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Ask HN: Should I drop out or not?
27 points by liuliu on Nov 29, 2008 | hide | past | favorite | 54 comments
I am a 21-year-old undergrad student in a public university. A little old for freshman actually. After high school study, I spent one year in lab, and another year trying to start up sth. As I don't achieve any significant thing that can insure the rest of my life, then I said, go to United States and try some luck. But after the half year study, I didn't see any purpose of the college life.

I have learned basic math skills such as differential equations and linear algebra in high school. I self-taught algorithms and c/c++. I am an active contributor to opensource community. Recent two years, I mastered several scripting languages (js, php, python etc.) to accomplish a web project. Especially in computer vision area, I have many experiences. When I participate icpc contest, I saw what 4-year student done. That scared me. They don't have basic programming instinct.

Indeed, a diploma can make life much easier by getting a job in Microsoft or Google and my college's rank is not that bad at all (around 20+). But I don't want to spent so much money in next 3.5 year and gain nothing. Besides, getting a job in big company and establishing own career after 30+ seems not so interesting to me.

Two things:

1. As someone else already stated, it doesn't sound like you have any concrete plans or alternatives, so dropping out might not be the best option. When I was an undergrad, I was fascinated by the tales of so many extremely wealthy people who had dropped out of college and gotten rich through tech startups (Gates, Dell, Zuckerberg, etc, etc). I wondered if there was some link between dropping out of school and success in technology. However, I was confusing correlation with causation, as these people weren't rich because they dropped out...they dropped out because they had started something that was growing so fiercely that it took up all their time. If you don't have that something that pretty much forces you to drop out, don't do it. If you feel like you're torn and you're not sure what to do, don't quit school.

2. I mean no offense at all here, but it sounds like your communication skills in English could be improved. This may not seem like a huge deal, but learning to express yourself well through the written and spoken word will serve you well the rest of your life. Others might disagree with me on this, and perhaps there are better ways to improve that area, but college seems like it would be a good environment to do so, though I have no firsthand experience in the matter.

Good luck no matter what you decide.

On the second point, I recommend joining Toastmasters. It is a fun, informal way to develop your communication skills. It really helped me get over my fear of public speaking, and I also found I had a bit of a talent for impromptu speaking.

So, if you are the sort of person who learns best experimenting in your own way, I think Toastmasters could be a good opportunity for you.

Just as an interesting side note: is Steve Jobs the only exception to the causality rule? He didn't find his coursework worth the amount of money he was paying, right? But he did continue to stick around and attended classes that were interesting to him.

Steve Jobs is not an exception. He met Woz in college. This means he benefitted from college.

Jobs, Woz, Zuckerberg, Gates, Dell, and virtually everyone on this planet benefits from college up until they don't. A big portion of students escape before they graduate, though most escape at graduation. Almost all students drop out for the same reason--financial. That's because other reasons--geographical, academic quality, offerings, or costs--can be addressed by changing schools or majors by those who are willing to find a better fit in another program. And yes, working at McDonalds has priority over college to drop outs only because they don't feel they can afford college. People don't work two low-paying jobs while attending community college or state school half-time, if at all, for fun. If you can afford to go, then you're not in the same position.

Therefore, if your problems with school are that classes are too slow and you're not getting enough real-world experience, do what Jobs, Woz, Zuckerberg, Gates, and Dell did--use that extra time to experiment with ideas while in college.

(Note that I did not say start your own business/startup, because you have to start tinkering before expecting to come up with a great idea and product right away, and anybody who says the first thing software billionaires did or that you should do is to create a startup, is lying. First, you have to fool around and try to create your own software while you're in college. Once an idea seems to take off, and seems plausible, then you can consider taking some time off from school to see how it goes.)

> Steve Jobs is not an exception. He met Woz in college. This means he benefitted from college.

Jobs met Woz during the summer after his sophomore year of high school, when they were working at the same company. Jobs later went to Reed, in Oregon, before coming back to California and eventually starting Apple with Woz.

What he benefited from by going to Reed was exposure to their top calligraphy department, which inspired Jobs to support rich typography on the Mac.

I had actually googled that at 4am before posting, and left it intentionally vague (it was not necessarily the first time he met Woz, or the only benefit Jobs found in college). But you are correct and precise.

Interestingly enough, Paul Allen and Gates also met in high school.

This means that in their case, Bill and Paul thought going to college was a good idea, up until it wasn't.

