[Correction: Despite sending out emails and updating its site to ask people 23 and under to “apply” for its $100,000 stipend to skip college, the Thiel Fellowship tells us it’s is not accepting anyone older than 20. We reported earlier it was taking people up to age 23. Apparently those over 20 are only eligible for the Thiel Summit, which brings together bright youngsters with mentors, not the Fellowship with its $100,000 stipend.
However, for the logic I lay out below, it might make sense for the age limit for the Fellowship to be raised. This article has been edited to reflect the correction.]
The Thiel Fellowship might want to consider forgiving kids for experimenting with college. The program gives superstar youngsters $100,000 to sidestep university and start working on a big idea for two years, but is currently restricted the fellowship to people 20 years old or younger. That may disqualify potential fellows who went to college for a few years, had to serve in their country’s military, took some travel time, or finished high school late.
The point of the Thiel Fellowship is to offer capable youth a more self-directed, applied education alternative to sitting in a college classroom. PayPal co-founder-turned-venture-capitalist, and fellowship founder, Peter Thiel once told the Wall Street Journal that “[traditional] education has become a way to avoid thinking about the future.” Rather than having to make a decision about what to work on and actually get your hands dirty, you can coast for a few years.
The Thiel Fellowship recently sent out an email that said:
“The Thiel Fellowship is a program supporting young entrepreneurs build the future. We award 20 fellowships each year and we’re helping hundreds of applicants by connecting them to resources like mentoring, internships, and inviting them to participate in our Thiel Foundation Summit Community. If you’re 23 or younger we want to hear from you, give you feedback on your projects and help you on your way. We look forward to reading your application and being inspired by your vision for the future.
2 Years. $100,000. No limits. Build something amazing with the Thiel Fellowship and Thiel Foundation Summits.
Take a shot at the Thiel Fellowship!”
[Note: Judging by the text on the Fellowship site and this email, it’s obvious that the Thiel Fellowship needs to more clearly communicate its age limit. Still, I apologize for spreading the confusion.]
Thiel’s fellowship pays kids a stipend that liberates them to work on ways to improve the world, rather than saddling them with debt. They get mentorship, workshops, connections to resources, and an alumni network without a formal alma mater. Critics say college has socialization benefits, and that graduates earn more, but Thiel has countered saying these complaints typically come from academics financially tied to the success of old-school … schools.
The theory is that many come out of college without being much closer to finding their purpose in life, but having burned some of their most enthusiastic years to shackle themselves with student loans.
But there are brilliant young minds who miss the 20-year age limit for the fellowship. Maybe they tried but didn’t find fulfillment in college, or had to serve in their military like in Israel, Korea, Singapore or Norway. One of the smartest freshman I knew at Stanford was 21, as he had served in the Singapore military doing “tank math.”
If the Thiel Fellowship flexed to give an opportunity to late-starters who want to educate themselves and define their own destinies, it might be able to create an even stronger signal that college isn’t the only way to learn.
[Image Credit: Erin Ashford Photography for the Thiel Foundation]