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  1. #1
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    Value of college degree?

    I'm currently 20 years old, and recently finished my second semester of my sophomore year at a small university (studying applied mathematics). Lately, I've been thinking more and more of taking a break from school, and focusing on my entrepreneurial ventures. The recently completed fall semester ended in me being placed on academic probation, due to a 1.5 term GPA and 1.9 cumulative GPA, and lost my scholarship. To continue at the same university will cost an extra $10,000 per semester. I have average intelligence, receiving a 29 on the ACT and 1300 on the SAT (if you consider those worthy meters). I attribute my poor grades mostly to not applying effort towards homework and not attending class. The reason my grades are so poor is that I find myself spending most of my time focusing on making money through various streams of income, none of which are through standard employment.

    When I was 17 years old, I made my first $60,000 in a four month period through eBay's affiliate program. This is how I am paying for college currently, and don't want to waste it. I feel that during the school year, I don't have enough time for both school, and my self-employed work. During class, I am constantly thinking about what improvements I can make to my business, and anything I can do to make more money - and am in this mode 24/7.

    I currently run a network of websites which are earning me approximately $50 per day through contextual advertising (going up steadily for the past 6 months), and also recently started a small business (an LLC), which is an online retail business in a particular niche. This is also going extremely well.

    Most of what has made me successful thus far is my ability to quickly and effectively research and learn new things. I have never taken a single class related to computer science, but have managed to hold jobs such as an IT intern, and a search engine optimizer - specializing in PHP/MySQL development. These skills have allowed me to turn my ideas into reality, and monetize various types of 'online real estate.' In addition, I've learned how to do many other things, such as most recently learning how to create and run a business. I have endless experience in web design, web programming, network programming, and online marketing.

    My goal is to not focus on these skills as a direct source of income, but use them to aid in my ventures. I'd like to use them to gain starting capital for more reliable business ventures.

    I have visions of where I want to be, and what I want to be doing down the road, but that's not the purpose of my post. My fear is that stopping, or pausing, my education now will prevent me from opportunities I cannot realize right now, or prevent me from having the backup plan of a 'normal job.' However, I simply don't have the time to focus on school while managing everything else. It seems like there is only time for one or the other.

    Since I am no longer able to continue at the same university, my idea is to take one semester off, allowing me to dedicate the next 7 months toward my entrepreneurial projects, and see how things go. At the same time, I'd apply to different schools, for Fall of '07 - allowing me a backup plan of continuing my education.

    I am trying to realize the flaw in this plan. My parents stress how important it is to continue my education now. I somewhat agree with them, but I feel that I am holding myself back, and preparing myself to simply work under others for the rest of my life. Instead, I could be building a portfolio of experience - which could give me that security of being able to get a real job as a backup plan. This would be in contrast to earning a degree in math, costing an additional 2.5 years and $50,000 - and then not using it.

    I simply don't have time for both right now, but I have so many ideas and am currently successful, which makes me want to give a try at doing this full time.

    I am a man of reason, and would like to hear your opinions on my situation.

    Thanks

  2. #2
    King of Paralysis by Analysis bronze trophy
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    The facts are this:

    1) You're only 20, a year off isn't going to hurt you in the long-run
    2) You're not focused on school now, and you won't be in the future if you don't try and fail (or succeed) at what you're interested in

    I don't see any problems with taking a year off BUT you need to set goals and deadlines. If you don't meet those goals then you go back to school.

  3. #3
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    In your post you mention a plan to stop school for a bit then return but you also allude to the idea that college is really just getting in your way as well. So rather than just talking about taking a few months off, which is generally not a bad thing provided that you make a plan and force yourself to return to school when you planned to, I'm going to address the greater issue of stopping school altogether.

    I'm sure many people will chime in and state that you don't need a college education and in many cases they are absolutely correct. There are a lot of people who never attended college and have done tremendously well, but by the same token, there are many others who had your exact same thoughts and are now doing very poorly.

