The Dangers of the Dropout Mentality
March 19, 2013

Remember back in the day when you knew that the road to success was paved with hard work and a college degree that you worked hard to obtain within the allotted four years? If you were lucky enough to get into college, you wouldn’t think of dropping out. Unfortunately, in the new millennium, we see American Idol breakout stars making it big in their teens and early 20s and reality stars achieving fame and fortune with little more (and sometimes less) than a high school diploma. This can derail the tried and true thought process that hard work and education are the keys to success.

But even if you discount the fame that can come with fortune, there are a number of dropout success stories that may tempt even the smartest of collegiates to believe they don’t need to stay in school and that they can make it big without their sheepskin. This is true of a very lucky few, but for the largest portion of us, a college degree is the best option to secure our futures, make sure we can afford a home, a family and have a life of financial stability.

Dropout Success Stories

The name that springs most often to mind when it comes to successful college dropouts is Bill Gates. Yes, he dropped out after two years of Harvard and has gone on to become a gazillionaire that has redefined how we compute. But he’s a rare case – an albatross – and rather than serving as a role model for dropping out and still succeeding, he should be seen as a rarity that you should applaud, but don’t imitate.

Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg are two other staggering dropout stories that are often touted as icons for success without study. Yes, these are two men with impressive track records in the business world that have blazed technology trails to be envied, but not emulated.

Dropout Cautionary Tales

But what about all those people that walk away from higher learning with nothing to show for it? There are no headlines celebrating their failure in the same way that we celebrate the grandeur of the successful dropouts. The truth is that those that walk away from college without a plan are often drastically worse off.

Here are some fast facts about college dropouts:

  • – There are more than 34 million people over age 25 that never completed college
  • – College dropouts are 71% more likely to be unemployed
  • – College dropouts are four times more likely to default on student loans
  • – College dropouts earn an average of 32% less than college grads

Students drop out for many reasons. Most often, finances come into play – people feel like they can’t afford to stay in school or worry that their student loan debts are becoming unmanageable. Still others have to drop out to support their family by working full time. Student athletes – like basketball players who are hit with serious ankles injuries during March Madness – may drop out of they lose their scholarships when they can no longer play. Whatever the reason, fighting to stay in school is worth it in the long run, even if it seems less than optimal in the short run.

What’s the Difference Between the Two?

Gates, Jobs and Zuckerberg didn’t just up and walk out of school without a clue. Zuckerberg had already largely realized Facebook when he left school and was well down the road toward success when he packed his bags. The same is true for Gates – by the time he left Harvard, he had already laid the groundwork for Microsoft and headed out with a game plan. Jobs too wasn’t leaving school to gad about – he had begun laying the groundwork for Apple during his brief period at school.

Three Reasons Not to Drop Out

Even if you think that you’ve got a solid plan and don’t need college to kick-start your career, there are a number of reasons to think again:

#1 For Many Jobs, a Degree is a Pre-Requisite – Even if you don’t need a degree to do a job, it may still be a pre-requisite that can be a stumbling block if you don’t have one. Sticking it out and getting your sheepskin is one of the best ways to get your foot in the door at any company.

#2 You Will Earn More and Be Promoted More Often – Side by side, doing the same job, those with college degrees earn more and climb the corporate ladder faster. And compared to those with just high school diplomas, you’ll earn 84% more over your lifetime.

#3 You Will Be Saddled with Your Student Loans Either Way – If you are borrowing to go to school, even if you are sweating the debt, dropping out will only make it harder to pay back. 30% of student loan borrowers end up dropping out and make up a high percentage of those defaulting on their educational debt.

If you are considering dropping out of college, think long and hard before you do. For most people, a college degree is truly worth it. And whether you are still in college, have graduated or have dropped out, if you owe student loans,’s free student loan tool can help you manage and optimize your debt.