Woz ran up a huge computing bill in school. It seems Jobs wanted to continue attending college, but on his own terms, taking classes he wanted to take (there are now many colleges that allow one to create their own concentration, and two year colleges are more popular, prevalent, and accepted.) They dropped out for different reasons than Paul and Bill, but were making connections and projects by that time. Similar to Paul and Bill, Jobs and Steve already knew each other and had worked together.

"Steve Jobs is not an exception. He met Woz in college. This means he benefitted from college."

are you sure about that? any reference?

from www.foundersatwork.com/steve-wozniak.html:

"There's another guy at Homestead High School, younger than you, and he's interested in electronics and pranks and things too and you really should meet him." So he thought we were alike.

If you're not already a US citizen first you must worry about how you will legally stay in the US after you drop out (your visa will be terminated). It is very hard to get a US Visa without a degree. One of our co-founders split time with school and our startup just so he could get his degree and pursue a visa. Make sure you know your full immigration status before you proceed. Immigration law sucks, do your best not to get caught up in it.

I wondered if F-1 or any other non-resident status allows you to own a part of a company or a profitable company. Could you please elaborate about that?

If you're really interested in this stuff you should contact a visa lawyer, email me and I can give you the name of a good one who will probably discuss your options with you for free. The following is just my experience, and not legal advice:

You don't have to hold any sort of visa to own a part of a company in the US. However, you cannot get paid legally (there are probably some exceptions with liquidity events) in the US without a visa and a social security number.

Some tricks involve setting up a foreign subsidiary that wholly owns or is wholly owned by the US company, then paying yourself as a consultant of the foreign company. This can work with UK companies, I can't speak for other countries though. Also, if you have such a foreign company that you can prove you worked for for a year in managerial capacity you can possibly qualify for an L-1 intra-company transferee visa.

The best route to a US visa is probably to stay in school. Don't worry about grades too much, but try to do things that get you recognition within the scientific community, maybe do some research and publish a paper or two. Basically, this is padding your resume for application for an O-1 (Alien of Extraordinary Ability) visa later.

One of the best options if you don't think you can qualify for that is to get a J-1 training visa. It is a very easy visa to get after you graduate and is good for 12-18 months depending on your prior work experience. You can then use this time to do things that push you closer to O-1 status so you can apply for that at the end of your J-1 or you can try and get lucky with the H1-B.

All of these things (except the L-1) require a US citizen co-founder who will fill out most of these forms and apply on behalf of you. In our company I'm that guy, so thats how I know all this stuff. Good luck!

I'm 1.5 weeks away from graduation and I know exactly how you are feeling. So perhaps I can provide some insight.

School has crammed a bunch of useless information down my throat that I will never use again in my life. It has tested me in a format that in no way shape or form reflects how well I can contribute to society (in that, if I had Google, which I do in real life, I can ace every test that I have ever taken). I've essentially picked up everything in school by reading a book since, like you, I go to a top 25 public University where the professors are all on tenure and don't give a rats ass about the students.

But in light of all that, I am still damn proud of my soon to be college degree. At the end of the day you have the rest of your life to be a slave to the "man", but you only really have these couple of years to live up your youth and enjoy the finer stages in life (ie. college frat parties).

So my suggestion is to look outside just college as a means to an end, but rather an end in and of itself.

You haven't even graduated and you know that you had to learn a bunch of useless information you will never use again in your life. How do you know? University is about working on your own, not about professors taking care of you.

I'm a high school senior student who has applied to several public universities; mainly a subset of Berkeley, UIUC, UWash, Michigan, UT Austin, GATech, and Purdue.

I'm wondering if you are at one of these these places (or a university of a similar reputation.) Do you think attending a private university such as Chicago or CMU is a better option?

I go to UCLA. I personally think it's an awesome program (I think we're ranked top 15 in CS). I would definitely recommend it given that UCLA is ridiculously fun, the people there are pretty smart, and LA is a great city for the young and wild.

As a side note, my parents saved up enough for me to go to a private school, but I chose to forego that option to go to a public school. As such, my parents gave me the difference to spend at my discretion and I'm currently using it as seed money for my startup (the disparity is about $100,000 over 4 years, not withstanding scholarships or grants).

I think it's worthwhile to point out that with financial aid and other scholarships, it's often cheaper to go to private schools. All competitive private schools guarantee to meet 100% of demonstrated need. That being said, if no need is demonstrated via the FASFA form, obviously it's going to be cheaper to go to a public school.

Those public universities are great. You have nothing to worry about. Pay no attention to those damned U.S. News rankings or anybody else.