    Going to college does not make you "smarter" persay, nor will a degree guarantee you any more of a future than not going. However, in 10, 20, 30 or 40 years that degree is going to be something you look as much differently than you would now.

    It's also important to understand that society perceives age in a way which can really work against you when you're young. If you're working out of your bedroom making a living, this is less of an issue but when you step into the corporate world, which most people will do, being too young can hurt. Despite all your applicable experience, many companies have a very hard time seeing your qualifications until you reach a certain point -- people who have been in business since long before the internet existed don't always want to admit someone who worked in highschool may be as knowledgeable as they are in ecommerce, online marketing or other 'net subjects. But of course this is not always the case and many companies may also be impressed by your accomplishments.

    At 20 we all believe we know our future but the simple fact is that no one can predict where they will be in a decade. Given your past success it's not unreasonable to assume that you could drop out of college, go back to full time work and do great for the next decade. But what if you get bored with the home work life? What if you decide you want to try working for a corporation?

    I've worked with a good number of web agencies and firms over the years and met a lot of individuals who were completely into their own thing until, one day, they realized they were bored with it, or wanted a family, or just wanted the stability of not having to worry about another ad network crashing. When this happens, and it does happen, having a degree is a very good thing.

    I remember being in a very similar position and ultimately deciding to work during much of my time in college. In many ways this was great as I left school with many major clients and accomplishments that I have and will continue to use in my career. However, one of the best decisions I ever made was to take a break from working so much and enjoy some of the "college life". There are few opportunities in our lives where we get to live with so much freedom and opportunity as in college, it's a shame to let that pass you by completely.

    Again, I'm in no way saying that finishing school will make you richer or give you a magical crutch to fall back on. However, there is no sign that the corporate world is shifting it's perception of college and in fact, these days it's a fair argument that a college degree is just about required for the corporate world. There are always exceptions to this but ask yourself, is another couple of years and few thousand dollars to get something which may help you open doors in the future worth it to you?

    As far as just taking a break, I think tke summed that up about perfectly. Goals and deadlines are essential -- just about everyone in their 20s knows someone who was going to return to school and never did, but still talks about it like they're going to.
    - Ted S

  4. #4
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    Instead of stopping school, why not plan on taking advantage of the nearly4 month break from May until September and devote yourself to your entreprenurial plans. If you succeed within that time frame, you can always drop down to part time then. You (and your parents) will feel a whole lot better about taking some time off of school if you're business plans are successful. Keep in mind too, that college offers more than just book learning and future job prospects. There's the social and emotional aspects too. And, as my parents used to say, you'll have plenty of years to work in the future.

  5. #5
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    college degree get you pass the HR gatekeepers but you can get a job or make money without it.

    if you feel like your heart is not in it then go make some money like Dell and Gate did then go back to school if you want. you're only 20. there is plenty of time left in you.

  6. #6
    Jeremy Maddock WealthStream's Avatar
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    The key is having a good business plan and knowing that you're going somewhere. If you think the contextual website network (or another project) can be expanded into a larger income in the future, then by all means work on it.

    If you have no definite plan, you might want to do an online business as your main venture and go to college ~two days a week (as I'm doing at the moment).

    The crucial thing is the knowledge that you're going somewhere with your life, and will have something to show for your work a few years down the road.
    -- Jeremy Maddock
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  7. #7
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    At some point in time you'll find that a degree will help you market yourself. While some people have achieved success without one (the rare exceptions), most people find that a degree is social currency to get you through the right doors.

    If you plan to work for someone you'll always dread the "education question" in interviews. Why should they give you the job over someone of equal experience and qualification but who showed the discipline of being able to stick it out and get a degree?

    If you plan on doing your own thing, keep in mind that success is not a one-person show. You'll need to attract other talented and intelligent people -- which is more difficult if they don't think you're part of the college grad club. Believe me, people get snarky when they think you're cutting corners -- especially when they didn't or couldn't.

