Instead of asking “Is university good?”, ask “Do I have something more compelling to do?”


I’ve been somewhat successful as a researcher without an undergraduate degree or PhD. As a result, I often have people ask me about whether it’s possible to be successful without going to university, whether they personally should, or whether I can help them persuade their parents. At this point, I’ve probably received around a hundred emails on this topic. It’s still hard to know how to respond.

I’m reluctant to encourage people I don’t know well to take non-traditional paths, because I think they’re riskier and depend a lot on the person. In fact, I suspect that many of the people who write to me would be well served by going to university. At the same time, I think alternative paths can be a great choice for some people — in some cases, significantly better than going to university.

Unfortunately, society isn’t very well set up to support and validate young people for whom this is the better choice. So, if you’re considering doing such a thing, you not only need to reason about whether it’s a good decision, but may also need to navigate tricky emotional and social challenges.