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Elon Musk says college is ‘basically for fun’ but ‘not for learning,’ and that a degree isn’t ‘evidence of exceptional ability’

  • Elon Musk said college is “not for learning” and that you could basically learn anything you want to for free.
  • During a Q&A at the Satellite 2020 conference on Monday, the Tesla and SpaceX CEO said he wanted to make sure Tesla recruitment didn’t require a college degree and that “ideally, you dropped out and did something.”
  • He pointed to Microsoft’s Bill Gates, Apple’s Steve Jobs, and Oracle’s Larry Ellison as examples of people who dropped out of college and ended up being highly successful.
  • Musk has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania but dropped out of a Ph.D. program at Stanford University to launch his first company, Zip2, which netted him $22 million after it sold.

Elon Musk says he doesn’t think a college degree means you have “exceptional ability.”

The Tesla and SpaceX CEO shared his views on college during a fireside chat on Monday at the Satellite 2020 conference. During the audience Q&A portion, Musk was asked how colleges and industries could make it easier for students to afford college, as well as create more access for underprivileged students.

Musk said “you don’t need college to learn stuff” and that knowledge is available basically for free. He described college as a bunch of “annoying homework assignments” and said one of the main values of attending college is students spending time with people their own age before joining the workforce.

“I think colleges are basically for fun and to prove you can do your chores, but they’re not for learning,” Musk said, garnering applause and a few laughs.

Musk said he wanted to make sure Tesla’s recruiting material didn’t have anything that says the company requires a college degree, calling the prerequisite “absurd.” He expressed his admiration for people like Microsoft’s Bill Gates, Apple’s Steve Jobs, and Oracle’s Larry Ellison, all of whom dropped out of college to start their own companies.

“But there is a requirement of ‘evidence of exceptional ability.’ I don’t consider going to college evidence of exceptional ability,” Musk said. “In fact, ideally, you dropped out and did something. If you look at like, you know, Gates is a pretty smart guy; he dropped out. Jobs, pretty smart — he dropped out. Larry Ellison, smart guy — he dropped out. Like, obviously not needed. Did Shakespeare even go to college? Probably not.”

Musk has said in the past that he thinks degrees from prestigious universities are overrated. In January, he answered “Yes” on Twitter when he was asked if he was against requiring prospective employees to have college degrees. And in a 2014 interview with the German automotive publication Auto Bild, he also pointed to Gates, Jobs, and Ellison as examples of successful people who dropped out.

For his part, