Imagine sitting by a sunny window in a dreary class, stealing a glance at the green fields outside every time your teacher turns to the board. The thought of dropping out certainly seems meaningful at such a moment; or when exams loom large and you are struggling to study subjects you neither enjoy nor find relevant.
Should you drop out of school or college? After all, so many successful people did — Bill Gates set up Microsoft, Steve Jobs set up Apple and Pixar, Richard Branson set up the Virgin Group, Oprah Winfrey...well, she’s Oprah. Closer home, we have Dhirubhai Ambani, Azim Premji, Ritesh Agarwal of OYO rooms fame, Gautam Adani, and numerous sports people and film stars. But then, what about the many who dropped out whose stories we don’t hear about because they didn’t make it big?
If you are toying with the idea of dropping out, here are some ways to think about it:
1. Most successful drop-outs already had a business or career going and dropped out because it was difficult to manage both work and college. Oprah was a TV star at 19. Ritesh Agarwal founded OYO (then Oravel Stays) at 18. Mark Zuckerberg dropped out of Harvard to build Facebook. Sachin Tendulkar was a star at 15. Aishwarya Rai got featured in American Vogue at 18. Let me not set the bar so high. The simple point I am making is that many successful drop-outs dropped out to handle their growing careers; not to escape dreary lectures. They no longer needed a college degree — a compelling path to success was laid out to them and college was, in fact, a minor inconvenience to it.
2. After sports people and actors, the most successful drop-outs are entrepreneurs. But not because they had a great idea.
Business ideas are overflowing on the worldwide web and most ideas do not lead to successful businesses. The potential does not lie in the idea, but in relentless execution when most people reject your idea and in persistent learning when your first three launches fail miserably. Successful entrepreneurs report their sharp learning curves, their ability to build teams and to woo investors. Early investors are usually friends and family, and that takes having a lot of credibility.
Some good questions to ask yourself would be: Do I already have a sustainable flow of income that can support my lifestyle? Do I have a financial and career plan that requires me to leave college and work at it full time? Can I work 90-hour weeks for the next few years? Can I handle multiple failures, learn from them, and forge ahead? Can I sell my idea over and over again when most people don’t find it convincing?
If these questions seem inspiring, you may be ready to make the big move that you will be one day telling your grandkids about. If they seem daunting though, think again.
There are some compelling reasons to stay in college; so, bear with me while I do a quick recap.
It is tough to get jobs without a college degree.
Colleges offer placement processes that let you interview with many companies.
College life is widely known to be fun, full of friends, clubs and parties, and coping with studies may just be worth the while.
Many professional and certificate courses are open only to graduates and you may find a basic college degree to be the key to many doors.
Apart from these practical reasons, college also is an opportunity to get out of home. Dropping out often puts you back in your parents’ house with many questions to answer every day.
Alternatives to dropping out
1. Switch your course or college. Don’t like Economics? Try Media and Photography. Love Sports? Try Sports Management. Love Gaming? Try Game Design or User Interface Design. Love working out? Try Exercise Science. New courses get introduced every year in India and abroad and the chances of finding a course that offers skills and subjects to your taste are very high.
2. A gap year after school is a great alternative. Many colleges will also allow you to take up to two years break and get back to finish your degree. A gap year allows you to experiment with your ideas and make a switch, if needed.
3. Join an apprenticeship programme along with an online or correspondence degree. Apprenticeship is a good way to learn skills in what your heart really yearns for — work with a successful photographer, stockbroker, event manager or entrepreneur who is willing to mentor you while you get your degree through an online programme.
Whatever path you choose, don’t forget to blog or vlog about it. Dropping out or even sticking it through is a story others want to hear about.
And if you learn to catch the attention of other young people, your blog may open many earning opportunities for you. And you may just be one of those who have a plan in case they want to drop out!
The author leads the India office of a California-based career guidance firm, Stoodnt, and is the author of The Ultimate Guide to 21st Century Careers. firstname.lastname@example.org