A Somewhat Balanced View on School and Dropping Out

I dropped out of school during my sophomore year of college. I was a little bit scared to do it, but I followed through because I was certain that I didn’t want to get a normal job or do anything else that would make use of a degree. Dropping out was one of the best decisions I’ve made, and it pushed me towards the life that I really wanted to live.

However, just because dropping out was right for me doesn’t mean that it’s right for everyone, or for you. I think that the school system is trending towards obsolescence and is a far worse value proposition that it was in previous eras, but that doesn’t mean that it’s worthless or that it’s not the right choice for a lot of people. You might be surprised to find out that when people email me to ask if they should drop out, I tell many of them that I think they should stay in school.

When I talk about dropping out of school, by the way, I mean dropping out of college. Unless you are home schooled or have a very good plan for learning useful life and social skills, I think that at least completing high school is a good idea. I also think that taking some college is a good idea for many people. Going for a semester is a fairly small investment of time to figure out if it’s a good fit for you, and you can also completely disregard course guidelines and take interesting things like Chinese and scuba diving.

If you’re in high school or entering college, the most important thing you should realize is that you alone are responsible for your education and your life, and that you should use the next four years in the best way possible. Forget about labels like graduate and dropout, and focus on what is best going to prepare you for the life that you want to have.

This means that going to school is not enough. Showing up and getting a degree will not get you anywhere. Showing up and learning things, creating projects, and making connections WILL get you somewhere. You can also do these things outside of school, which is why in many cases I discount the importance of school. In the end your success will be due to your own efforts.

In some fields, like Law or Medicine, school is the only way you can make progress. If you want to be a doctor, not only should you go to school, but you should independently learn as much about medicine as you can. School will provide you with a lot of leverage in those fields. On the other hand, if you’re interested in building things with computers, school may actually be more of a hindrance than a boon. For many people, learning computer science on their own will be more efficient, more practical, and more comprehensive.

On the other hand, if you will not put in effort independently, it’s important to recognize this. The worst thing you can do is drop out and do nothing, so in that case it’s probably better to go to school. You will at least be pushed along at a minimum rate, which will be a better outcome than doing absolutely nothing.

The cost of school must be examined as well. School is the one thing besides medical care that no one dares put an upper limit on. If you’re able to get a full scholarship that covers room and board, you should probably go to school no matter what. Just take the classes that interest you, spend all of your time doing your own projects, and then drop out once your own projects start to take off. If you’re forced to actually take classes towards a major, just don’t show up and fail out. At least you’ll get an extra semester of time to work.

Remember that the point of being in school isn’t to have a stack of graded papers with your name on them, but to give you the biggest possible advantage for the rest of your life. Sometimes the way to accrue that advantage is to study hard and pass tests, but other times it’s to not show up to class and use your free time to create things with other people you meet at school. This is called thinking outside of the box– something that school doesn’t teach very well.

School is not a necessity, it’s not a shortcut, and it’s not a guarantee. It’s a tool. For some jobs/lives it’s the right tool, and for others it’s horribly wrong. Your goal as you approach that phase of life should be to pick the best tool for the job and wield it as well as you possibly can. Deciding whether to go to school, to graduate, or to drop out, is a personal decision that warrants a lot of thought regardless of your inclination. The reason I often come up against school is because there are very few counterpoints to the “school is for everyone” dogma. Dropping out was right for me. It might be right for you, or it might not be. Making that decision independently is probably a good step towards a successful adulthood.

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Photo is a cool staircase in the third temple on the Shikoku pilgrimage in Japan.

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