Apply to the private schools if you want; I got a great deal and a great education at CWRU (which is CMU but in a different Midwestern rust-belt city). All else being equal, though, I'd go to the school that puts you in the smallest amount of debt. Once you're out of the realm of the DeVrys, and you've applied to schools with more than two or three professors teaching in your intended major, one undergraduate education is much like another. The key variable is yourself, the availability of at least a few other smart people, and a library. And now that the Web has been invented, points two and three are less important -- you can watch MIT lecturers, read MIT textbooks, and chat with MIT students and alumni over the web for free.

Other considerations worth mentioning: Do the students in your intended major seem happy? Can you stand the neighborhood and the weather and the social scene? Do the undergrads get to do any research or do the profs and grad students just hold them at arm's length?

If you're worried that you'll need a prestige degree later on in life, in case you want to be elected President or teach at Oxford or something, you can just apply to prestigious grad schools. The smart-shopping academic snob knows that after two years in a Harvard masters' program you can call yourself a Harvard grad instead of an Ohio State grad. Just work hard and get good grades...

I think I might have some insight. I'm a sophomore in the Computer Science Department at UIUC, and my college choice came down to the Econ program and Chicago, or here.

The only thing that matters for the colleges you mentioned is what you want to study. Public or private doesn't make as much of a different as the strength of the department. It would have been silly to study Econ at UIUC instead of Chicago, and vis versa for Computer Science. If Computer Science is what you want to study, you can't go wrong with UIUC, Berkeley, or CMU. If you want to study Math on the other hand, you should definitely give Chicago serious consideration.

Besides the strengths of the departments, there is no different in terms of education. Just because CMU is a private school doesn't mean it's not a research institution. Same with Chicago. You may get a slightly better student to faculty ratio at a private school, but if you are in a top ranked department you will run into many professors who simply think teaching is a waste of their time and you will still have classes taught by TAs. You will need to be a motivated, independent learner, no matter what. You wont have anyone holding your hand. If you want a more interactive educational experience, I highly recommend checking out some of the top liberal arts schools like Amherst.

This is not to say that you can't get to know professors at research schools, because you can. You just need to work hard in order to do so. This is as opposed to Amherst, for example, where the vast majority of professors are there because they _want_ to interact with students. At CMU or UIUC, the vast majority of professors are there to do research. If you do go the research school route, you'll just need to try harder and find the professors that do care. It's definitely doable.

Of course, I have only addressed a few academic aspects about choosing a college. You should put equal weight on where you feel the most comfortable, where you think you would be the happiest. For example, if drinking really makes you uncomfortable, you'll need to recognize that Greek life at UIUC is huge. Similarly if you are worried about being in a large city, you might want to consider that when thinking about going to Chicago. All of these things are just as important to consider as academics. It is four years of your life, after all =).

You can post back here, or my emails in my profile if you'd like to know more.

EDIT: Something I forgot to mention is money. Public schools have none of it. If you actually need money from financial aid, go to a private school that guarantees to meet 100% of demonstrated need (all competitive private schools do).

I'm a 5th year at Georgia Tech graduating in 2 weeks. In a bit of a rush now, but feel free to email me (email in profile) if you have any questions about GT.

Go to the place with the nicest area around campus. Then you can live right there and so will all your friends. This makes a big difference to me.

All universities have great and poor professors. Its just part of the ballgame. Once you reach the upper levels you will learn who is the best and worst and just take classes from the great ones and learn a lot about all kinds of things.

It sounds like you have a really solid background outside of academia. That said, I would not advise dropping out at this point. The reason being that you did not mention any concrete plans or anything pulling you directly away from school.

Feeling that it does not have a purpose for you is valid and understandable, but there is probably a lot to going through college that you haven't taken into consideration (internships, finding partners, etc) that could be very beneficial.

My final thought would be that if you at some point in the near future have something immediate that you want/need to do, then it might be a viable option. At this point, though, I would stick it out.

I'll bet you're studying CS. That's your mistake.

Change majors. Physics. Biology. Statistics. Graphic Arts. Take MechE and weld together some solar-powered cars. Take EE and learn to build your own microcircuits (it's fun!). If your major isn't hard or interesting enough find something that is.

There are schools where CS is a challenging major filled with bright students and interesting problems. Or so I am told by folks from MIT, and I have to trust them, because I've never seen it myself. I went to a decent engineering school, but even there CS was a major for the cube drones of the future, with the smart CS students in the minority, huddling together for mutual support and doing most of their real work and learning outside of class. I didn't fight that. I just took one look and left. There were physics problems to be solved.

