.

The college graduate fared better against the high school graduate who only saved public school level tuition. By age 32, college graduate had reached the amount saved by the high school graduate. However, by age 50, the high school graduate was back in the lead and remained there. At retirement age he had more than twice what the college graduate had.

What does this all mean? It means that you need to THINK FOR YOURSELF (or follow my flow chart and let me do it for you), rather than assuming college is the right move. Personally, dropping out of college was the best move I ever made. My friend Phil has a successful business and a very happy life. My friend Elisia runs KittyRadio among other businesses, and is very happy and successful.

Unless going to college is going to teach you specific skills that you will need to follow out your passion in life, it is very likely that not going is a better option.

The spreadsheet I created for this article

Published

33 comments

  1. Interesting analysis, although I don’t think it fairly takes into account what the real situation would be for someone deciding between high school and college. I would guess the vast majority of people don’t just have $90,000+ lying around to use for college. They would have to take out the money in (probably government subsidized) loans (or work while they’re in college, although it makes the calculations easier if you assume it’s all loan money), so you’d have to account for paying back the loans. Similarly, for the “high school dropout” case they also wouldn’t have an equivalent $90K+ sitting around to invest in the stock market. I’m not sure really sure how to handle that case though since you can’t just borrow money to invest in the stock market. Although your analysis is enlightening, I just don’t think it corresponds to the real situation most people would be in. I’m open to ideas though for how to take that into account. 🙂

  2. Awesome analysis, I love having stats like this to back myself up when people think I’m nuts for saying shit like college is worthless. Even tho I didn’t pay for college, it was the biggest waste of time ever, and all I learned were a few things for trivial pursuit. Now that I do the hiring, I don’t even look at the college part of anybody’s resume, they may as well tell me they can recite the alphabet backwards.

  3. I agree with Jason in that the problem is either the college grad or HS drop-out finding this extra cashflow to invest. I suggest robbing banks or selling sperm (that is because I like dangerous situations and touching myself) to raise extra cash. You could also get more than one job…or even a job, but that is no fun.

    I think a more appropriate thing would be to go to college, take out every single loan you could get your hands on (especially the gov subsidized, b/c that generally has lower interest rates) and invest a vast majority of that loan money into stocks.

    If you do your research upfront, the money you invest should yeild more return than the interest the loan itself accrues.

    Plus, while you are in college, the loans don’t accrue interest (generally). So, for the 6…I mean 4 years you are in college, all that invested loan money is EARNING money instead of costing you money. Sure you may have to live on steam and stolen ketchup packets from McD’s…but being young is an adventure!!!

    Those are my thoughts…but interest thought experiment, even though the underlying logic is weak. I agree with the philosophy that college isn’t for everyone and is not needed to be successful. Success depends on the aptitude and drive of the individual.

  4. To compare yourself to Bill Gates, Claude Monet, and Albert Einstein inter alios is preposterous. If you were that intelligent or that talented your gift would have been discovered a long time ago and you would have been sent to a school for gifted children… Oh wait, you would have dropped out of gifted school, but nevermind, Einstein himself was not regarded as a genius back when he was a child (so at least there’s some hope for you). Speaking of Einstein, last time I checked he had a PhD in Physics and a PhD in Mathematics, which I believed he obtained from an university, not the school of hardknocks.

    The most important thing to remember is that for every kid who drops out of college, starts his own company, and becomes a multibillionare, there are millions more who have to settle with low level blue collar jobs, like mixing concrete or flipping burgers at McDonalds. Sure, some are very succesful, but someone also wins the lottery every week.

    “Once you grow older and have a spouse and children, you may not have that luxury. So college steals some of our most valuable years.” Noone needs to marry and have children.

    “You’d be hard pressed to find a successful individual who isn’t obsessed with learning.” A valid argument. If you have a passion for something, and have a sense of direction life, college might just be a waste of time. But you will also need an entrepeneurial spirit, and the right personality. Losers with a passion for learning are a dime dozen just like recent college grads are.

    I’m glad I went to college b/c at least now I don’t have to make excuses for why I didn’t college, like you.

