Just about everywhere you go, people tell you “Go to college! Get a degree! Don’t quit! It’s worth it!”
Don’t listen to them! It’s not worth it. At least it wasn’t for me.
I wasted five years of my life going to college, and it’s my biggest regret in life. For me, college was a waste of time, a waste of energy, a waste of money, and a waste of potential.
If I hadn’t gone to college, I would be farther along in my entrepreneurial journey. I would have more businesses, more experiences, and more opportunities to make the world a better place.
Now before you change your life plans and rip up your college application, please understand this. College is good for some people. If you’re training to become a physician or a lawyer, attending college is an essential requirement. Please go to college.
But it’s a different story for entrepreneurs! Ever since I was a kid, my goal has been to be an entrepreneur. College is not requirement for my career ambitions, and I wish I hadn’t gone.
If you are an entrepreneur or want to be an entrepreneur, I wrote this story for you. This is my personal experience. Your situation in life might be different. For what it’s worth, my story may help you to think about college from a different angle, and help you reach your entrepreneurial goals faster.
Here is why I regret going to college.
College did not teach me critical thinking.
I believe that an entrepreneur’s greatest asset is critical thinking.
If you possess the skill of critical thinking, you can solve any problem, build any business, and change the world.
I went into college expecting to sharpen my critical thinking skills. All my life, my parents had pushed the idea of critical thinking and taught me critical thinking skills.
I had a mistaken notion that I would learn more critical thinking skills in college.
Man, was I disappointed. Instead, college consisted of classes where I was told to obey the rules, follow the instructions, memorize this information, and regurgitate it on a test. Do that, and you’ll be fine.
That kind of approach destroys critical thinking.
Fundamentally, entrepreneurs do not follow instructions. Instead they take risks, devise creative solutions, think outside the box, and choose what rules to break. In other words, they think critically.
What college didn’t teach me, I had to learn on my own.
I understand that It’s difficult to tell someone how to think critically. Maybe college wasn’t designed to do that. Maybe some colleges are good at this, and I just lucked out. Here’s the process I came up with for teaching myself critical thinking:
* When I face a difficult problem in business, life, or whatever, I think to myself, there is a solution.
* I write down 5-10 possible solutions, no matter how crazy they might seem..
* I try out 1-3 of the best ideas.
* After I’ve tried a few, I write another 5-10 solutions. The crazier, the better.
* I try 1-3 of best ideas from this list.
* Gradually, I get closer to solving the problem.
Here’s why this works. Shaking your mind with crazy ideas can lead you closer to the one or two right ideas that could solve your problem.
Critical thinking is all about an insane level of determination, scary amounts of creativity, and a persistent drive to solve the problem.
Eventually, you’ll get closer to a solution, and achieve a breakthrough.
College, for me, was detrimental to my critical thinking skills. The system drilled into me a method of thinking that went against critical thinking.
My advice to aspiring entrepreneurs is to avoid college if at all possible, and develop your critical thinking skills as much as possible.
The things I learned were useless.
Didn’t I learn stuff in college?
Sure, a little bit. But the things I learned were useless.
I started a marketing consulting agency in high school. It seemed logical to major in marketing when I got to college. I expected to gain more marketing knowledge that would advance my business.
Unfortunately, 70 percent of the things my professors taught, I already knew. The other 30 percent was either wrong or outdated.
I took a computer science class, which was mostly a computer lab. I expected to get some programming skills, but instead, we learned very basic computer skills and how to write a research paper in Microsoft Word!
My professors probably thought I was a bit of an arrogant prick. In English class, I corrected my teacher’s equation (not sure why she was trying to do math in the first place). She got mad at me, and threw me out of the classroom!
By this point, I was researching search engine algorithms. My professors didn’t even know what search algorithms were, let alone the basic tactics of digital marketing.
And heck I am not saying I am smarter than my professors, but there is so much more information online than what’s in a text book.
If you think you’ll learn everything you need to know in college, be warned (and prepare to be disappointed.) You’ll learn, but you might not learn what you need in order to succeed as an entrepreneur.
The way I learned was ineffective.
The learning process at college went like this:
1. Learn the information in this book.
2. Repeat that information in a multiple choice test in two weeks.
That was it.
I took a few classes that had some group projects, speeches, and papers. But for the most part, the learning model was one of: 1) Memorize. 2) Repeat.
My learning style (and I expect the learning style of others) isn’t memorize/repeat, but rather experience and do.
I learned more in the three months that I was starting a marketing agency than I did during my entire five years of college.
I spent a lot of money during high school buying books and online courses, reading them as fast as I could, and implementing the knowledge that I learned. Are books a good source of information? Absolutely, but only if you use that information, which I was able to do while launching my business.
In college, unfortunately, the teaching methodology was not compatible with my style, and proved to be ineffective for real change.
I missed a lot of opportunities by going to college.
Have you heard this quote by Mark Twain?
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.
I spent five years going to college. Originally, I planned to finish in three and a half years, but I chose to spend more time on my businesses than in my classes.
By the time I was 16 years old, I was running a successful marketing agency. My business was generating $20,000 per month, and required a lot of time.
College was draining my time (21 hours per week) and costing me ($7,000/year).
When I think through it logically, it doesn’t make sense:
* I was spending 21 hours a week in college and not learning anything useful.
* I was spending $7,000 a year on college, and not getting any form of ROI from my expenditure.
* I was spending 50 hours a week on my business, and gaining tons of practical knowledge.
* I was earning $20,000 a month from my business.
If I hadn’t gone to college…
* I would have had 21 more hours to work on my business.
* Those additional hours would allow me to learn $8,400 more per week, or $33,600 more per month!
* Over the course of five years, this added up to $2,016,000 in lost revenue.
* Combined with the $8,000 annual college tuition cost, my total losses were $2.05 million!
* I would have had at least $8,000 more to invest in my business per year, which could have caused my business to grow faster.
It’s hard to quantify the losses I got hit with during the 5 years of going to college. A $2.05 million potential loss alone is huge. But five years lost is even bigger!
What could I have done with my business during those five wasted years?
* I could have gone to more conferences.
* I could have met more influential people.
* I could have had more networking opportunities.
* I could have taken more client calls.
* I could have read more books and implemented more of the information in them.
* I could have started more businesses.
The lost possibilities are endless!
My college years were my prime years. My mind was sharp. My body was strong. My skills were developing. My creative juices were flowing. I had the energy to stay up all night solving a problem. I felt invincible!
And most importantly, I was hungry. When you are first starting off and you don’t much to lose, you do whatever it takes to succeed. When you are 10 plus years in your career, you may still work long hours, but you’ll lose the hunger and naturally you’ll slow down… just like a professional athlete in their 30s.
If I had poured all that energy and stamina into my business rather than into a flimsy degree, I would be so much further ahead than I am right now.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m incredibly thankful for the success I’ve experienced. And I appreciate the patience and intelligence of my professors. But for me, college was a net loss.
What is college good for?
Like I mentioned above, if your goal is to become a civil engineer or a heart surgeon, please for heaven’s sake, get yourself in a good school!
College is the best way to learn about structural integrity, so your bridge doesn’t fall down. Med school is a great way to learn where the inferior vena cava is, so you don’t slice through the wrong thing.
But for others who want to start the next Microsoft or Facebook (both founded by college dropouts), maybe college is not the best path to success.
Did I get anything good out of college?
Maybe, I got some good from college. But it was indirectly.
When I figured out that college wasn’t providing me with the opportunity to improve my critical thinking skills,I started working on it myself. I solved these problems:
* I hired fellow students to take notes for me and help me prepare for tests. The system that I invented grew and developed into a note ring. Select students were assigned specific classes to take notes, and other students would compile them for the group to use. (Note: It was not a cheating ring!)
* I hacked the schedule of classes to batch all my classes in a block of time early in the day, two or three days per week.
* I chose to go to a state-funded school, which meant that the system couldn’t fail more than 50% of the student body. Since I guessed that I could do better than 50% of the student body, I knew that I wouldn’t flunk out, even if I coasted.
* I investigated which professors and classes were the easiest. These classes hardly required any study or lab hours, and therefore, gave me more time to work on my business.
* I devised a parking plan. Since it was a commuter school, finding a decent parking spot was impossible. I figured out a way to give students rides from class to their cars, and then I swap parking spots with the student.
* I helped other students optimize their life by teaching them schedule hacking, helping them save time throughout the week.
If you learn just one thing in life, let it be critical thinking.
If you find a college that teaches critical thinking, go to it.
In my experience, however, colleges don’t do a good job at critical thinking. I have some really smart friends — people who went to Harvard, Stanford, and MIT. Did they learn critical thinking in college? Nope.
When you’re smack dab in the middle of a thorny problem, what’s going to help you out? Your college degree? What you learned in accounting? A factoid from Economics 101? A Harvard education?
No. What’s going to help you solve that problem is the brute mental force of critical thinking.
Entrepreneurs need critical thinking, not book learning. Critical thinking allows you to solve problems better, execute faster, hustle harder, and achieve true success.
What you learn in college won’t make you become a better entrepreneur. Executing on what you know will transform you into a better entrepreneur.
College isn’t a shortcut to success. In fact, it may be a roadblock to your success.
College is not going to change you as a person. Nothing can do that for you. It’s up to you to make the decisions that will take you where you want to go.
If college is your path to success, then go for it and good luck
But if you want to be an entrepreneur, skip the school and go straight for execution. Hustle as hard as you can, and you’re gonna nail it.
By Neil Patel