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"Let's drop out of school & teach ourselves"
Jason's story, part 1/3
“’We should drop out of high school and teach ourselves.’ It’s the kind of thing you say as a joke, until you realize that you actually mean it. We were three friends. Total geeks. We asked our parents, but mine were the only ones who allowed it.
I was totally naïve about it, not thinking in terms of risks or rewards at the time. I just wanted to learn more, faster, and enjoy the process. I had an idea that college would be a good place to learn Computer Science, but I never considered how dropping out of high school might appear on my application. My Mom had the great idea of calling it ‘homeschooling’ rather than ‘dropping out’ so we went with that.
She asked me to put together a curriculum for myself. That mostly worked well, but I got some things wrong. For example, initially I planned to use Isaac Asimov’s ‘Understanding Physics’ as a textbook, but I later realized that there were no exercises integrated with it. So I signed up at the University of Maryland, as a non-degree student, to take the relevant course. My plan for History was to read ‘The Story of Civilization’ by Will and Ariel Durant. Midway through book 1 of 11, it became obvious that I needed a new plan. Luckily, I knew someone with a PhD in History who suggested some readings and some written assignments, and provided feedback on my essays. For extracurriculars, I interned at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and played saxophone with the UMD band.
During my senior year, I attended a few college info sessions. Universities had no problem with homeschooling as long as I documented my work. In the end, my applications included good grades from my first two years of high school, strong SAT and AP computer science test scores, my essays, and reference letters from my mentors at NASA. I applied to Caltech and Carnegie Mellon and was accepted at both.
In high school, my future goal was to do a startup because I didn’t think I wanted to work for anyone else. By the end of college, I found that there were people I wanted to work for and I needed the experience. Still, within 10 years I had moved to Silicon Valley and was gearing up to face the ultimate challenge: building my own startup.”
Stay tuned for Part 2, coming Friday!