You’re sitting in the back of your college classroom and you're frustrated.
Frustrated that you’re not learning what you want to learn. Frustrated that you’re thousands of dollars in debt. Frustrated how the time spent doing busy work could have been spent working on your side projects or getting real world experience.
But you talk yourself out of it when you ask yourself, “What will everyone think of me?” You’re worried how your professors, friends, and family will react to the surprising news.
You can imagine yourself accepting outsiders’ judgment but you crave your parents’ approval.
How do you convince your parents to drop out of college?
I was in the same spot as you two years ago feeling frustrated, anxious, and uneasy. I made the mistake of blurting out I wanted to leave college during a random dinner conversation. This sparked a 2 hour debate that ended with me walking up the stairs and slamming the door for the family to hear me.
A week long argument preceded how college was the “best” thing for me. My parents guilt tripped me saying they fled from the Vietnam war for their children to get a better a education, and here I am throwing it all away.
Now my relatives question my decisions at awkward family parties that have everyone. But they don’t understand. I’m not leaving college to rebel against my parents. I’m not dropping out because I’m lazy or entitled. I wish I would have communicated my side of the story better.
If I could go back in time, this is what I wish I had known before telling my parents about this huge life decision. I hope that if you decide to drop out, you’ll have a much more peaceful conversation and effective way.
Telling Your Parents
You need to be extremely transparent on your business and life goals. Ensure them that the risk isn’t as big as they might think it is. Come prepared with a plan.
Like an entrepreneur leading their team with a grand vision, you need to show your parents with conviction that this is the right move for you.
Your plan should include:
- What you want to learn (Goal)
- Show how higher education is not satisfying your needs (Problem/Opportunity)
- Show how taking a break from school to build your business can solve this problem and be more beneficial towards your goal (Solution)
- What your business is, how it makes money, and your traction (Business)
- 3 month goal, 6 month goal, 1 year goal (Go-to Market Plan)
- Show people who have taken similar paths and succeeded (Social Proof)
- Who will support you during this process (Tribe)
- Ask for support (Ask)
Just like how entrepreneurs pitch investors to raise money, you need to show your parents how you (the product) will breakthrough on this unconventional path.
What you want to learn (Goal)
Share what you’re curious about learning and how building a business, reading books, taking online courses, getting a job, or learning from mentors can help you get there more effectively than college.
I personally wanted to learn everything I could about entrepreneurship. Whatever it took to start, run, and grow a business from the ground up. I would stop at nothing to get there.
Show how higher education is not satisfying your needs (Problem/Opportunity)
Share the problems of higher education and how college is actually slowing you down from your learning goals.
I was not a fan of paying thousands of dollars to learn random subjects that did not contribute to my learning goals. If I talked to my parents two years ago, I would share how I was an active learner who learned best through experience, and how passively hiding my head behind a textbook and taking tests has not helped me. I would emphasize it was hard to find a community who were as interested in entrepreneurship as I was.
I would share how I was already working on my business during the evenings but on top of busy work school gave me, I couldn't focus.
Share your own personal experiences on why higher education is not the best path for you and how there has to be a better way.
Show how taking a break from school to build your business can solve this problem and be more beneficial for your goal (Solution)
This is where you show how taking a break from school to work on your business can help your learning goals better than college can.
Show how building your business will help you achieve your learning goals faster. For me personally, I shared how I could learn about entrepreneurship, help surround myself with the right community, and have a better learning experience.
Reassure to your parents that even if the business fails in the worst case scenario, college will always be there.
What your business is, how it makes money, and your traction (Business)
Now that you shared what you want to learn, the problems with higher education, and your potential solution, share with them what you’ve been working on.
They need to have a clear understanding on what you do, how you make money, and what traction has been like so they can see your progress. Don’t fret if you don’t have much for this section. Share everything you’ve done and the direction you want to keep fighting towards. Sell them on your WHY.
3 month goal, 6 month goal, 1 year goal (Go-to Market Plan)
After you introduced your business to your parents, share your quarterly goals to help your parents visualize where you’re going. People buy on emotion, not logic, so this is your chance to really sell your dream.
Show people who have taken similar paths and succeeded (Social Proof)
Even with a clear problem-solution statement and a stellar business model, your parents will still be skeptical. This is when you need to show other young people who have taken similar paths and succeeded without college.
Do not brag about Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg because your first business will probably not be a billion dollar company. Instead, share how regular young people all around the world who are doing amazing things without structured education.
Like Ryan Holiday who dropped out at 19 and apprenticed under bestselling authors and eventually working as the Director of Marketing for American Apparel.
Like Jeremy Cai who dropped out to pursue OnBoard IQ and eventually getting into the Thiel Foundation and the prestigious startup accelerator, Y Combinator.
There are countless of other stories of people doing the same thing. Assure your parents that there are many paths to “success” and how it’s not life or death if you break away from the traditional route.
Who will support you during this process (Tribe)
Share all the people who will support you during this new entrepreneurial venture. This would be a great place to share your mentors, friends, and new communities that you’ll be around so that you’re not alone on this journey.
Ask for support (Ask)
After showing the clear logic and passion behind your decision, ask your parents for support. It’s going to be a long and bumpy journey taking the self-directed learning route and it would be super helpful to have their help. Share how it would mean a lot for them to have an open mind and trust in their child to make the right decision.
Even if you have a beautiful plan with all the details perfectly aligned, your parents may still not understand or approve of your decision. They still might think, “I went to college and I did great, so you have to as well”, when they don’t realize how much has changed with the workforce and the digital landscape.
Sometimes, they will never understand, and it’s okay. As an adult, you have to stand up for yourself and make your own decisions. After dropping out, I apprenticed under successful entrepreneurs, self-published a book, started a podcast, failed my startup, and worked for amazing startups learning a ton.
On top of these experiences. I joined Draper University to further my entrepreneurship journey. I wanted to surround myself with young adults who shared the same goals and mindsets. My teachers were successful entrepreneurs, bestselling authors, or investors who taught relevant lessons about entrepreneurship. And I was spending all my time building my business in an environment that championed innovation. It was amazing.
But if you've thought this through and feel like this is the right decision for you, you need to take it, before it's too late.
Tam Pham's Blog
I write about my adventures, learnings, and reflections on living my weird, unconventional life. Subscribe below!