You can always work in CS without a CS major. Believe me. I did a physics B.S. and a Ph.D. in EE, took exactly two official courses in software in my life, and I can't seem to stay out of the field even when I've tried. Keep CS as a minor or just drop it entirely and rely on self-teaching, which you seem to enjoy anyway.

Learn something hard or something important. Higher math. Statistics. Linguistics. Take some history and practice your writing. Take an accounting course. Take an econ course. If nothing else, work on your startup in your spare time, but have some fun while you can! Your soul-killing cubicle-drone job will wait for you, I promise!

Don't leave now, for god's sake. There's a recession on, and thousands of people are probably trying to figure out how to get back into school to ride out the storm. You are where many people want to be! If you're running out of money transfer to a cheaper school and keep the debt as low as possible, but don't leave unless you've got no other choice.

Out of all the comments on HN, this is the one I disagree with the most (respectfully of course). The essence of your comment is that it doesn't matter what you study, as long as you know how to think. The implication is that CS is a major inherently filled with drones, who are not learning how to think. I can't speak for other schools, but at UIUC that's simply not true. I imagine the same goes for other top 5 programs. What you most certainly ran into was a program that doesn't treat Computer Science like a Science. From the tone of your post, it seems like you aren't either. When you say "work in CS", it seems like you mean developing software. I apologize if I am misinterpreting your words. =)

Well, bravo for you for being enthusiastic about your field! If the original poster had more people like you around he might not be so depressed. Feel free to argue that the original poster should transfer to UIUC, which would doubtless be a great idea.

Yeah, I misspoke when I used "work in CS" as a synonym for "developing software". (Though I suppose I could argue that all of us who write software are "doing CS"... some are just doing it with more ignorance than others. Of course, by that logic, my cat "does physics" all the time...)

I am aware that real CS exists. I don't actually know much of it, and while I enjoy picking up bits and pieces as I go along and occasionally sleep with a copy of Knuth Vol 1 under my pillow it would be nice to have had an actual grounding in the subject. Alas, I didn't encounter anyone who was really able to explain what the hell the field was all about until I was more than halfway through grad school in a different subject. I sampled the CS department as a freshman in college, both the intro course and an assembly course, and all I saw was a roomful of people struggling to write the Pascal programs that I had taught myself to write in middle school. (If only the web had been invented slightly earlier... or my university's intro course had involved SICP instead of Pascal. Ah, what might have been. Incidentally, I forgot to ask the original poster: Have you read SICP yet? It's free on the web now!)

But the reason I'm being harsh on true-blue Computer Science in this thread is that I'm in coaching mode. I'm trying to give advice to a guy who either can't find the real CS at his school or can't understand why he should care. Perhaps he should just look harder, but I trust you and every other CS major in this thread to convince him to do that. That's your job. I feel that it's my job to point out that there really are other things than CS in college, and perhaps he should try some of them before he just quits.

That sounds fair. :-)

That is actually good advice: it doesn't really matter what your are studying as long as it is a) interesting enough for you to find pleasure in studying it, and b) is a science related subject.

Patience, young jedi! You've got the rest of your life to work and experiment with startups, but it's harder to go back to school later in life. It's great that you're already well ahead academically, but try and enjoy college in other ways, be it through challenging yourself with non-hacker-related courses or meeting interesting non-hackers. Good luck sir!

I couldn't agree more - you only realise how special the social/networking side of the uni environment is after you have left. Join clubs and meet like-minded and interesting people.

indeed. I have regretted a lot that i have not mingled with other activities/folks during my 4 yr stay. :)

Without any particular plans for what you want to do, I think the other commenters' concerns are valid. However I think the best solution would be come up with some plans, not to continue university.

You've expressed your disinterest in spending your life in a company's employ, so I question the utility of getting a degree. Four years of your time is not a small price to pay for a qualification you may not need, to say nothing of the financial cost, so I don't buy these 'nothing else better to do' arguments.

Regardless, it's a significant decision, so I would advise against a hasty choice. Consider the other benefits of a degree - for example, if you ever need finance for a project, an investor would likely be comforted by some proof of your qualification.

I think it sounds like you'd be best off dropping out, but do think hard about your plans before you make a decision. If you do need to get a job in the future, IT is one of the most receptive industries to people without formal qualification, provided they can demonstrate their skill. Good luck with it.