  5. I need some advice!I’m in my first semester of college, and I’m not doing so well, not because of too much partying, actually i never go out during the week at all, but basically because i have no ambition or interest in continuing school. My dad is self-employed, and I’ve worked with him for the past three summers. I have absolutley no idea what proffession I would like to practice, but I sure as hell don’t feel like waking up at 6:00 every morning to go sit in some cubicle all day for nine hours. So I figure I might as well go work with my dad and eventually take over his company. I mean hell, he only works six hours a day and does’nt wake up until about nine(sometimes even later). Not only could I do the same thing, but I would also not have to listen to some other asshole boss me around all day. So the question is should I “drop out”(I would rather say no longer attend) of college? I’ve been seriously contemplating this since oh lets say the second week of school when I realized that college(not college life) really sucks. I mean its not like i would be missing out on anything. I would still be living in the same place(since where I live is only about a half hour from where my dad works and I could commute) and doing the same things on weekends, but I would’nt have to worry about studying and all that bullshit. And of course another benefit is that I would be making money now! Also, my dad makes an average of about $200,000 or more a year so I’d say that’s not so bad eh? The only thing is I haven’t told my parents about this yet, and I don’t know how they’re going to take it, hopefully they understang. I mean it sound like common sense to me! So once again, should I quit? I know it’s all up to me in the end, but tell me what you think about this situation.

  6. Since your dad seems to be an outside-the-box kind of guy already, with his business and lifestyle and all, I’m sure he’ll be more open to your idea than most parents.

  7. I want to chime in on this.

    I always, well not always, but since I was 15, wanted to start my own company. That was my dream. I would literarly go and read books on famous business owners as a hobby in high school. It was my dream.

    SO, when I got a full paid ride to a state University guess what I did… I turned it down.

    Got kicked out of the house becuase of it, got laughed at, my GF at the time dumped me, but I had a dream.

    Long story short, by the time I was 21 I had started and ran a successful computer company that made over 1 million a year in revenue.

    By the time I was 22 I sold it, at least my share of it (I had a business partner) and I am basiclly retired. I am 23 years old.

    Am I a millionare? Yes. Am I loaded beyond my wildest dreams, no. I still have streams of revenue coming in, because I bought real estate and did some other smart things with my money. I actually make more money per year now then I did when I had my company. But I don’t technically work.

    What am I getting at? A person is as strong as his dream. To this day I always strive to learn something new. I love to learn. I learn by doing.

    I have a best friend, who is pretty smart as well. We were both in all AP classes in HS, he actually had a tad bit higher GPA than I did. He took the full ride and right now he is working for a healthcare service, answering the phones, making 29 grand a year and he left college with a business admin degree and with a 3.5 GPA.

    I would get in sales before I went to college. Another good friend of mine is 3 months younger than me and runs, literarly runs a Nissan store, becuase he got in the business when he was 18 right out of high school. Makes about 180k a year.

    Anyway, I’m done

  8. For all the people that are trying to make a choice…

    1. Do you want to quit college just because you don’t like it, or because you have a plan to do something else?
    2. Is your plan bullshit or have you actually floated it with some experienced people and done some investigation on what it would require?
    3. Does your plan require or benefit from the college experience? 4. If you are not disciplined enough for college are you disciplined enough to carry out your plan?

  9. Very nice article you wrote there. After reading this it has made me realize that I rushed into college. My first semester has ended and I didn’t do so well. There’s a reason for that. I literally STOPPED going to my classes. I had no desire what so ever to continue with all the bull shit. So now here I am registering for new classes. I guess the only reason why I went into college was to make my father happy. Now I don’t see that college is necessary to be successful in life. It’s wasting my fucking time. (Pardon my French.) So I’m going to go through with this second semester and see what happens. Or maybe I should just quit while I’m at it. My father keeps telling me things like “You’re very intelligent and you have a lot of potential.” And what not. As of now I don’t know what to with my life. Either continue being a slave or freeing myself. Well I hope someone responds to this. Happy New Year to everyone. (Even if it is a tad late.)

  10. Uh, I don’t think the analysis is quite true, if it is for you to back up your own confidence in dropping out of college. And even more, life’s not about making money. It’s your preparation. Do you know your purpose of your life? I suggest you read The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren, or Your Best Life Now by Joel Osteen.

  11. I agree with Iou, or whatever his name is. But another thing I want to point out for those who can’t make decisions for their future, is, if you have a plan, there is some way it can fail. Actually, I even tried it myself. I guess you need to make good decisions. Is your heart beating really fast? Do you have an unrest in your stomach?

    And, I want to point this out: you never know what will happen tomorrow. Stick with it today, or try something new today. Religion, or your lifestyle connects with this theory. If your Christian ( like me ) you never know what will happen, and you need to be sure if you will go to Heaven if you die, or something else. Always be prepared.

    And even more for those in college like me, you should be thankful that you are at least in college. There are many people who wish do be like you; those in North Korea, Africa, everywhere!

    I’m not saying this because my grades are good, they’re pretty …hmm…regular, but because if you fail once, it’s not the end of the world.

