I am so amazed and overwhelmed. I was en route to Salt Lake City a couple of days ago and I saw this show on board entitled “20 Under 20 – Transforming Tomorrow”. This lawyer turned entrepreneur billionaire Peter Thiel (one of the first investors of Facebook and co-founder of PayPal) was giving 20 teens aged 20 and under who had humanity-impacting visions a chance to drop out of college and take their big ideas to Silicon Valley thru a 2-year fellowship, the support of Silicon Valley investors and $100,000 each to turn their vision into reality.
These teens come from over 9 countries around the world, obviously coming from different backgrounds, some from ivy league schools like Harvard or Stanford, some have not even stepped into college yet and are just in high school but they all have one thing in common – a passion to change the world. These teens are all ahead of their times, smart beyond their years and with ideas so bold that they could actually change the way we live. We are talking about 15 to 20 year olds who are working on fusion energy to find a cure for cancer, initiatives to solve global warming, methods for transforming 2D images into 3D scenes, out-of-the-box systems to approach public health or alleviate poverty, methods to eradicate blindness or improve biomedical research and the list goes on. You see, they have not just come up with these big ideas but have actually taken action steps already – even before joining the Thiel fellowship – to transform the abstract into something concrete so one cannot question the feasibility of their vast creativity. 15 to 20 year olds. I am just completely blown away…especially as I look back and recall how mundane my concerns and obsessions were when I was their age.
Peter Thiel may seem crazy to most people with him promoting to teens the option of dropping out of college to become entrepreneurs, but I believe he is doing the right thing. These teens have ideas the world may need this very second so why hold them back from creating an immediate positive change in the world by allowing them to get stuck for at least four years in college and lose whatever window of opportunity they may have now with this Thiel fellowship. Peter Thiel is giving these teens the gift of time and financial support to actualize their genuine passion to change the world. One, two or more of these teens will become the next Steve Jobs, Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerbergs of the world – college dropouts who have put more urgency and weight on their creative passion than the pressure of obtaining a higher education.
That brings me to another thing I want to talk about which is higher education and its importance. How important is it really in today’s world? Are we being bound by traditional practices such that you are not a complete person without a college degree? As the years go by and as I awaken to the realities of life, I find myself putting less and less weight on college degrees. I mean, it is nice to have and looks awesome on paper but what do you really gain from it? Yes you would definitely need it if you want to take on careers that require professional expertise like becoming a doctor, nurse, professor or lawyer but then other than that, what is its true value?
Let me put it from my own personal perspective.
I graduated from college with a bachelor of science degree majoring in financial management, with honors even, but the career I eventually took on, which is marketing, is too far from my degree. I believe I speak for many when I say that most of the time, you don’t really know what you want to do in life during the time that you are in college. The major most would probably choose is what sounds good to you or what you think is “hot” at the moment, or what your parents think is right for you. In fact, the only thing I was sure of the moment I stepped out of college (and having had internship experience at a financial institution), is that I did not want to build a career in finance. It was a couple of years after I graduated from college that I found out my passion is in marketing and even without any “educational background” on marketing, my passion for it allowed me to perform the best that I could at what I was doing. So speaking from my own personal experience, there is almost absolutely nothing from my college degree that I use now in my career. The most worthwhile lessons, skills and expertise that I use in my work are those that I have gained after college.
Having a college degree has helped me heaps land jobs in respectable companies but I often question the way it has helped me.
In the corporate world, your resume is the first interface between you and the company you are applying with. And if you are applying for an entry level or intermediate position, educational attainment is one of the first criteria a company would use to filter a considerable shortlist from their many applicants. So out of hundreds of applications received by an employer, a person with a college degree really would have a better chance of being considered for an interview than an undergrad with a cover letter speaking of his motivation towards the position he is applying for. When will educational attainment not be a major criterion then in applicant selection? The answer is when you have gained enough significant work experience that this now becomes the page stopper when employers review your resume. Then again, before you come to this point, you would have gone thru the entry level and intermediate position battle first where educational attainment is a significant consideration. Hmm.
Employers state “college degree” as one of their minimum requirements in almost all of their job postings but what kind of value are they really looking for when they state this as a requirement? Most would stop at college degree and would not even put much bearing at what you have majored in. I will tell you what they are looking for based on your college degree – an evidence that you are educated, that you have an acceptable intellectual capacity, an evidence of your determination, discipline and motivation.
So based on the above, I can draw three things: (1) Your college degree may be of little importance when it comes to the career you will eventually want to pursue, (2) Employers use college degree as a basic criterion to filter a shortlist from a multitude of applicants, (3) Employers often require college degree as a minimum requirement only to determine some attributes about your capacity and personality. My question then is – is higher education truly serving the purpose worth the time and money you invest in it?
I still do find value in college, though, as it is in those years that I have started to discover who I was. My fondest memory of college is the entire social scene and the lasting friendships that I have formed during those years. So I ask my question again – is higher education truly serving the purpose worth the time and money you invest in it? These things I gained during college – could I not have gained them at any other time?
I guess another thing that is often lacking in a teenager’s life – and what I wish I had growing up – is the guidance and encouragement to develop an entrepreneurial mind – the mindset to create and think out of the box, to create new ideas, opportunities, products or businesses. In the Philippines where I grew up, most schools develop you to have an employee mindset, which is quite limiting as you are blinded with the belief that your only mode of survival in the real world is to work as an employee for a company. With the lack of entrepreneurial parents, the Philippine educational system could mold you into becoming a corporate slave rather than becoming an innovator. Why have I brought this up? Well, because if you have had guidance towards an entrepreneurial mindset during your formative years, you would have a realization that working for someone else is not your only career option. You would be more explorative, and you would be able to figure out what you want to pursue in life sooner rather than later. If you had a new business or new product idea, with proper guidance and support, you could pursue it earlier, wasting no time – with or without a college degree.
So when it comes to my kids (God knows when that will be), I am hoping I could do things right. I would be very hands on when it comes to their “real life” education. I would send them to school, no question about that, but I would expose them to how big the world is and will take the extra step to really help cultivate their creativity and their entrepreneurial mind. If you have been following my blog, you would know how keen I am when it comes to right brain dominance (check out my blog from the 17th of November – Strive for Right Brain Dominance) so you can expect my kids to be driven in that direction. I will be their faithful guide, their greatest mentor and biggest supporter – always helping them explore and discover their passion – what it is they really want to pursue and help them create their future. Together we will decide if obtaining a higher education is vital to their passion or is something that can be bypassed in the name of passion, pro-activeness and the desire to not lose the window of opportunity that could be staring straight at us at that particular moment. I know this may be easier said than done but, hey, I do not have kids yet so I have time to figure it out!
So now what? I am not saying that higher education is not important. I just want to challenge what you think of it and encourage you to think about your future or (if you are way past that threshold) that of your kids. Bypassing higher education may be the right thing for the right (and perhaps right-brained) people, but not for all. It will always depend on how you and the people around you would look at things and whether you and the people around you are ready to make a paradigm shift. I mean, even if you don’t find any real value in it, if you live in a world where it has been a practice to put blind weight on it, then how can you risk not having one? That is why I commend Peter Thiel for what he is doing because he is giving these brilliant kids a chance to bypass something of little real world value and go straight to becoming entrepreneurs and transform their vision into reality. Just the same, these kids are very blessed for not everyone has the opportunity, time and financial support that they have. I am very much looking forward to seeing their real contributions to humanity.
© Karen Cornejo, December 2012