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Are College Drop Outs More Successful Entrepreneurs? We try to answer the big questions of the world - To Drop Or Not Drop Out Of College

By Ritu Kochar

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

You're reading Entrepreneur India, an international franchise of Entrepreneur Media.


In the recent years, we have seen the world being taken over by a new seduction. This recent trend none other than the notorious "Let's drop out of college'.

In a social setting, if you happen to make the mistake of talking about this subject, people just can't stop from throwing names like Steve Jobs, Zuckerberg, Gates, and Dell at you. It's a good point well made. However, before leading by example, those people need to see what went behind their success. They were hard working, no doubt about that, but they also had, in the same order, a shrewd business sense, prodigious intelligence, privileged parents and other factors that made their success possible.

According to Forbes, a remarkable number of 63 out of 400 richest entrepreneurs were college dropouts. Everyone was so impressed by this. I won't deny it is an impressive number, but because aren't we ignoring the remaining 337.

What is dropping out?

A drop out is a person who, intentionally or out of circumstances, stops going to school or college they were previously enrolled in.

Now drop out can be of two types – one who decides to discontinue college because they can no longer benefit from the kind of education they are getting. This generally happens when one thinks that the qualities or subject they are looking for can be self taught and they do not need college to teach them that. For instance, both Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates started working on their companies while they were in college. Both were young enough to come back to school if their venture failed and born in privileged families, this allowed them the risk to fall and fail, though they didn't need it.

Another type of graduate is someone who is forced to leave college due to unfortunate circumstances, like unavailability of money or personal problems or some, in the enthusiasm of following the trend. This section includes Richard Branson and Steve Jobs. Jobs faced the dilemma of choosing between discontinuing his education and impoverishing his parents. No points for guessing here, he chose the former.

Why do people drop out?

Today, people are led to believe that schools are killing the brain cells through their structural way of teaching. They produce what the world likes to call "normal', but with a negative connotation.

I deny that with no doubt, and strongly support academic education. It is a proven path towards economic, social and intellectual opportunity. You can blame the education system but not education itself.

What I mean here is that even these big entrepreneurs we like to mention every often or so, they never abandoned education. They abandoned the institution. What kept them going was their passion to learn, from anywhere and everywhere. Though they did not know where exactly to go, their skill had already developed.

So if you want to drop out because it sounds like a good idea, give it a thought. But if you want to drop out because you think the education you need can be achieved outside school, still think about it, and take the final step when you're sure.

Taking examples from Gates' and Zuckerberg's lives, both left Harvard midway. Both have been working on their companies since the very beginning and when they achieved what they wanted, they decided to drop out. They were already on the path of success and they followed it. They wanted to learn and learn they did.

Both ensure nothing

Be a drop out or a college graduate, both don't ensure that at the end you will turn out to be a dashing entrepreneur with fancy cars and beds of feathers. If you're living the myth, you need to snap out of it.

Although there is no surety in both, like in life, I believe that college education opens a door of opportunity for you. Especially for someone coming from disadvantaged background who hadn't had formal education, college is a boon. It enables you to form connections, learn new things and gives you a new perspective of things. It gives you the intellectual capital to succeed and the social capital to help make connections, build networks, and establish life-long relationships.

Dropping out has its own benefits. Starting at an early age clearly gives you an edge over students pursuing graduation in terms of experience. While your friends are in college, you are out there facing the world and by the time they finish school, you already have 3-4 years of experience. You haggle, go to random conferences, meet people and get weird jobs with the aim to learn on the job. You also have a set of funny stories that happened to you along the way.

No matter which path you take, both are equally difficult and both will stain you. It's how you face these problems that will determine your future.

Then why are most of the successful entrepreneurs dropouts?

They aren't. It's just that the most famous ones we know happen to be dropouts, while the remaining 337 of 400 don't get that attention because having a college degree somehow makes them privileged. As human nature we tend to see what we don't have rather than what we do. Similarly, we see that these big names did not have a college degree and thus they are smarter than the ones who have because they learned it all by themselves.

I cannot emphasize how wrong this way of thinking it. Learning at the job is similar to your college experiences. The difference is how you apply both.

At the end, it's all about how you learn and apply that to the world.

Ritu Kochar

Former Staff, Entrepreneur India

Ritu used to work as a Feature writer for Entrepreneur India.
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