    And finally, at some point, you'll want financing. If you have a business plan, the first thing investors look at is the executive profiles. They want to see alphabet soup behind the founders names. Without a degree, they see you as a higher risk, despite your winning personality and previous accomplishments. This is hard cash we're talking here!

    As one posted mentioned, if you're already restless, maybe you need to follow that and learn the hard way. That way when you return to school you'll be more motivated. But keep in mind, once you get out there... it's very difficult to return. You start getting more involved in your career, your bills, your life.. and returning to school becomes a huge financial and time management obstacle.

    My advice.. you'll be 23 eventually. You could be 23 with a degree or without, it's your choice. But I think you'll find that if you tough it out, get focused, and bang out the next couple years and get the degree behind you.. that you'll have plenty of time to get back into what you're doing now. And when you're 30, you'll realize that those 2 years were a blip on your radar screen.
    Last edited by sativo; Jan 10, 2007 at 07:21. Reason: spelling

  8. #8
    SitePoint Member LadyBratte's Avatar
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    I think a college education is important to everyone.

    if you have a business that is pulling in more than enough to cover your expenses for college, i'd say stay in.

    yes, you could take a break, like others have said, but stick with finishing school. Give yourself something under your belt for later, if need. plus that degree will look good.

    i am 35 now, and going to college 2 nights a week. i wanted to go when i was youre age, but could not afford it. You however can afford it, and i believe you should take the opportunity to continue and finish. Apply yourself more, and strive for A's. There is still a satisfaction in the accomplishment of a degree.

    I learned web designing on my own, and there are so many tools out there now a days to assist anyone that wants to do it, but i would rather not use them if i have the knowledge myself. But my college degree will open more doors for me than JUST web designing, in the corporate world anyway, and i look forward to each class, even if i think they may be tough.

    college life is also nice for the social part, like one mentioned. i was a stay at home wife till college, now i actuall get out. i have a couple friends, through college instead of just online.

    like the others, i won't tell you one way or the other, in the end it is totally your own decision, but my advice would be finish out college, if not for future work, at least to have that degree to show as an accomplishment in life.

    Don't take life for granted, you never know when ones time is up!

  9. #9
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    I say stay in college. You can stay in college and still work on your other ventures as well as the same time. We all know about the Gates', and Dell's, and all the people that have 'made it' by dropping out of college, but what you don't hear about are the millions that don't make it. It's great to have high aspirations in life, but the way I look at it, it's nice to have a "what if I don't make it" plan and that's where the little piece of paper is nice to fall back on. Nowadays unless you've got that little piece of paper, you wont even get a first look in the corporate world.

    You talk about earning a degree in math and then not even using it? Well if you're sure you wont be using your degree in math, why not switch majors to something you might actually use? Like get an entrepreneurial degree (if your school has one, they are becoming more common), there are all kinds of business related degrees out there that might be more suited for you and would probably even help in later ventures.

    Plus, college is so much more than just a degree. You get to experience so many more things, meet a lot of friends, you can actually have a social life, etc...

    That's just my .02.
    Deron Sizemore
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  10. #10
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    I would stick with school personally. A year off isn't the end of the world but I know many who have said they will take a year off and now it's 10 years later and they still have not gone back. Find out what exactly you are interested in. Take a career assessment. You will never be happy doing something you don't enjoy. If it's math, go for it. If it's web related, go for it. Just make sure you enjoy it. I would find a balance between school and your side businesses. It's all about time management and how you use your 24 hours a day.

    The web changes every second. Your sites could be doing great one minute and crash the next. The college degree is a great cushion to fall back on. It shows employers you had the dedication to study something you are interested in and this in turn will help get you in the door.

    Also, I learned so much from college in general, not just the classes. The experience of college can be a huge learning source. Take advantage of it.

    Best of luck. Sounds like you have great business mind.

  11. #11
    SitePoint Addict StuckRUs's Avatar
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    Normally I'd say stay at College but it sounds like you've already wasted a year and unless the results have given you a shock that'll jolt you out of your current frame of mind (doesn't sound like it has) then going back is just going to be a waste of time.

