Several months ago I came across “UnCollge.org”. “UnCollege isn’t just an idea or a website. It’s a movement. It’s a lifestyle. We believe that college isn’t the only path to success.
UnCollege is a social movement changing the notion that going to college is the only path to success. We empower students to hack their education through resources, writing, and workshops. We believe that everyone can live an UnCollege life by hacking their education.“

As someone who is into the education revolution for several years now, I found this concept a real refresher. Once a high school diploma, now a college degree, it seems like modern society is creating these gates, or hurdles on the route to success. No matter how criticized are education systems and the ancient methods they deploy or how outdated they are, and how they frame the minds of the young and get kids into years of debts – all this does not matter. In today’s modern society education is still considered the one and only possible path to success.

Dale Stephens, at 19, established the UnCollege movement and has even wrote a book about it (to be published with Penguin next year), hoping to change this paradigm. Not an easy task if you look at any recruitment ads.

On his twitter page Stephens presents himself as a “20 year old Thiel Fellow”. That got me to learn about the “Thiel Fellowhip”, a program also known as the “20 under 20”.

This program and the UnCollege really convey a similar message. There are other ways to achieve and reach, other than college that is. Obviously having a Thiel Fellowship is a grand help.

The Thiel Fellowship was started by the billionaire entrepreneur Peter Thiel and his team at the Thiel Foundation – people like Jonathan Cain and James O’Neill.  They discussed the whole college debt situation during a flight somewhere, and how it prevents young entrepreneurs from pursuing their real life ambitions and ideals and decided to change that. The Thiel Foundation is to sponsor 20 entrepreneurs under the age of 20 each year, as long as they dedicate themselves to their venture for 2 years and not go to college during this time. In 2011 the first batch of fellows were chosen: 24 entrepreneurs in 20 ventures. Most if not all decided to “stop out” of college for this fantastic opportunity.

The real opportunity offered here is the Thiel foundation connections and mentorship network. Not that that 50K per year is underestimated. However this network of connections is mostly concentrated around the San Francisco Bay area, meaning these young people have to move to San Francisco and learn how to manage their independent lives by themselves. Often very far from their family and friends. Learning to cook or do their own laundry for the first time.

The 2nd batch of Thiel Fellows, the 2012 fellows, will probably be announced next week. We were fortunate enough to meet the current fellows, future fellows and the program’s mentors at the programs finalists’ events in April. The event won some coverage on PandoDaily by Sarah Lacy under the title “Is the Future of Tech in the Hands of the Extremely Young?“.  Thiel Fellowship is focusing on world changing entrepreneurs, though. Not necessarily tech. Research is another field Peter Thiel is into, but his “Breakout Labs” is a separate story. This focus on entrepreneurs is really important to better understand what it is all about and to question the UnCollege concept a little bit too. Entrepreneurs posses the qualities needed to get relevant knowledge and to do –  carry out a plan. But not every occupation can rely on an independent learning curriculum. Nor is this model applicable to every learner. Not to mention the employers.