Is College Necessary?: An Argument from the Inside Out

TL;DR - There’s no correct choice as to whether you should go to college or not. It depends on you and sort of depends on where you want to go to school. Pick an avenue and make it great.

There has been a lot of talk recently about the practicality of higher education. Student loan debt is reaching the $1 trillion mark and universities keep hiking tuition higher and higher, year after year. Do you or your kids need to go to college? 

With one more semester to go, I figured that I should weight in on this discussion, since I’m in an interesting situation as it pertains to this debate.

Background

I’m incredibly close to graduating yet I have no desire to stay in school. I’ve devoted my time outside of classes to answering my own questions about life, business, building a company, creating great products, visual design, user experience and much, much more. I’m straddling both sides of the argument about the benefits of college. 

Some of you may be thinking, “Zack, you’re a 21-year-old guy; you’re an adult, the decision is in your hands.

The answer to your potentially hypothetical statement is that I’m staying in school mostly for my parents, and how hard they’ve worked to allow me to go to college. I’m also staying in because many of my mentors, whom I highly respect, have told me to stick it out. Truth is, I’m getting by in class, nothing more, while maximizing my time outside of the University of Colorado to pursue my own endeavors.

Life Outside of College

Last Friday I completed a six month internship with Next Big Sound, a former TechStars company. During that six months, I got tremendous amounts out of my internship, because I truly wanted to. I asked to sit in on meetings just to observe and learn. I built my own mini-projects and consulted the NBS team when I needed help or had questions. I made mistakes. And learned a ton.

Talking to Sam Pucci, an engineer at NBS, he told me about the five years he spent at Brown University getting a dual BS/MS in Computer Science. Sam told me that the curriculum was pretty free-form. Sam could take the classes he wanted while centralizing his education generally around the field of Computer Science. He didn’t have strict requirements like other colleges have. That model of a university is extremely attractive - universities should do a lot more of that.

In the past few months I’ve been to Stanford twice. Each time, I’m in awe of the system they’ve set up for students wishing to pursue their passions, whether it be in tech startups or otherwise. Stanford runs on a quarter system and, as far as I could tell, saw no problem in students dropping out for a quarter or two to start a business, learn a new skill or do something that meant something to the student, with no questions asked. The door is always open for their return.

This summer I get to work at TechStars. I have the extraordinary opportunity to go through the #1 startup incubator in the world and take in the same information as the teams who have been lucky enough to be selected for the program. I believe that a program like TechStars is a phenomenal learning experience and I plan on starting a company on the other side of this summer. For what I’m interested in, TechStars has more to teach me than college does.

Conclusion

Should you go to college? Maybe. Should you drop out or skip college? Maybe. It all depends on who you are. We don’t live in a one-size-fits-all world, despite what the news pundits say about issues facing society.

The college money-maker is bad, undoubtedly. Part of it is a scheme. Throw Standardized Testing in that boat too.

For the extraordinary young man or woman, for the natural born hustler who actually knows what they want to do, college may not be right for them. The path to a job through an internship is alive and well, as it always has been and always will be. Apprenticeships still exist. They’re called internships.

Regardless of your stance on the college “bubble,” I believe this to be fundamentally true: We need to stop teaching children that all mistakes are bad and should be avoided. We should encourage trial and error and banging on life in order to figure out what’s on the other side of our efforts. 

Whether that path includes college or not is up to you to decide. As Marissa Mayer from Google told me a few weeks ago, “Pick one thing and make it great.”

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