I became a student at the University of Florida in August of 2013. After 18 months, I dropped out. And it’s now been 18 months since I dropped out. Because of the beautiful symmetry in time, I thought I’d analyze all the things I did while I was studying vs what I did after I quit.
So here’s all the stuff I’ve done in the past 3 years that has contributed to my personal and professional success:
18 Months in College:
18 Months Not in College:
College and Friends
A lot of people say that you go to college to meet the people that will become your lifelong friends. I definitely met some great people during my time at college. But I’ve also met some great people during my time out of it. I expect they’ll all be lifelong friends.
This “college is where you’ll make your best friends, end of story” thing was something I believed prior to quiting. I was actually surprised by the friends that I made after I quit. College apparently doesn’t have a monopoly on kind, high-achieving, and cool people.
College and Trying New Things
I’ve also heard people say that you go to college in order to discover new ideas and activities that you’ve never encountered before. And there’s also some truth to that claim. I’d never heard of swing dancing before college, I’d never really given chamber music much thought, and I’d certainly never worn a salwar before. But out of college I got to explore cryptography, art history, Stoicism, and Marxism in my reading, ate a bunch of new kinds of foods, and also tried out 5 Rhythms Dance for a few months. I experimented with photography and a couple different kinds of art. I learned about cold-emailing too. And hell, I moved across the world and am living in a very different culture.
One of the most valuable things that I learned after leaving school was that I don’t need permission (or even “proper” guidance) to do what I want to do. I don’t need a professor to review my writing before I put it up on the internet. I don’t need someone to approve the way I’m holding my camera or paint brushes, or how I use editing software, or how often I put up a YouTube video. I can do what I want, make lots of mistakes, and learn as I go along. I don’t need anyone’s permission to do what I feel like doing. Realizing this really affected how much I’ve been able to accomplish outside of school.
College inhibits growth more than it fosters it.
To be clear, I don’t think that my later achievements discredit anything I achieved while at college. I definitely learned a lot while I was in school. But I do think that college limited the amount I was able to accomplish. If anything, I accomplished what I did largely despite college. I did get into chamber music through an elective class, admittedly. But in order to practice speaking Albanian, I had to sit down with a dormmate at 11pm at night, when all our papers and projects were mostly done. I went to Garba despite the important assignments I had due the following week. I went to Russia independently over the summer, when I had no classes or schoolwork to stop me.
I got meaningful shit done both in and out of college. But I got significantly more done after I quit because I had only myself to answer to.
For me, it’s not that college is some hell on Earth. The physical place itself isn’t terrible. Like I said, I made lots of friends and got to try lots of new things while I was there. But the conditions were terrible for growth. Having to follow arbitrary rules all day, every day sucked. I only got to choose what to do with my time and pursue what interested me when all my schoolwork and work-work was finished. And I wasn’t able to travel or go to conferences or workshops because of both the money and time they required.
I think I made good use of my 18 months at uni. As much as I could, I pursued what interested me. And I really appreciate and still keep in touch with the great people I met there. But I think I made much better use of my last 18 months out of college. I got to go deeper into my interests, discover even more new interests, invest more actively in my education, and start brushing the surface of actual, in-demand professional skills (marketing, writing, and design).
So what’s my overall analysis?
Going through college is like riding a bicycle with training wheels when you’re 12 years old. The training wheels are unnecessary and just keeping you from reaching your true potential. Get rid of ’em. You’re gonna fall a lot at first, but you’ll be poppin’ wheelies before you know it.
Seriously. Take off the training wheels. Get outta school. Invest in yourself. Do more of what you want.