Ask DN: How do you feel about dropping out of college to take a startup job?

almost 9 years ago from , Product Designer @ Momo US

So I need to decide whether or not to commit to a startup UI/UX job, and I really have no idea what to do. I'm an 18 year old freshman in college, and I haven't gotten much out of it this year other than friends. Most of my time is spent working freelance jobs, anyways. Taking this job would require me to move to NY full time, which is also a big (scary) thing. I just wanted to get your thoughts on the value of college (especially when it comes to Interaction Design), and whether or not anyone out there has experienced the same thing.


  • Duncan ReganDuncan Regan, almost 9 years ago

    For context: I have a MA in poetry and now work as a developer at a startup in NY.

    Finish school.

    You say "I haven't gotten much out of it this year other than friends," but you don't yet realize how HUGE this is.

    I spent the last 3 years in Tokyo living with some of my best friends from college and I doubt that would have happened had I dropped out (not to mention, if you plan to live abroad someday, good luck getting a work visa without a college degree).

    The people you meet and the person you become with those people is paramount. Don't throw away the opportunity to get jump on a career.

    (On that note, I've really enjoyed my transition from academia to development, and I'm in the twilight of my twenties and don't feel at all that I'm too far behind, and you certainly won't be in 3 years)

    Further, in the defense of school, a good liberal arts degree is going to expose you to so many awesome ideas that will influence your work in ways you can't imagine.

    Of course you could research and read up on these subjects on your own, but let's get real—working at a startup, living in NY—you won't. Once you get older and your responsibilities mount, the inertial force of not doing is hard to overcome (you'll also find that you surround yourself with like minded folks and won't likely be challenged to pick up broader subjects).

    You'll spend 4 years in college and 30-40 in your career. There's plenty of time to work.

    That said, here's an obligatory link to The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. Read that a few times before you make your decision, and I'll support you no matter what you decide. :)

    10 points
    • Fred YatesFred Yates, almost 9 years ago

      I don't think any of the reasons you provide for staying in school are exclusive to school.

      I made a ton of friends on day one of leaving school to join a startup. I also think you get exposure to plenty of things in a new industry the same way you do pursuing a degree. Granted they can be vastly different things, the amount of "awesome ideas" you can get exposed to probably doesn't differ much between school and real life.

      The benefit from doing it on your own is you don't amass hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt, in fact you get paid to do these things :) The 4 years you spend in college might take you to 30-40 in your career to pay off!

      3 points
      • Duncan ReganDuncan Regan, almost 9 years ago (edited almost 9 years ago )

        Of course they aren't exclusive (barring needing a degree to live internationally, but this is something really important to me, and I think everyone should do it), but I am certainly not exposed to the breadth and knowledge day to day as I was, in say, my graduate program, which — while specialized — still introduced me to a lot concepts which influence my work re. user experience.

        And I certainly agree that the debt of education is terrible, and I don't want to encourage anyone to accrue such a large amount of indefatigable debt(it will follow you to your grave!!!), but I firmly believe there is a cultural debt that is far worse to take on .

        0 points
      • Kyle ConradKyle Conrad, almost 9 years ago

        If you are amassing hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, then that's your own fault for attending a school that is so expensive.

        There are always other options in that regard.

        0 points
    • Sam Giambalvo, almost 9 years ago

      Haha I love that poem. I read it in AP English in high school, looks like my school experience has been more useful than I remembered.

      Seriously, though, the 4 years to 30-40 years statement was surprisingly effective at giving me some perspective. I guess I feel as if I know what I want already, and staying in school for 3 more years is a waste of time and money. But 3 years is insignificant in comparison to the remainder of my life.

      0 points
  • Fred YatesFred Yates, almost 9 years ago

    It was the best decision I ever made. I always tell people to leave school in favor of learning via real world experience (especially if you've already got a job lined up).

    If I had stayed in school (I left in 2007 after 3 semesters) I would have continued to learn their dated, useless curriculum and waited even longer to start growing myself in a booming tech industry.

    6 points
  • Art VandelayArt Vandelay, almost 9 years ago

    If they are paying you 60+ take it. Otherwise, NY can be a shitty place to live for less. Assuming you're talking about NYC

    5 points
  • Joe TurnerJoe Turner, almost 9 years ago

    Take the leap.

    5 points
  • Warren BaskinWarren Baskin, almost 9 years ago (edited almost 9 years ago )

    In the tech world, experience now seems to be more valuable than a degree.

    Go for it!

    5 points
    • Ben Henschel, almost 9 years ago

      Yeah in the tech world, experience is more valuable (although there are companies that want a CS degree with their developers).

      My actual college degree isn't worth that much (certainly when considering how much it cost me). But college as a whole was well worth it. I certainly was a very different person leaving college than stepping into college.

