Scarily clever tech teens skip college and… what else?

This weekend I read an in-depth account in the NYT of a trend in the US for incredibly bright and amazingly young tech entrepreneurs to make thousands of dollars in their teens by designing successful apps… and potentially eschewing further study as a result.

The sheer craziness of this kind of go-getting high-school ambition, and some of its potential drawbacks, is illustrated by this, for example:

On Jan. 15, 2013, the day before the launch of the app, Ryan pulled his first all-nighter, sending publicity notes to TechCrunch, Forbes and other media outlets. Within days the app, priced at 99 cents, was No. 1, en route to having 50,000 paid downloads. After Apple took its 30 percent, the boys split about $30,000.

Ryan’s dedication came at a cost to his grades. The previous spring, he was almost an all-A student; the fall before the launching, busy with business, he earned four Bs and two Cs. At school, he’d break the no-cellphone rule when he saw an incoming call from the 415 or the 408 area code. Silicon Valley, and potential business, calling.

But then grades going down the pan mightn’t be such an issue if this early success makes university irrelevant. Several of the kids profiled in the article are seriously considering whether college is worth it, even if they – and/or their parents – are conscious of the risk of pegging so much on continued success in Silicon Valley.

Can you imagine facing this kind of dilemma at such a tender age? Goodness.

It feels too easy to inflate the benefits of university in the face of this ultra-unusual set of circumstances… structured study and personal application, increased confidence and social connectedness, lifetime employment prospects: sure, all these flow from higher education.

But couldn’t a similar all-round ‘education’ – or even a better one? – emerge from three, four or more years of applied learning especially if, say, supported by one of the tailored tech-teen support programmes mentioned in this article?

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