    You can always take a degree course. Don't know if you have something like the Open University over there but that's distance study and can be done pretty much whenever you want.

    I think you need to take your year out and throw everything you have into your business. It'll either sink without trace and get it out of your system or it'll fly and then you can take the course any time you want. You should take it sometime though.

    When employing people I've always ignored degrees as I think they just show you know how to study, they don't give you any real world experience but they're useful for the employers who can't see a good thing and need a bit of paper.
    SMILE! everyone will wonder what you're up to.
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  12. #12
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    do one or the other

    either concentrate in school and graduate in 4/5 years
    or leave school and work for yourself - but understand what some have said above.

    trying to do both will delay your graduation and keep you from advancing your business.

    Each extra year you add on to your graduation date is costing you between 60,000 -75,000 besides the tuition you pay. As you could have earned that money working full time in a corporation.

    I talk from my own experience of trying to do both. I'll finally graduate in may and have several full time offers. note: senior project rocks http://www.robusthaven.net/ and is something I wouldn't have learned without a university.

    Leblanc Meneses

  13. #13
    SitePoint Wizard Rabies's Avatar
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    I'd like to know what idiot guided you into "applied mathematics" if your intelligence is only "average", and you've shown quicte the adeptness at working for yourself (and $60k in 4 months is damn great). I would think that you would have gone towards business studies or things related to what you enjoy doing in your entrepreneurial activities.

    It's no wonder college is getting in the way. What is math gonna do for you?

    Take a break then go back part time to hone up on things that will BENEFIT you in your business activities.

  14. #14
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    Degree is of no use pal. I dont have a computer degree and i make more than 100 k per anum working as a software engineer . I went to so many interviews and no one asked me about my degree

  15. #15
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    what if you worked on your business during summer?

  16. #16
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    Post Whatever you choose, Set your Goals, Then meet them.

    I went to college for 2 and a half years. Then I felt like you did. Plus I had some personal issues. I ended up quitting. I don't think everyone is college material. I ran my own company doing office admin for 15 years with one partner and three employees. We grossed half a million in our peak. When the business broke up I got a years salary out of it. I don't think that's so shabby. Since then, I've taught myself coding and graphics. I'm by no means and expert but my peers regard me as such since none of them have equivalent skills in the field.

    Besides all that I have successfully raised my children to be intelligent and ambitious adults. There were days when I felt like I went to school for 15 years to say "Yay! Peepee in potty!" I lived through it. My motto has often been "This to shall pass..."

    I think we need to go through life with our motto more often being "We may never pass this way again..."

    Live the way you see fit and are comfortable. If you decide to take time off and come back then do so, especially if you think you are not wanting to waste your college fund on boredom and disinterest. However, if you set a goal to come back then live up to the goal. Meeting your goals is not always easy or practical but being successful at it will be very satisfying to you.

  17. #17
    Gone Fishing Japhi's Avatar
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    College is a battle of attrition, that's it. A degree proves that you can pay a reasonable amount of attention to a program/system and a degree is is attractive to employers because it is a good indicator of a loyalty/ stick with it ness.

    The key for you is you don't appear to want to be an employee. Furthermore your field is full of self mades and free lancers negating the absolute need for a degree if you ever do want to work for someone else.

    Your story is similar to mine. I dropped out of school to pursue an opportunity in a field where a degree is nice but not a neccessity, outside sales, and haven't looked back since. My parents used to always tell me you need a degree to be successful, what a bunch of crap. Lots of people do need a degree to be successful, just so happens you proably aren't one of them.

    Edit: I just went back over the thread and noticed a lot of people saying that for every one Dell there's a million people that dropped out of college and were unsuccessful. While that's true that example doesn't fit here because by all accounts the OP is already successfull. He's not dropping out to get married, smoke weed or become a beach/snowboard bum - he leaving college to further a successful enterprise.

  18. #18
    is craving 'the potato' slayerment's Avatar
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    It sounds like you're on the ball and sharp. I wouldn't say this to most people, but from what I've read you definately do not need school. Get the hell out and kill it online .

