I question what the risk-weighted expected return for these kids ends up being, and how that compares to more traditional career paths. Thiel himself at least had the fallback option of a traditional career in case his entrepreneurial aspirations didn't work out. It looks like most of these kids already have a top college acceptance in had before accepting Thiel's fellowship, which gives them a backup option in the very likely scenario their "dreams" don't pan out. For kids who didn't have such backup options, I'd really question the rationality of pursing something like this.
I do question the broader movement to push kids from college to startups. I had the option of dropping out during college to work for a startup, and in retrospect I'm tremendously thankful I didn't take the opportunity. There is just so much risk of permanently prejudicing yourself for traditional types of work, and it's just a fact of life that very few startups are going to be successful to the point that it would justify forgoing those other opportunities.
The cynic in me is inclined to believe that the only ones who really benefit from this push towards startups, in the expected return sense, are the VCs. The VCs can hedge their risk between a number of startups to maximize their expected return. An individual startup founder cannot do that. An individual startup founder who is 19, fresh out of college, and has no safety net can do even less to minimize his risk, and has a lot to lose in the likely event that he fails.
Had I not done that, I probably would've stayed a physics major in college, done well, gone to physics grad school, and then realized I hated it when I was around 26 and suddenly ended up with no experience doing anything else and no clue what I wanted to do, a far worse outcome.
I think that there is, in general, far too much fear in contemporary American culture. Fear that if you don't do everything perfectly and don't follow the sequence laid out as a "safe" career track, you will end up screwed for life. Yes, if you end up following your own path, you will get burnt by bad decisions at time, and you'll have to scramble to fix them, and some opportunities will close themselves off to you because you didn't pursue them. But you will also gain practice & confidence in dealing with those bad decisions, and learn how to fix them and that there will be other opportunities that open themselves up to you because you screwed up with what you thought you wanted.
--The double-Irony is that you think the kid has a "fall back option" just because of his letter of acceptance. =D
Part of thiel's critique is that education is mis-priced. That the signalling is most of the value. He's also speaking from experience, having made money outside the content area of his training. So its not irrational or self centered of him to be saying: the content is not the value of a degree, per se. If you believe that, looking at other "content" to substiture or complement the "signalling" makes sense.
But I think you are more right than wrong in your observation. There are a lot of soft social skills and such that you need for business that could be learned in school. May not be news to some depending on there background and natural talents, etc.
Full scholarship? Go
Parents paying for everything? Go
Otherwise, you really need to consider an in-state school, and living at home. You work your ass off to be in the top percentile of students (obviously not a global solution), finish in 3 years, and get a full fellowship for grad school to a place like Princeton.
That's how we did it back in the day anyways.
You only sell the University Certification, no courses, no teachers, no buildings, no Office of Strategic Management.
You only have incredibly hard tests that only 5% of the population can pass. They learn on their own. You guarantee that they are amazingly smart, or will pay their severance.
If you replace Princeton with another expensive private school that's not a feeder system for America's upper class, I completely agree with your point.
For once the problem isn't with the colleges. Colleges, by and large, don't care how many years you took off between high school and college as long as you bring the right GPA and SAT scores to the table. At colleges that care about more than that (Harvard, etc) having interesting experience after high school can only help your admissions chances.
The problem is social acceptance. Too many parents have this silly notion that if a kid doesn't go immediately to college, he'll spend life as a barista. My wife studied in Europe for a year after high school, and she absolutely wants our kids to do something similar. She said that living independently for a year really allowed her to focus on school in a way she could not have otherwise.
But for 99.99% of "smart people," college is probably the best bet. Even if you had a few $million, that can go very easily over the course of decades with a few bad investment decisions, medical bills or whatever. A safe job usually provides a steady income for decades and decades.
Thiel is set for life and then some, but even if he loses the money he has a top college education to fall back on. So it's easy to make experiments with other people's lives.
No matter what, do not expect to work for Thiel's funds without a degree and from a top college http://articles.businessinsider.com/2012-05-14/wall_street/3...
Perhaps not. In the USA: Of the top 1% earners, 49% have a postgraduate education. From what I could find, There are 600,000 doctors and 11,000,000 lawyers in the USA which could be said to cover the vast majority of the 49% group.
Of the remaining 51%, 23% have a college degree leaving 27% without a college education. Unless you are looking at very specific fields, it seems you are slightly better off without a degree at all if you are striving for financial success.
If your sights are not set so high, and you're happy with just a regular job: Only 30% of the population have a college degree. That means that 60% (discounted 10% to account for unemployment, which isn't even fair as many college graduates are unemployed) of the population are doing just fine without one.
With that said, you should still go to college. It is an amazing experience that comes with countless positives. Whatever happens in your future career with respect to said education shouldn't even be a consideration.
Consider that some individuals who are members of households in the top one percent of income earners and have not completed a four year college degree will have married a high income earner who has completed a college or postgraduate education.