I dropped out of my CS school to pursue a career of my own choice i.e. business of software. I've been quite successful so far. However, you've no idea how how much I want to go back to school but irony is that it's no more an easy choice. It's really hard to go back to school later in your life. I dropped out of school because I was kind of bored too. I will reckon that you should stay at school. Attend as many math classes you can. Also, take the hardest courses you can find in your school. Remember, these four years is the most important time in your life and this is when you can really enjoy life. TRUST me. Keep attending the school. In the interim try different things. IF something takes off and has a potential to grow only then consider this choice. Now that I'm married and badly want to go to school but you've no idea how hard it is. I know eventually I will.

If you drop out now, you're basically handicapping yourself for the rest of your life -- unless you get lucky. You say you "mastered several scripting languages" in the last two years -- any CS department worth its salt will demand significantly more from you than that. What about theory? You say you saw a 4-year student who lacked "basic programming instinct" -- I certainly saw a lot of that as a CS TA, too, but I also saw brilliant students who made the most of their education.

If you're so ahead of the game, why not try to get involved in research -- talk to professors, take more advanced courses, join ACM? If you push, you can use college to advance your skills and connections far beyond what you could (generally) do on the "outside".

1) College students don't ask how old you are, but what year. Take classes in the summer and winter to change that faster.

2) Since you do care about learning, but want to pick your own classes and also learn more efficiently, talk to your advisors. They will let you take more fun, advanced classes in place of ones you are taking right now.

3) Realize that in the US, the same freedom students have to do virtually nothing and still stay in the program until graduation is the same freedom that allows a student to concentrate and complete their studies much sooner. Rigorous schools around the world make sure students do the same amount of work, but such programs can sometimes limit students who want to go even faster or pick their own loads each semester depending on what they want to do outside of school. Here, schools give you a wide variety of ways to take classes (on campus, online, winter, summer, transfer credit from other schools), majors, credit loads, class offerings, and just enough structure to keep students on a path. However, the freedom to chart one's own path and speed is given to the student--so take advantage of it.

My other post for you: http://news.ycombinator.com/edit?id=379988

If possible, I'd advise you to take more challenging and/or more interesting courses. I know there are probably several required courses that you cannot avoid (of which many are probably going to be worthless/boring), but for the ones where you can choose, pick ones that interest you. Often, more off-beat courses can be very rewarding -- for example courses in foreign cultures, various arts-related courses, etc.

Also, I'd use college as a means of finding talented people you might want to work with in the future. It's an ideal place to meet such people, and perhaps even start cooking something up together.

Finally, college is perhaps one of the last times when you'll have large chunks of time to do whatever you want (especially if you feel your classes are easy). Take advantage of this to explore your interests.

I was in the same boat as you not too long ago and while I haven't found my undergrad. experience to be a particularly enlightening one, it has had value.

Also, a bachelor's of some sort is almost a universal prereq. for a decent job. While you may be able to convince a hiring manager your skills are solid and that you're worth hiring, they're going to be talking to those who meet their requirements first so you may never get that chance.

Rather than drop out, why not take a heavier course load and finish sooner?

Which school do you go to?

I find my own school to be pointless in terms of teaching me something I couldn't easily figure out on my own. I wish it were more of a "pick your own topic of study" type of thing. Only newer schools are beginning to do this. Olin College has a terrific engineering curriculum that is project-oriented, prevents faculty from being on >5 year tenure, and allows the entire curriculum to be reviewed and voted on each year.

My challenge at school has not been learning material, it has been finding people who are as driven and ambitious as I am. I see that as the only real value a university has: it's a petri dish of intelligence, but there's only a few people who are going to be just as driven as you are.

I am done with school in about 1.5 years and I still regret how this system is designed. I would say find a startup and go work for them. Get paid to learn, instead of the opposite in college, where the quality of material is usually very low. Get to know the very smart and driven employees and co-founders. When you have a nest egg built up, go and try to startup with someone.

You have to consider that some schools do have great professors and curriculum. Along with that, some companies lack intelligent people and good learning environments.

Dropping out to save money seems like such a waste to me.

Money is such an imaginary good. The difference between having 10k debt and 100k debt is marginal. Both situations you have to make monthly payments and need a source of income.

Ignore the financial part of the equation, and consider you only have X more years left to live. How would you spend your time? I would definitely stay in school, it was a great life experience. After you graduate you can worry about work and startups. Would you rather work 35 years instead of 33? Make the most of your time at school.

I did a computer engineering undergrad, I dropped out half way through and only returned years later when I learned I was about to become a father. At that point I had a small business and mortgage, it was much harder to study with all that going on, but I was also much more motivated.

Ultimately the most helpful things I learned came from a) the co-op/internship jobs that I got through uni, and b) technical things I learned during the last 2 semesters (ai, distributed, security), which I would not have known if I left early.