      So I would say finish out school and take the opportunity to learn as much as you can and from a wide variety of subjects (it's the only time in your life where your sole job is to learn). Get laid, drink too much, and study abroad for a semester, all valuable experiences.

      5 points
      • Bruce AckermanBruce Ackerman, almost 9 years ago

        Couldn't agree more with this. Major in business or engineering too. Both will help at some point. The connections you gain as well if you're proactive will also be life changing.

        0 points
    • Vinh LeVinh Le, almost 9 years ago


      0 points
  • Greg Mathews, almost 9 years ago

    I went to school for 4 years and graduated with a Software Engineering degree. One benefit from school that I did not realize it would have is forcing me to learn the boring things. There are a lot of things that you may come across that are not necessarily the sexy things people write articles about, but are extremely fundamental to being able to progress past a certain point. You can learn these things later, or on your own, but it is hard to figure out exactly what you need to learn, and can be hard to motivate yourself to learn it.

    4 points
  • Peter Stacho, almost 9 years ago (edited almost 9 years ago )

    Do you want to pay to learn, or get paid to learn? I dropped out of University after my first semester and never looked back. I wouldn't change it for the world.

    Good luck!

    Edit: You can probably find a job in your area without having to move. Speak to some recruiters, and make sure you're portfolio is as good as it can be.

    3 points
  • Sam Giambalvo, almost 9 years ago

    Thanks for all the feedback everyone. As of this morning, I was accepted to Art Center College of Design's Interaction Design program, so I'll be transferring there next fall rather than taking the job.

    There's so much more for me to learn that I'll know I'll kick myself 10 years down the line for not taking this opportunity. You guys/girls really helped to give me some perspective, I know if I don't take this time to study intensively now, I most likely won't in the future.

    2 points
  • Art VandelayArt Vandelay, almost 9 years ago

    Another thing to consider. Once you enter the real world, your time is limited on what you want to do.

    College, while being a fulltime student takes up maybe 5 hours of your day? Working full time, takes up 8+ hours depending on what you do and your responsibilities.

    Explore man, you're young. You have the rest of your life to get a job.

    1 point
  • Sam GarsonSam Garson, almost 9 years ago

    I'm just about to finish university and join a startup in London. I'd say finish school. Not even for the degree, but you'll mature so much over the 3 years its crazy, you'll benefit so much more from the job in 3 years than you will now.

    1 point
  • Adam MichielsAdam Michiels, almost 9 years ago

    I've been thinking about this for a few hours since my last response, and after reading many of the great stories here I think it may be worth looking at this from a time-spent perspective:

    If one graduates around 22-26, an undergraduate is about a fifth of a live lived at the point of commencement. 20%.

    There's a lot of talk about freedom to change careers, to continually advance and learn, but it's not as clear cut as people make it out to be. I agree with my first year economics prof: the typical person, at some early point, buys a wooden box, calls it home, and then spends the rest of their life paying it off. Unless we believe we're entirely atypical, this is the life for most of us.

    The point I'm making is that work -- even that super engaging, white collar work we're all so into -- isn't going anywhere, but our chance for 4 years of exploration and tutelage from hopefully great minds is fleeting. One simply can't get that kind of experience going back to complete a BA at 50.

    I sympathize with everyone here lauding their decision to drop out, or regretting not getting out soon enough. But in the face of 40-50 years in the workforce and late-or-never retirement, is 4 years really that long?

    1 point
  • Diego LafuenteDiego Lafuente, almost 9 years ago

    That was my story. I quit uni to pursue the internet dream.

    1 point
  • Kelly SuttonKelly Sutton, almost 9 years ago

    I had the opportunity to drop out of college in my penultimate year and shadow the CTO of a very large tech company. I decided against it though, and came up with a rule that might help:

    Only drop out of school if it's for your own thing. And only drop out if that thing is pulling you out due to its success.

    It's vogue at the moment to drop out to start a startup, but there's plenty of social learning to be done at college. You learn to read social signals and situations that you won't have time to learn in a fast-paced workplace. Your equity as a young designer in a startup is going to be tiny, and the potential for any significant earn-out even smaller.

    That being said, some risks are worth taking. Just make sure your parents won't kill you before you can realize the rewards. Let us know what you decide to do!

    1 point
  • Julian LloydJulian Lloyd, almost 9 years ago (edited almost 9 years ago )

    I’ll quickly share my story.

    I built computers recreationally and freelanced graphic design, 3d modeling and web development all throughout high school. By the time I got to College, I was adamant about becoming a 3d character artist.

    "I don’t know what I want to do!" was so common to hear on campus. I couldn’t relate, I not only knew what I wanted — I already had professional experience.

