I Didn’t Go To College and I’m Proud of It

Yashar Ali broke with his family’s tradition, and made his way in the world without a college degree.

This piece originally appeared on The Current Conscience.


PayPal co-founder and Facebook investor Peter Thiel recently announced that he was going to give twenty-four college-age students a $100,000 grant to pursue their entrepreneurial ambitions instead of going to college.

Many commentators have criticized him for diminishing the value of a college education by encouraging his grantees to drop out of school.

But I think Peter Thiel is onto something.

From a very young age, my father promised that I could go to any college I wanted and he would pay for my entire education. I wouldn’t have any debt and wouldn’t have to get a job while going to school. I would have absolute freedom to learn.

My father emigrated from Iran in the 1960s to attend Cornell University. He received his Ph.D. in 1969, and has since become a distinguished professor of statistics. He is truly a self-made man. His academic and life successes are solely a product of his own hard work.

My father’s dream was to provide my sister and me with the opportunities never afforded to him.

I never made his dream come true, and it was the best decision I ever made.

I don’t wear my lack of a college education as a scarlet letter and I don’t live in fear that people will discover the truth. I am overwhelmingly proud of it.

When I told my father that I was moving to California to work, instead of going to college, he and my mother gave me the money to set up an apartment in Los Angeles. My father never said a word about my decision to go out in the world without the safety net of a college education.

I know my choice broke his heart. While he considered a university education an absolute necessity, he always allowed me freedom to make choices about my life.


Today I am thirty-one years old and I have had a successful career in politics. Last year, I managed a successful statewide political campaign in California.

When most people hear about a college-aged kid skipping college, they aren’t reminded of Bill Gates or Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg. They think of an aimless eighteen-year-old who sleeps the day away and lacks real purpose. Avoiding adulthood and sleeping all day are not the right reasons for avoiding college. I don’t fall into that camp and never have.

I have been waking up at 5 a.m. since my junior year of high school and I started working when I was fifteen years old. I often tell people that I work harder than most people I know, not because I am trying to make up for the absence of a college degree, but because I feel a definitive purpose in my life — one I have felt since childhood.

A common thread runs through people who don’t go to college and are nonetheless successful in life. By their definition, an undeniable entrepreneurial spirit is embedded in each of them.

This doesn’t mean they have to start a multi-national corporation like Bill Gates did with Microsoft or start a revolutionary social media website like Mark Zuckerberg did with Facebook.

This entrepreneurial spirit can be applied to the work of a plumber or to the work of an advocate opening an orphanage in Africa.

For me, an entrepreneurial spirit is about having a vision for your life, feeling a sense of purpose, and being undeterred by risk and uncertainty. I’ve had plenty of bad days since I moved to California, but each morning I wake up knowing that I am heading in the right direction.

It is not my intention to diminish the value of higher education. I want my doctor or lawyer to receive a proper education. There are millions of people around the world who, like my father, consider a student visa and access to an American university something akin to winning the lottery.

There is also no doubt that for most people, a lack of a college degree is career suicide.

And I firmly believe that most eighteen-year-olds greatly benefit from the structure of the university system. There, they develop a sense of independence.

But learning how to be independent is not what I needed from college. While attending classes and gaining knowledge from professors would not have hurt, at the end of the day, my decision to skip college was about one thing: time.

I didn’t want to be like my friends who went to college because they didn’t want to be an adult. They would continue further into graduate programs to avoid figuring out what they wanted to do. As if hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt and twelve lost years could to solve a fundamental problem in their soul.

To this day, friends still ask me whether I would ever take night classes to get my college degree. After what I have accomplished, I can’t imagine retreating backwards. Why should I?

It’s been thirteen years since I graduated high school and I still haven’t had a conversation with my father about my decision to skip college.

I always wonder: is he truly proud of where I ended up? I know I am. And I couldn’t have done it any other way.

I hope you will join me on Facebook and follow me on Twitter.

This piece originally appeared on The Current Conscience.

photo by NID chick / flickr

About Yashar Ali

Yashar is a Los Angeles-based blogger, commentator, and political veteran whose writings about women, gender inequality, political heroism, and society are showcased on his website, The Current Conscience. Please follow him on Twitter and join him on Facebook.


