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The Chances of Becoming a College Dropout Billionaire

During my senior year of high school, like many people, I spent a lot of time panicking about the SATs. In the hopes of getting an at least average score in the math section – I got a tutor. During one of our sessions I asked if he had any advice on how to best tackle the test and college applications in general.

“My best advice? Don’t take the test and skip college all together.”

“What? Why?”

“You don’t really need college. You should invent something, like Bill Gates. You know – my friend made this app and got the Thiel Fellowship, where they give you $100,000 to dropout and invent something new. And now he’s off like – living his life.”

Chances are we’ve all heard stories like that before. The fantastical stories of people who said, “f**k you” to the education system, dropped out, and became super successful and rich. After all, college dropout success stories are everywhere – from TIME magazine lists to viral Youtube videos. But times have changed since Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard, and we can’t all be white men with game-changing tech ideas. So individual testimonies aside, what are the chances of becoming the next Steve Jobs?

Well, it’s not impossible, but success stories like Mark Zuckerberg’s tend to be more of outliers than the norm. Jonathon Wai, a research scientist at Duke University, and Heiner Rindermann, a professor of educational and developmental psychology at Chemnitz University of Technology, teamed up to form statistics on college dropout success. In the 2017 study, Wai and Rindermann looked into 11,745 people at the top of various industries across the U.S. The data compared the amount of those leaders who went to and graduated from “elite” colleges, less selective colleges, and those who dropped out. Be sure to check out the article Wai and Rindermann wrote on their data and the study itself for more on how they organized and defined the terms of the study. Overall though, the college dropouts were in the minority across the board. Slim to none made up house members and senators, 10.9% made up the Forbes billionaires, and 20% were in the 30-millionaires.

So becoming a billionaire CEO is difficult as a college dropout, but it’s not exactly common for the usual college graduate, either. Would it be pretty cool to revolutionize an industry and make the big bucks? Hell yeah! But that’s not the only kind of success out there. Most of us just hope to be happy, stable, and employed, which is much more within reach– with or without a college degree. According to the Bureau of Labour Statistics, as of 2017, the unemployment rate is 5.3% for those without a college degree. While that is considerably higher than the 2.5% rate for those with a degree, those aren’t impossible odds.

The big question still remains: can one succeed without college? Well yeah, depending on your definition of success. Chances are, with or without a degree, it’s real hard to create something as big as Microsoft or Facebook. But of course, a traditional college path isn’t the only option. There’s the path of dropping out and forging your own path, but also there’s trade school, a work college, or starting a job right away. So if you’re unhappy in college or unsure if the usual path is for you – don’t worry, there are many other roads to success. Go out, explore your options and see where they take you, even if it isn’t to billionaire status.

[Feature image by Unsplash]

Isabelle Fang

New School '21

Isabelle is a Literary Studies major at the Eugene Lang School of Liberal Arts at The New School. Originally from Toronto, she's still working on using the imperial system and reading weather forecasts in Fahrenheit. Isabelle mostly writes about pop culture, Asian American representation, and profiles on all kinds of people.
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