    So, I left school after my 2nd year, and luckily with no student loan debt, moved to Los Angeles. I began freelancing graphic design to pay my way while I worked on my 3d demo reel — and fell in love with the web along the way.

    Long story short, school is only what you make of it. You’ll meet new people, grow and experience all kinds of eye-opening things anywhere… it’s part of getting older, not a part of College.

    It wasn’t enough for me to pay thousands for a completely unrelated degree and socializing while my passions waited. I have friends who completed school and are doing great, and I have friends who never went.

    Follow your heart, not "what you think is right." You’ll find ways to make things work. If you stay in school, there’ll be another job. If you leave school, you can always go back.

    I would take a trip to NY and check it out for a week or two, to see what the city feels like. That might be the determinant if it were me.

    1 point
  • Chris GillisChris Gillis, almost 9 years ago

    If you are getting more out of freelancing (and looks like you are spending your free time doing it) than you are out of your coursework that I would say yes. If you have the chance to learn from some really great professors in the upcoming years (maybe look into that) than I would stay in school. You will have plenty of time after college to gain real world experience, but you will only be 18-21 yrs old once.

    1 point
  • Iheanyi Ekechukwu, almost 9 years ago

    One of my good high school buddies skipped going to college to move to San Francisco and started working as a UI designer at LiveFyre. On the other hand, I went to University and I'm finishing up my degrees in Computer Science and Design in the winter, while my buddy actually moved onto a design firm and he's still doing really well financially, but the cost of living in SF digs into the salary a little bit. I've got a little bit of debt coming out of college, but at the same time, I gained access to a valuable network of individuals and companies that I would not have been able to get as easily in the real world. Also, I've learned a lot more, both technically, creatively, and philosophically through the various courses I've had during my time at University. And also, for reference, I have a full-time offer for a developer job for $70k/year in Austin, TX with full-benefits after graduation. Once again, I wouldn't have been able to get this without school. But once again, it's all relative and depends on the individual.

    Pros of College: - Alumni Network (if renown institution) - Liberal Arts education (dependent on institution) - Networking with Employers - Structured instruction and curriculums for learning the foundation, work on side-projects and learning new things in your free time. - Because, college. Parties, memories, and something new. - A degree gives you more worth. In this day and age, it's getting to find entry-level work without a degree, most places require experience or an extensive portfolio, but having that degree can help you out in many ways.

    Cons: - Can be expensive without any scholarships or grants (if going to a private institution) - Quality of education is not standard everywhere, I've had some really good professors and some really terrible ones, but on the plus side, the really terrible ones helped me learn how to learn on my own. - May burn out easily, I've seen it happen to a lot of people who end up dropping out.

    I hope this wasn't too verbose. Good luck coming to a decision!

    1 point
  • Lewis FludeLewis Flude, almost 9 years ago

    I did an interview on Radio 4 about this. https://soundcloud.com/lewisflude/young-directors-interview-with

    I think it's probably worth it if you feel confident. College is a place where you can find yourself and discover what you want to do with your life. If I were you, I'd take the risk. But that's not inherently a good thing. I'm not you, and I don't know what this job is like.

    Happy to chat more if it'd be helpful.

    1 point
  • Christian BundyChristian Bundy, almost 9 years ago (edited almost 9 years ago )

    I think it depends on why you're going to school. I graduated high school and went straight into freelancing and working with startups, and it's been great – but I really wish that I knew more about history, chemistry, philosophy, psychology, economics, etc.

    1 point
  • Victoria ArtzVictoria Artz, almost 9 years ago

    Looking back, I wish I didn't waste my time in college. I majored in Actuarial Science only to realize that design was my #1 passion and not just my hobby. I wish I spent more time designing cool stuff than studying for exams and stressing about getting a boring cubicle desk job. I'm a lot happier now and I learned everything I know through experimentation, working for free, interning, cool people I met along the way and the internet.

    1 point
    • Laurie CaiLaurie Cai, almost 9 years ago

      Same here! I got my degree in Economics. A few months after graduation I dropped everything and dove into design. It was the scariest and best decision of my life.

      2 points
  • Elliott ReganElliott Regan, almost 9 years ago

    When I first did it, all of my friends and family were worried about me. After a few months I had surrounded myself with other people who see things the same way I do, and it wasn't even an issue.

    In fact, it had been months since I had even thought about my lack of a degree when I ran into an old friend from high school. I told her that I dropped out to work on a startup, and her immediate reaction was "ohhhh...I'm so sorry". She didn't even wait for me to finish explaining what I had done instead, and I'm still not sure that she really understands why I made that decision.

    Regardless, I have never once regretted dropping out. I that I had done it a year earlier, but things have worked out pretty well so far for me so I can't complain.

    Maybe I will go back, but not unless it will actually get me something in return (beyond a piece of paper).

