There are scholarships, grants, and fellowships that reward students based on academic, athletic, music, and other types of achievements. But now there's one that encourages students who have enrolled to drop out. The Thiel Fellowship awards $100,000 to students who want to build and create things instead of sitting in a classroom. Founded by Peter Thiel, one of Forbes' top entrepreneurs, the fellowship encourages a non-traditional alternative to a college education, and some pretty bright students have jumped on board to learn before they get an education.
Naturally, the Fellowship struck a heated national debate upon its inception. Academics tend to believe that a college education is invaluable, including Stanford's President-to-be Marc Tessier-Lavigne. He was asked about the value of a college degree versus "folks like Peter Thiel telling people not to go to college." He responded, "the complexity of the world is in such a way today that the case for a liberal arts education has never been stronger." Some Ivy League students think differently. Harvard junior Grace Xiao dropped out after receiving the fellowship and her company Kynplex is now funded by the fellowship. Xiao states that, "Federal grants are harder to get which is pushing more researchers to explore early partnerships with industry."
According to The Wall Street Journal, college graduates only recently started earning a higher income than they had over the last decade, and unemployment rates are now declining. Unemployment rates dropped from 7% in 2010 to 4.9% in 2015. The top 25% of students in highly-desirable fields earn at least $60,000 a year. How successful are the Thiel Fellows? The Foundation's website boasts that since its first class, Thiel Fellows have started more than 60 companies that are together worth over $1.1 billion, and have created hundreds of jobs in the course of tackling problems ranging from telemedicine and human longevity to solar energy and clean water."
Spread over two years, the $100,000 grant is reserved for 20-30 young adults under the age of 23 who have strong entrepreneurial ambitions. Applicants do not need to have an incorporated company, a developed product, or even a pitch deck to apply. Fellows don't need to be programmers - others have started up non-profits, launched media companies, and built hardware. The Foundation provides grant recipients with a team of programmers, salespeople, and people with "in-house expertise in engineering, marketing, and design." Fellows are able to meet some of the industry's top leaders and investors for strong networking and business opportunities. The Foundation does not take equity in fellows' companies either. So what is the catch? If you win, you have to drop out of college to accept the fellowship.
In addition to co-founding PayPal in 1998, serving as a director at Facebook, launching Palantir Technologies, funding LinkedIn, Yelp, and other tech startups, Peter Thiel is also a partner at Founders Fund and the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build a Future. His motivation for starting the fellowship? "College discourages students from trying new things and leaves them in horrendous debt." Would you apply for the fellowship? If yes, create a profile today to apply for the fellowship, as well as other scholarship, grant, and fellowship opportunities.
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