    Look at your life on the bright side. I focus on the good things in my life; I’m so joyful of living in God’s mercy, grace, and love. And help others. Good luck, guys!

  12. I’m in college now and this shit sucks…I have no desire to be here. I have other plans so until those plans fall into action, I’m stuck with this life…

  13. Thanks Tynan. That is the best advice anyone has given me. This year I did just that. I thought I’d give University a chance, and I did (for one term), and it turned out to be as boring as hell. I’ve decided to take up real estate and start a business once I have enough experience in the real world. Ironically I’ve started to read a LOT about EVERYTHING(business, philosophy, science, seduction, etc) , even though I’m not in school. I’ll probably go back and do a few courses I like (eg: film, psychology, or anything artsy), but I’m don’t really have my heart set on a degree. And I don’t think I really need a piece of paper to tell me how much I know.

  14. Sometimes, in certain cases, when your young you don’t know what you want to do in life. I had to wait till I was 40 years old to finally find out what I want to do in life. I plan on going back to college to finish up my degree in journalism. You may want to get an AA in liberal arts. Then live your life, and when your ready go back to college to do what your passionate about. You can’t do anything of excellence if your not passionate about what your doing. I love to write. I am passionate about my work. I have interviewed many Grammy-Award winning and Grammy-nominated artists signed to major record lables with just a high school diploma. I plan on going back to college because I want to enrich my natural ability to write. It took me many years to realize writing is my gift. You may have no idea what your gift is. When your ready go back. I can’t wait to go back.

    My husband went to college for four years, but couldn’t find a good paying job with his degree. However, he loved to work out and would spend many hrs. a day at the gym. I finally told him to quit trying to look for jobs where his degree was applicable. Look for a job that your passionate at. His passion was exercise. He got a job as a personal trainer, and then he became certified by ACE. He makes more money as a personal trainer than many people I know who have a college degree. It’s your passion that will take you places. It’s still good to have a college education, but it should be an education you have a passion for. If you not passionate about what you do, your chances of being successful at what you do are very slim.

  15. Thank you so much to the both of you. You both gave me a lot to think about, and here I am two weeks later. For a while I’ve had those Anthony Robbins “Get the Edge” tapes on my laptop, but I finally got around to listening to them properly(paying attention and TAKING NOTES). Today I finished Day 7 and feel GREAT! I’m definitely doing the “Hour of Power” and the other dozen things he suggested. I was wondering if anyone out there knew of any other good speakers/mentors, books, movies, and you name it self improvement material? I may be out of school, but I think I may be learning a lot more out of it…ironic…anyways, everyone have an AWESOME week!

  16. “It took me many years to realize writing is my gift. You may have no idea what your gift is. When your ready go back. I can’t wait to go back.”

    “If you not passionate about what you do, your chances of being successful at what you do are very slim.”

    LOL…
    For some reason, I’m not sure how much I value your advice…

  17. According to the census bureau, those who finish college verse those that dont only earn three thousand more a year. only 23% of people who go graduate, and of those only 20% actually needed the degree for the field they are currently working in. And the average college student doesnt get out of there college debt until they are 40. How about that for a society that is 849 billion in debt. And we can’t figure out why. And we push it on our kids, way to go parents!!!

  18. This argument was weak at best and would rarely work in the real world.

    First, not many people have 85K sitting around to invest at 18. No banks would lend it to them either considering they don’t have well established credit or property to secure the loan.

    Second, what would MOST high school graduates be doing all those years from 18 until retirement. Probably working some mundane job not to dissimilar from the college grad.

    Third, your high school graduate will be far less likely to receive benefits such as health care, 401K, etc. than the college grad.

    The millions of college grads that float through school with no idea of what’s going on in the real world would likely face the same results if they got a job out of high school…basically working for someone else for a low to average wage.

    For the small percentage of natural entrepreuners, visionaries, or whatever you may want to call them I have to agree. They are more likely to make it big striking out on their own rather than going to college. However, I’m sure there are plenty of very successful grads.

    I’m sure there are also a number of people dumbed down by college and would have been better not going, but all in all, there are more people who wish they would have gone to school than those who wished they hadn’t.

    Most importantly, if you’re someone “special” or “destined” and deciding between college or working out of school, why make a choice. DO BOTH. See what it’s like. If you’re gonna make it big, you’re probably gonna have to work hard, make sacrifices, etc. What better way to test your determination than doing both and seeing what you like better…that way you still have a safety net in college if you need it.