    0 points
  • Josh ClementJosh Clement, almost 9 years ago

    You're too young! Are you serious, you want to leave college for a full time job. No. Slap

    0 points
  • Kelvin GomesKelvin Gomes, almost 9 years ago

    I have been freelancing since my first year bachelor (Computer Science), did 3/4 internship but this never got in a way with my school. Weight the pros and cons, but honestly, i think you already know the answer to your question. Good luck in NY.

    0 points
  • Luchia BloomfieldLuchia Bloomfield, almost 9 years ago

    Do it. I have never regretted dropping out.

    0 points
  • Account deleted almost 9 years ago (edited almost 9 years ago )

    If you are in a design program, stick with it. The best thing I took from my school experience was the design theory stuff. I believe this is most important. Not the technical side(we where supposed to figure it out our selves) but thinking conceptually, composition, typography, aesthetics, and honing your craft in an environment that fosters creativity and real feedback from your peers. Get your work torn down from a wall and be told to do it again. That type of stuff.

    Also, this is the only time you will have the freedom to really experiment, to flex your creativity without worrying about a real client. So take class project briefs and blow people away with your game changing UI/UX. Again, this is your opportunity REALLY experiment and build a killer portfolio. With that you can go anywhere. You will miss this when you enter the real world so savor it.

    The job offers will keep coming. Your not missing out on anything by staying in school.

    0 points
  • Arun KP, almost 9 years ago

    I'm a college dropout working since 5 years now. Personally, i would suggest to complete your degree although you will miss many GREAT opportunities you might get being a dropout, comparatively the amount opportunities you get having a college degree are huge beyond your expectations. I have had many experiences, While an MNC's like google boast about hiring more college dropouts it's not actually true. Startups are the only area i think you can stay without having the college degree, if you have vision and you have your own product ideas, quit college and join a startup else to be on a safer side, get a degree. I have suffered a lot for not having a degree, i would not recommend anyone to do so. Get some degree (ANY DEGREE).

    0 points
  • Andy LeverenzAndy Leverenz, almost 9 years ago

    A degree isn't of much value these days but I will say you will lose a great experience if you do drop out. Learning theory got me where I am today and I couldn't have learned that on my own. It boils down to money. Can you live on an interns salary in New York? Will the internship truly be beneficial and land that job you've hoped for? Its an open ended question but I will say work and money isn't everything in life. Had I not gone to school I wouldn't have met my girlfriend of nearly 3 years.

    0 points
  • Vinh LeVinh Le, almost 9 years ago

    I've said this before: At the end of the day its your ability to do the work. If you can do that, you can do anything.

    r/im14andthisisdeep (jk)

    0 points
  • Evan BrooksEvan Brooks, almost 9 years ago

    I took a year off of design school b/t my sophomore and junior years. Couldn't recommend it more. Got a ton of practical experience, got to work with some brilliant people, learned to code, learned how to work with engineers and assert myself as a designer. Things that design school can't teach you.

    That said, I went back to school after a year, and the last two years have been all the better because of it. Check if your school will let you take a leave of absence. I ended up changing my major, taking different classes than I would have otherwise, and took some 'real' computer science on the side. It's pretty liberating to understand what you can do and explore and learn in school, after having experienced the more practical working world.

    0 points
  • Adam MichielsAdam Michiels, almost 9 years ago

    Tough choice, especially if the position is really enticing. That said, I have an MA in philosophy, and wouldn't trade that experience for anything.

    Even though I do something totally different now, and it's been challenging since I joined the workforce pretty late, my years studying are some of my fondest memories.

    Also, now it's pretty hard to lose an argument :)

    If you're going to be studying what you're already doing, uni may be overkill. If you want to learn about the world and it's history (+history of thought), I vote to stick with it.

    0 points
  • Dan LeathermanDan Leatherman, almost 9 years ago

    Just make sure you love learning before you dive in. Then you'll be good

    0 points
  • Jordan StanisciaJordan Staniscia, almost 9 years ago

    I dropped out after my Sophomore year and moved to San Francisco to become a UI designer. The social aspect of dropping out is a bit dismal, as everyone you will work with will be older than you by a few years but it isn't completely terrible. This week, my classmates graduate and have no idea what comes next for them and I have a flat, a steady job, and a life built in the city I wanted to be in anyway. The question to ask yourself is: Will you be happy doing another 3 years of school? No? Then go for it.

    0 points
    • Iheanyi Ekechukwu, almost 9 years ago

      One of my good high school buddies skipped college to move across the country to work as a designer at LiveFyre as well, haha. He's since moved on to a design firm though, but he was quite happy every time I would chat with him. It really is all relative and takes the individual to come to a decision on their own. It's a huge decision to make. :/

      0 points