  19. #19
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    School will never hurt you, but doing it yourself can also get you a long way. Trust your gut, have fun, you are still young Some employers may not look at you if you don't have a degree, this is just a fact of life and may haunt you later on. But if you are partially finished with it you could always go back and finish it then.

    As far as the network of sites you have going, give it your best shot, it may work out very well. $50/day at your age is very good, imo. Build up your brand, you could sell it one day and do the same thing all over again. Then if you go apply for work with another business, they will consider that valuable experience, degree or not, especially since you did it so young (depending on the TYPE of "website network" it is that you run, of course...)

    Save as much money as you can as young as you can (compounding interest is your friend - go check some personal finance info about this)

    My $.02.

    Good luck.

  20. #20
    SitePoint Evangelist Unit7285's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by lschmidt View Post
    My fear is that stopping, or pausing, my education now will prevent me from opportunities I cannot realize right now, or prevent me from having the backup plan of a 'normal job.'
    Quote Originally Posted by lschmidt View Post
    My parents stress how important it is to continue my education now.
    Too right! Finish your degree. It's impossible for you to know how things will look in 5, 10 or 20 years from now.

    If you have a degree then anything is possible, whether working as an employee or running your own venture. If you don't have a degree you're instantly saying goodbye to most mid or high level employment opportunities - and you might find this is a major disadvantage one day.

    There will always be people who tell you to chuck it all in because that's what they did and it turned out all right. But you never hear from the many more who chucked it in and now flip burgers for a living because their 'great idea' didn't work and now they can't even get a decent job. Many people ruin their lives like this.

    It pays to have insurance. Don't underestimate the value of that piece of paper.

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  21. #21
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    You just need to determine exactly what you want and weigh out all options. Some of the things I would concider are..

    1. How much more will i make by having a diploma.. if any, will you lose out on experience that would be worth more?

    2. Does your degree go directly inline with what you want to do, even if you want to do your own biz, you still have to concider these things - should you ever look for funding, VCs, angels they look at the founders not the just the company and sure having education on paper helps, but of course that alone won't cut it.

    3. With what your entrepreneurial goals are, how much starting cap will you need? Will you make enough from jobs to get that? If so, how long will it take?

    Let's face it, school looks good on your resume. bottom-line. Will you really learn more then if you were to venture on your own? Maybe, but unlikely - at least from my experience. However, school does help the overall polishment - are you well spoken? well written? well verse in areas outside of your immediate industry?

    Their are pro's and con's to both. Just be sure to cover your grounds, plan accordingly and make decisions based on unbiased data (you are a math major right!?).

  22. #22
    SitePoint Evangelist old_expat's Avatar
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    lschmidt,

    You wrote quite a lot about your studies and about your entrepreneurial ventures .. yet you wrote nothing about the rest of your .. life.

    I made the mistake of taking that same route some decades ago and quit the uni after 3 years in favor of starting my own business. Although I was relatively successful, I missed out on a lot of .. life.

    You said that you need to change institutions, so consider a different interim focus and schedule .. maybe a lighter class load and a lightish workload .. take some liberal arts classes.

    And to use an overused cliche .. get a life.

    You are making decisions that could profoundly affect the rest of your .. life.

    Think about it, but think well.

  23. #23
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    Ever read those Rich Dad books by Robert Kiyosaki? I read a couple, interesting perspective he has.

    To me, it sounds like you already know what you're doing with money. You understand the value of having various streams of income, the value of having positive cash flow. Math is important in financial matters, but what if you studied accounting instead? Not sure if Applied Math has anything to do with that.

    I wish that when I was 20 years old, someone had taught me about MONEY rather than what skills I need to go get a job and be a good middle-class taxpayer. Now, I chose to go to an art school, which can result in a rather useless degree if you don't know what you're doing. I never got a degree, and let me also say that apart from basic math, english, and science, nothing I ever learned in college OR high school is of any use to me now. Everything I know I taught myself, because it was interesting to me.

