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Growing Leaders Blog

on Leading the Next Generation


The 18 Year Old Who Skipped College

This story made me think. Last week in the Washington Post, Jessica Goldstein wrote an article about an 18-year-old young woman who is the consummate picture of a college-bound student. Her name is Noor Siddiqui. She just graduated from Robinson Secondary School in June, with a stellar grade point average. She was involved in extra-curricular activities and is very social. She was accepted to several universities—but Noor turned them all down.

Noor Siddiqui doesn’t want to go to college yet.

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She helped start a nonprofit organization that coordinates fundraisers, and volunteers with various charities, as well as a scholarship for Afghan girls that funds schooling for a 13-year-old in a Kabul suburb. According to the Post:

This girl is a Thiel Fellow. The Thiel Fellowship was named for founder and funder Peter Thiel (co-founder of PayPal, early investor in Facebook, billionaire). The program, in its second year, works like this: 20 teenage winners each get a $100,000 grant to pursue a project of his or her own design. For two years, Siddiqui can devote herself to her ambitious, if not exactly original, goal—to end poverty. There’s just one catch. Until the end of the fellowship, no college allowed.

Siddiqui hasn’t decided what she’ll do when her stint is over. “People want my opinion on higher education,” she said, but she has no interest in chiming in. “The truth is, this is just something I wanted to do.”

The Washington Post suggests that her choice raises the very question Siddiqui won’t answer: Is college worth it? Students like Noor Siddiqui choose an option like the Thiel Fellowship because:

  • It challenges them to actually do something that matters.
  • It summons their problem solving skills in a real-world issue.
  • It forces them to budget money and manage people on the job.
  • It prepares them for a real career…by paying them to do a project.

College, on the other hand, costs money, consumes a student’s time with papers and hypothetical projects, and produces an average debt afterward of $20,000 (that’s the average graduate’s debt load). That’s not the life most grads want.

If you know me—you know I’m a believer in education. I believe, however, that more and more students are trending toward options like this project instead of getting more school. They just don’t see school as relevant and it certainly doesn’t guarantee a job afterward.

Tell me what you think. How would you compare an option like Noor Siddiqui chose to attending a four-year college?


  1. Steve Alexander on August 17, 2012 at 8:03 am

    Taking a gap year can be a great idea for starting to build your resume with meaningful experience while giving yourself a break from academics. Starting later, like after 1 gap year is gone, will be much harder for her to acclimate to college. But what she is doing is very cool and meaningful, inspirational actually.

  2. leslie on August 17, 2012 at 8:37 am

    In this economy a dregree doesn’t necessarily do anything for you unless you are passionately driven to be something like a doctor, lawyers, teacher etc. Our students have been fed a lie that says you have to go to college, then they’re
    strapped in debt and 80% of graduates never work in the filed they pursued. So they end up paying for a degree they don’t use, I am a prime example. They need to be sure about the choices they are making and jumping because society says so. We are in an economy now where entrepreneurship is going to take the lead. Starting business’s now are very inexpensive with the internet and the way transactions happen. They first need to define what type of lifestyle they want (time, money, purpose, legacy etc.) then find some one who has that lifestyle and do what they did to get it. It’s called the Define Learn Do Principle. Take advice from the person who has fruit on the tree not just talks about it:)

  3. Jackie on August 22, 2012 at 12:30 am

    This may be one of those issues you want to focus on or address. What are the options for teens who are ready to go do be. I have a 20 year old Biblical Studies major who is ready to move where ever and minister to youth. He is a coach at heart and loves Jesus. How do you take the next step? For now he is planing on finishing University. He has some $, he is ready to go “replicate Katie Davis”…but how? He grew up for 6 years in Jos, Nigeria.Very aware of cross cultural issues. Prime….but?

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The 18 Year Old Who Skipped College