If you don't now the answer yet, then you should stay where you are until you know what you want to do next.

liuliu, we are at the same age and almost in the same situation.

I am 21 years old and now just started my college for almost half a year. And, I am in a public university too.

Anyway, you should not drop out if you are a foreign student. It will be very hard for you to get a VISA to work here without any proper education(diploma or degree).

And, assume that you haven't started anything, you should not drop out too. Many successful entrepreneurs dropped out because they have something urgent(their startups) to do rather than their educations. - Mark Zuckerberg dropped out because Facebook was gaining traction.

Remember, college is a good place for you to meet various people. You may find someone as driven as you. And, you can always start something together with him/her.

College does two things primarily:

1. Learning.

2. Credentialing.

There's also the social aspect, but it's way overrated. There's way more fun/socializing to be had in the real world. So you've got:

1. Learning: You're obviously able to self-teach. Not sure how familiar you are with college courses - it's much slower learning than self-teaching. The place where college is good is for things that'd be way too tedious to stick with in self-teaching. I still think Accounting 201 is the best college course I ever took - everything else I could have self-taught or learned from someone I respected. But I sure as hell would've never taught myself double-entry accounting without a course.

2. Credentialing: College is a credential. A degree is an easy big credential to get, and it helps a lot. But if you've done lots of great stuff, and no degree, you won't have much trouble. The problem is the "lots of great stuff" - specifically, tangible great stuff that you can show and point to. I wouldn't hesitate to hire a hacker who had built a couple cool things, experimented in business, and had no degree. If a kid had showed me how he started a business that made $7,000 in revenue before folding, and that he'd coded a Firefox add-on, I'd be all over it. If a technical writer listed on a resume that he'd compiled research and created 300 Wikipedia pages just because he loved it, and gave me links to his favorite 3 or 5, lack of degree wouldn't stop me from checking him out thoroughly.

Managers/bosses look for credentials and track record. College is such a good credential because college sucks, so bosses know you can stick through something that sucks when it starts sucking if you finished college.

If you want to get in "the army" (big companies), you might need a college degree. It shows you can take orders and do stupid stuff. If you decide to just go crazy and start doing mercenary work, you'll be able to sign on with some revolutionary, commando assassin companies, but the army will frown about taking you on. That's okay if you find the army boring.

The key is, figure out how you're going to learn if you don't go to college. (You seem like you can self-teach). Then figure out how you'll get CREDENTIALS. A track record. Do some tangible stuff, and FINISH IT. Even if it sucks. Something you can write down if you apply for a job or try to get financed or borrow money or get investors. Any credentials are good credentials.

Dropping out might be one of the best things you could do for your life - just make sure you do some cool stuff instead of playing XBox and drinking Mountain Dew.

Don't forget the wider social aspect. Getting into college is the important part that will follow you for the rest of your life. Dropping out and doing something is fine, but getting in in the first place will mean less time wasted later convincing people to take you seriously.

You spend as much time on the StevePavlina.com forums as other people in your family spent watching TV.

Regards, Jessica www.makemoneykingdom.com

It's a lot easier to learn social engineering, which is an important life skill, in college than any where else.

If you're not interested in your coursework, perhaps you're pursuing the wrong degree. If you already know how to program you may want to consider economics or business.

I disagree. Stay with Computer Science and add a double major in Math. Do your best and apply to transfer to other schools that have stronger CS programs.

Stay in school and get a job. I think you can handle working and studying. That way you can pay part of the tuition now, plus school can be useful.

You're mistaking the first term of university with the University™ that everyone else is talking about retrospectively.

What they mean by University™ is usually "the last 2 years of university".

Year one, if your experience is like mine was, is where you get the breadth part of your education in. My first year was 20% philosophy, 20% English, 20% math, 20% CS, and 20% political studies.

And it was all mostly tripe. The math was basic calculus; the English was Donne, Gawain, Shakespeare, and some other BS; the philosophy was Socrates and Aristotle; the CS was basic "this is a for loop", and the politics was Locke, JS Mill, Engels, etc. ...

All extremely basic. The first year is unlearning what your retard HS teachers told you, giving you some basis in the "you're supposed to know this text"-texts in each field, and getting everybody up to a base level to continue from.

Of course you're going to be bored... the three golden rules to surviving are 1) finding out what profs are good, and then taking their classes, 2) not scheduling a lecture before noon (at my school they put nearly all the first year math classes at 8:30 ... brutal) and, most importantly, 3) playing Super Smash TV with the other smart kids.