    I wish they taught people how money works, how the stock market works, etc. You seem to have a great head start when it comes to finding creative ways of generating income. My "frustrated-with-the-system" opinion? Make your millions now. You can always get a life later.

  24. #24
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    Well I am not an expert in this matter but I have cousins who found it difficult to study as well as work at the same time. they average about 10k monthly and it was a choice between freelancing and college studies. However they have no desire to go without any degrees, and in the end they started up with online degree courses from University of Phoenix, Ellis College etc.. Right now they are on BSIT three year course. Here they can study at their own phase and still devote 100% of attention to their business and ventures.

    Their plan is to obtain a masters degree in a on-campus university after they have obtained the BSIT degree.

    Maybe its something you might want to look in to as well.

  25. #25
    SitePoint Enthusiast Davve's Avatar
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    School and business can be combined. Uni studies is a great experience.

    First, situation here is different: In Sweden we have no tuition fees and we have quite good state loans for academic studies, so money isn't such an issue here. Now, keep that in mind everybody.

    I am in sort of the same state. I am at the end of my MSc in Media Technology and Engineering (Computer Science sort of), and I'm in a fork in the road: Should I do my thesis now, get my degree and start working as a high-income engineer? Or should I pursue an offer to be head of the student union of my university, with very low salary, lower than my student loans yield me, for one more year? The union is located on campus and I would have lots of contacts with university big-shots and fellow students. I will work 60 hours a week, work will be equivalent to life, get minimum wage, but the experience!

    I haven't decided yet. I am sort of sick of studying, because I've done it for so long, there's no thrill anymore. So I would really like to start working. Though - aware of contradiction with LadyBratte -, when I graduate, I will never return, I think.

    I also have my own entrepreneurship alongside school. Often I have cursed uni studies for taking up so much time that I haven't had time to pursue all fresh ideas and clients. Still, I enjoy it.

    23 years old, Swedish retirement is at 65 years; that's 42 years left of work. Still, in ten or twenty years, I don't think it will matter whether I took that extra year or not, in your case several but not that many in the big picture, in time measured. Experience-wise, though!

    You don't get smart by studying. What I've gotten out of it is for example:
    • A huge and great network of contacts and friends: All of whom I've studied or worked with, all of my professors, the dean etc.
    • Studies have yielded a great self-confidence. I know that if I put enough effort to something, I will solve the problem, win the race, finish the project. Some of the tasks we've been handed by our professors have looked impossible on first sight. Somehow we've managed them.
    • I don't know everything, what uni made me know is that I do know I am capable of learning to know everything!
    • Student life. Half of the time you're not in school, and that time I wouldn't change for anything. We've done tons of projects outside of school: stupid videos, programming projects trying out new ideas, freaked out parties, everything
    Businesses can be run alongside school, not as much as with total focus, but they can be kept running. In your case it seems you can cope with it. Also I agree with previous poster about perhaps switching majors, in favour of something more suiting for you. But if you're into computers and programming, a degree in maths will come very handy.

    Swedish computer game companies (DICE, Avalanche Studios and more) aren't hiring "garage guys" that have learned programming by trial-and-error. They require at least BSc in CS or something. Want to program 3D? - you have to know linear algebra. You need to know data structures and algorithms - are you now able to calculate what time complexity your database queries have? When things get big, this knowledge is very useful. Just examples from the computer science area.

    As other previous poster said, it's a good evidence for an employer to know that you know something.

    On the other hand: everything can be learned, and engineering is just one part of an IT business.

    My suggestion: Take this semester off, focus on your business, but prepare it to withstand your absence, perhaps hiring someone. Go to uni, manage the business part-time, and have a great time doing both!
    Finally, the experience is so worth it I think. Hope this is of any help in your decision. Very interesting post, everybody!
    Last edited by Davve; Jan 11, 2007 at 11:25. Reason: Added formatting, disclaimer and summary
    David Andersson Davve
    -MSc in Media Technology and Engineering:
    Working at AdLibris


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