  19. hmmm… something to think about. but i don’t know how many people (i’m 18) have talked to me about college, and what a mind-blowingly awesome time it was for them, struggling to keep up but loving it at the same time. i think if you know what you want, and college would help, it should be considered.

  20. I came across your site while I was looking for work and yes, I do feel that college as a whole is not as useful as you’d like to beleive. Mind you now, education isn’t bad so long as it is pertinent and legitimate. What bothers me is that college has been taken from an institution of learning and understanding and has been deevolved into a commodity. We send hundreds of thousands of recent high school graduates each year to college, lock them up like sardines in questionable living standards, draw anywhere from $6000 – $25000 per year from each of them, and for those who actually graduate, flood the workforce with increasingly worthless degrees. If we are sending more and more of the jobs requiring college degrees out of the USA, why on earth are we trying to send more and more people to college? There are over 250000 engineers out of work in this country as we speak, some who haven’t worked in thier field since 2000. If we are only creating 30000 engineering jobs per year nationally, why are we churning out ten times as many graduates in engineering? Considering that many of the other fields are in just as bad or worse condition, is this a viable solution to the rapid inflation of prices in the USA? This is probably why so many are going to college; wages have been stagnant in the USA for about a quarter century. Instead of making the appropriate sacrifices and addressing the problem head on, we turn the whole country into a giant casino! It’s just like dieting; you have to make some sacrifices to lose the weight, and it won’t happen if you make Burger King and KFC your buddies every other day. Hell I’m only 25 and if I could figure this out, I don’t know why the older crowd can’t put two and two together since they’re partially responsable for the mess our country’s in.

  21. Though I agree with the assertion that everyone should assess whether attending college is appropriate for them, you made some significant assumptions.
    First of all, I will be going off to college next year, and the expected cost for a year is 47k, significantly above your estimations. Using that, I could be very wealthy by the time I hit 64. But I don’t have that money, of the 47k a year, they’re giving me 40k. With tution running at just under 30k, the money I earned through scholarships is paying for 10k in living expenses.
    Additionally, the college I’ll be attending has an undergraduate population of ~900 – no exactly a herd animal breeding ground. Also, it is generally known for fostering outside-the-box thinking. Finally, I plan on learning a lot, not just from the university, but from the people I will be surrounded by.
    I understand your point, and agree with the underlying theme that everyone should think for themselves, but your post is riddled with faulty arguments.
    Your post has clearly changed the way some people think, which I commend, but are they thinking for themselves or just changing the crowd they follow?
    Any chance you will discuss some other attributes these billionaires have in common? Perhaps that will clarify the point.

  22. My bad, I didn’t see the follow up.
    Could we still get the blog on the common attributes of these billionaires, I’d love to read your take on it.

  23. This sounds all fine and dandy. However not everyone that choses not to go to college will be more successful than a college graduate. Out of all of the people that I went to high school with, none of the folks that didn’t go to college are even doing shit with their lives, so i find it really hard to believe that they are automatically going to make alot of money. I think your argument is valid but also blind to harsh reality. Just because you are a successful college dropout doesn’t mean that everyone that reads this will be.

    Also, I’m graduating this May and will making significantly more than my non-degree holding high school classmates. and i know where most of them work, they are either “street pharmacists” or they work at some restaurant with shitty hours and shitty pay. i’m def. not jealous.

  24. i call bullshit. investing vs saving. what if the ~20k/year more the college graduate earns gets the same interest as the money the ‘drop out’ invested? it would be a very different story

    SHENANIGANS

  25. Hey, I’m just 14 but I’m soon dropping out, in my country I can drop out after 10th grade first school. And right now I’m in 9th grade first school and I’m 14, so I’m probably going to drop out at 15 years old – 16 years old. Or I might be in school a little longer but I’m an entrepreneur soon to come out of hideout, I’m soon a millionaire. When I need to know something, or learn it, I’ll teach myself it or look it up or ask someone.
    School is what gets you ready for a job, but what if you can get a better job than a school can help you get?
    Well that is where I am, I’m an entrepreneur and I’m not continuing school.

    And what if you can get into just the right perfect school that teaches you only the stuff that you need to get you rich with your job? Well that’s where I am, I’m just teaching myself the things I need to become a millionaire, and by the time I’m 16, I’ll be as rich as hell. I’m already getting 1k paychecks spitted at me from everywhere.

  26. Seriously??? Did you quit your school because you can’t even think correctly. For every Bill Gates or Steve Jobs, there are thousands of dropouts whose life become worse because they take a risky path. This is like saying: ” look at this list of lottery winners, they only spent 1 $ and they become millionaires, so you should also buy the lottery ticket” . Bad idea!

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