You don't learn anything because you (you being the average student) are a fucking retard. This becomes especially clear years later when you (you being the smart kid) serve as a TA for some first year class.

This problem is especially apparent in CS, because there is, depending on where you live, and what school you went to, either a) absolutely no curriculum at all, or b) some retard teaching kids goto in BASIC on crappy 80's computers, or worse. You can learn decent CS in HS, but that's far from typical.

And when you put the kids with no exposure whatsoever to programming in the same class as people with a decade of experience ... of course the smart kids are going to be bored; you're supposed to be.

So, in first year you get the hammer.

The second year is more interesting because you actually might learn something. Or, at any rate, will be required to work. This year is usually when they separate the people who think they want to be an X, from the people who actually do.

This year you take 30% math, 50% cs, some physics or chemistry, and (if you're like me) more philosophy. In your CS, if it's like where I went (when I went), you a bunch of new stuff... I went from a shaky understanding one and a half programming languages, to being pretty good in a few ... if you make it through.

Also, by this time you've learned all about requirements engineering if your professors are as "evil" as mine were. http://portal.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=1121475

Still, you're not learning anything that interesting, doing (relatively) toy apps in assembly, prolog, Eiffel; but you learn more advanced procedural and OO stuff at this point, and can begin to postulate on the pros and cons of multiple inheritance, and tail v. head recursion, for instance.

Again, nothing ground-shaking, but you learn how to swing that hammer you got earlier in a useful manner.

Third and fourth year are where you begin to specialize, and most of the classes are awesome. Also, by this time, you're old enough to drink (in Canada). You're taking 60% CS, 10% math, and pursuing your interest in X with the other 30%.

All of your classes are taught by pretty much the most intelligent and passionate people around, and everybody is there because they want to be, and interested in learning, and you're learning about stuff that's actually cool.

And you spend all of your "free time" playing with robots (or kernels, if that's what you like, or compilers, or whatever), and building stuff with your friends.

University's awesome. (I finished in October.)

About the fourth year student thing ... some people are fucking dumb but manage to scrape by with "group projects" that their smart friends complete, and middling test scores... whatever. This is not a phenomenon exclusive to ... anything, really.

And I know tonnes of smart people who suck at programming contests ... they're not real. It's kind of like having a waitress who's a world champion at stacking cups ... I can't really see it hurting, but I'd rather have someone who gets the orders right, and brings the food out while it's still warm (and flirts with the programmers!) than who can stack cups quickly.

The biggest thing to realize is that even if you're at a shit university, there is someone there who's incredibly intelligent and passionate about what they do ... and they have a propensity to like others who are intelligent and passionate about what they do.

They want to help you learn more than almost anything; the caveat being that you have to want to learn.

Ask to help them out ... they might even give you money for it.

Or, if that's not your alley, spend all day trying to break something, or create a monster (with your friends, of course).

don't confuse college 'experience' with freedom, they're not the same

nothing gives better track record than startup (even failed ones) ... don't confuse it with the college-track-record ... they are not the same

college rank is a gamed metric (engineering rank #1=100 pt, rank #2=90ish pt, rank 3-rest=60ish) ... don't bother with it

college debt is an early enslavement scheme (later u'll get family and mortgages) ... beware

My suggestion is you to drop out and read this book:

How to Get Rich by Felix Dennis:

Young, Penniless, and Inexperienced?

"Excellent. You stand by far the best chance of becoming as rich as you please. You have an advantage that neither education nor upbringing, nor even money, can buy—you have almost nothing. And therefore you have nothing to lose.

"Nearly all great fortunes acquired by entrepreneurs arose because they had nothing to lose. Nobody had bothered to tell them that such and such a thing could not be done or would be likely to fail. Or if they had been told, then they weren't listening; they were too busy proving those around them wrong."

Since you are just 21 I think you should try to motivate yourself to finish a degree. Because 5-10 years down the road it is going to be a lot harder to go back to school. If you think motivating yourself is hard now, it is nothing against what it is going to be like in 10 years.

I can understand that you find going to a university boring and uninspiring. I did. I fund it painfully boring and eventually I quit because I didn't see the point in torturing myself with horribly bad lecturers. But I had a few advantages. First off, I already had about 10 years of solid work experience when I quit. Second, I stayed at the university and worked there for about 5 years after I quit. Meaning I had the benefit of getting to know a lot of people. Third, just because I stopped following the university program didn't mean I stopped studying. It just meant that I could focus on what I found interesting. Now this is risky, because university programs are diverse for a reason. Luckily the stuff I was interested in turned out to become immensely important later and I had a head-start when my classmates graduated a few years later. But, of course, I didn't have a degree.

