Imagine that you’re a senior in high school and a man approaches to you with this proposition: He’ll give you $100,000 and mentorship to start a company. The only catch? You can’t go to college.
Do you take him up on it?
Well, for the past four years that’s exactly what Peter Thiel, founder of PayPal, has offered high school students across the country.
Out of this year’s 550 applicants, only 20 were chosen this year to become a part of the Thiel Fellows Foundation. Of that group, one quarter are women — a better percentage than last year when only four of the 22 participants were female.
This is a unique opportunity for students, especially considering the growing wealth gap between those with high school degrees and college graduates. Interestingly, despite the lack of higher education, past fellows have contributed to the economy by creating over 182 jobs and adding $87 million in economic action. In the first year of the foundation, five fellows returned to school but since then, Thiel has a perfect record.
Undoubtedly, being a Thiel Fellow becomes more appealing when once you start looking at the success of former program participants. For instance, Dan Friedman is now the co-founder of a company called Thinkful which works with mid-career professionals who want to switch to technical careers. Another, Laura Deming, is now a venture capitalist focusing on anti-aging projects. And Paul Gu is the co-founder of Upstart, a financial company.
This year’s applicants are just as impressive. This year, many proposals focused around bitcoin, machine learning, and hardware, but also include creating a tool kit to help investigative journalists, using technology to improve the hospital-patient relationship, curing cancer, and conducting research on streamlining satellite development. To meet this year’s fellows, click here.
With college becoming an expensive option, Thiel’s offer is a tempting alternative. The opportunity he gives these students is a once in a lifetime chance and is challenging both the role and the importance of higher education. The question is, then, would you apply?