  1. Interesting article. I’ve read on some websites “10 reasons not to go to college” and a lot of very valid points were brought out. One in particular I found very cool was that the money invested in college could be invested into starting your own business or even real-estate! I have PERSONALLY spoken with people who either going to college, went to college, or are presently in college. My cousin who went to college said they basically teach you how to learn. My other cousin, went to college for a decade and she’s having a hard time finding a job. I would rather invest that into something else, like a writing career, self-publishing my own book, starting a small business and so on. College isn’t the ultimate answer.

  2. wellokaythen says:

    I went to Reed College, Steve Jobs’ “alma mater.” The good news there is that even if you don’t finish your degree, if you become rich and famous the school you hung around will still consider you a valuable alum. Like Jobs and Gates, you could even become a higher education role model without ever completing a degree. Best of both worlds.

    Heck, become rich and famous enough and you can skip grad school completely and get an honorary doctorate or two. Go really far and schools you decided not to attend will name buildings after you, for the small price of a few dozen million dollars. Obviously being a long-term college success is pretty independent of whether or not you graduated from the place….

  3. wellokaythen says:

    College instructor here, so I’m perhaps biased by my own self-interest. (Lower enrollments could cost me my job, so everybody please keep the peer pressure going….)

    But, it seems a little extreme to pay someone to NOT go to college. Why not give the entrepreneur $100,000 and allow him/her to spend some of the money on courses if he/she wants? If I take the money and sign up for an accounting class, do I lose my eligibility? Is the scholarship committee going to monitor my laptop to make sure I don’t secretly take an online course in my spare time?

    I wonder if there’s an age restriction. I have a few degrees, but for 100K I’m willing to underreport my education level and say I never went to college….

    Seriously, though, I would agree that in terms of entrepreneurial experience, college is often not very useful. Most of my experience is at the 2-year level. I can tell you that for many if not most professional/technical programs and community colleges, the main approach to preparing students for the “business world” is to train them to be entry-level corporate drones. The main goal is to make sure the student is ready on the first day of work to do exactly what the boss wants, or to be a reliable employee for a business owned by someone else. That is NOT necessarily good training to be your own boss or start your own business or be self-employed. Hell, it’s not even good training to be a low-level manager.

    I’ve seen programs where you get a degree in repairing John Deere tractors or running diagnostics on GM cars or fixing Rolex watches. You learn what the big company wants you to learn, based on the textbook the corporation publishes, because they’re funding the classes. Hardly conducive to thinking outside the box.

    Corporate capitalism and entrepreneurial free market capitalism are not the same animal. Preparing you for one does not necessarily prepare you for the other. Colleges tend to be better at preparing you for success in the former but not the latter.

  4. Higher education is great but it’s no the end all and be all for success. Through the years in the corporate world, I interviewed countless college grads who “expected” to be hired simply because of their education. A lot of college grads are disappointed that their education isn’t an automatic. A lot of competition out there and a lot of people to pick from. Many positions need employees can get up to spead fast and sometimes that isn’t always a college grad.

    Yashar, there is no dowubt that your father taught you well in many ways that have nothing to do with formal education. You appear to have great work ethics and a drive to be successful. Good job young man. @ you too Andrew

  5. I ABSOLUTELY LOVED THIS ARTICLE. I feel the EXACT same way. I could have written this, without the field being politics. I am successful in the field I decided to dive into and people are asking ME to help them get in. They wave their degree around thinking that they are God’s greatest gift to man because of it too. They feel entitled to have a higher position or the position I have. I beat out over 300 MBA grads with degrees for the position I hold right now and it’s only entry level.

    I’m damn proud to have not wasted any time. Could it have helped? Sure it could have. I always love learning, but I learn on my own. I read countless amounts of books, blogs, articles, etc. I am self taught without going into debt.

    Many people will come out of college and be proud of that piece of paper they have. I don’t understand that just like people don’t understand what we have to be proud about for NOT going to college. Keep doing your thing Yashar! I’m with you! Thanks again for this wonderful post!

    Making waves every single day and LOVING life!!! Thanks again!



  6. Just cannot understand what is there to be proud of in not going to college??? Is college some kind of prison that one would feel good that he never went there??

    • It’s not that he is proud of not going to college as opposed to going to college, he is just proud of his own choices. It’s society that tells us, growing up, that the only respectable life choice is to go to college. For those of us that don’t, we’re constantly made to feel like we made the wrong decision. I constantly feel like I shouldn’t be proud of my achievements, simply because I’m not nor do I plan to be in college.


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