Meeting people is critical. I cannot stress this enough. During your time at the university you are going to meet a lot of people. If you hang out with the right sort of people, it will greatly affect your professional life later. For the past 15 years I have ended up working with a lot of people I got to know during the university years. I did a startup with some of them and I have worked on a few world class projects with them. Many of them were great -- extremely few of them would have been great if they had been on their own.

Your network of talented people whom you know personally is more important than what they teach you at school.

This is something not a lot of people think about when choosing universities, but it would be a good idea to pick a university in an area you would like to stay later. Preferably somewhere people care to go when doing startups.

Also, at 21 you might think that you are hot shit because you have some software development knowledge. The short version is: most likely you are not. In all likelihood you are an above average newbie. Swallow your pride and let it fuel ambition instead.

There is no replacement for having a broad and diverse professional background and in the years to come, you are going to look back many times and think of your self "what a naive idiot I was". That is normal. It shows that you are developing and maturing.

What people look for when hiring senior developers is track record. What have you delivered before? What role did you play? What are the strengths that make you stand out. Are you able to plan 12 months ahead?

There are hundreds of thousands of people who would do well in programming contests, but who are only fit for entry level software engineer jobs because of lack of maturity and experience.

My advice is:

  - finish a degree.  if you are smart enough: try to keep
    your scores well in the top 5%

  - work on a challenging open source project while going
    to school -- become a visible/key contributor.

  - work as an intern during the summers.  aim for top tier
    companies that have challenging work and name
    recognition.  do well.  don't coast.

  - when you graduate, prioritize getting a job where you
    can learn a lot over an easy, dead-end job where you
    can earn more.  your first few years in the business 
    should be about learning and gaining experience.

  - if you are doing a start-up, understand the risks, be
    prepared to work your ass off and talk to other people
    who have done startups.  most important of all: make
    sure you know the right people to involve.  also, dare
    to fail.

  - be retrospective/introspective.  take notes and read
    them years later.  you will discover how much you
    mature over time and it will make you more grounded
    and more humble.  it will also highlight that you need
    to learn *constantly*.

Another great opportunity that's unique to the college experience is the chance to do research and work closely with a professor. You mentioned you have a lot of experience in computer vision. If that's something that interests you further, I'm sure you could pretty easily land a job in a research lab working on cutting-edge computer vision problems. Just talk to a professor who is doing work that interests you, and bring your resume and code samples. With your background, you're easily one of the most qualified undergrads on campus -- and you'd be hard pressed to find a day job that lets you work on something that interesting.

And some universities will provide startup support if a research lab produces a marketable idea. Who knows -- in 4 years, you could have a stack of scientific publications under your belt, or you could be in business with a professor.

The social environment of a university is unique too. Nowhere else will you find such a large group of people who don't yet have the stress of working a day job and are willing to discuss whatever academic issues interest you. The opportunity to make connections and meet like-minded people is biggest here. I've met the most brilliant people I know at my college, and I'll be going back over the coming months to hire some of them for my startup. It would be significantly harder to find programmers and thinkers like that in the free market.

I think people like Gates and Dell are extreme outliers that greatly improve the drop-out image. Unless you have a lucrative idea that's already taken off and it's clear your time is much more profitably spent outside of college, it's silly to think you can easily follow in their footsteps. It would be different if you had a plan, and you may well reconsider if you launch a successful idea while you're still in school.

For everyone else though -- whether you're trying to get a corporate job or pitching to VCs -- having the endorsement of a top school greatly helps your image. Even with your years of experience and great background, it's a sad but true fact that many people would automatically give you less consideration than college graduates.

It's pretty clear you're not going to college for the education. Think of the classes you have to take as the 10-20 hr/week day job that you trudge through for the sake of the rest of the experience. If attendance isn't mandatory, you're probably better off skipping all the boring classes that cover the things you know. In the meantime... make connections. Talk to fellow students, your professors, everyone. Find like-minded people and brainstorm with them. Take the most advanced classes you possibly can -- surely there's something that will challenge you. There's a lot more to the college experience than just the classroom, though.

Don't think that the only benefit of the college route is taking classes, getting a degree, and going to a corporate job. I fully intend to never, ever work a corporate job after I graduate. Exploit the possibilities and opportunities to further yourself, and do the things that truly interest you.

Do you feel like you're learning at lot in college?

I think the central point of his post was that he is does not.

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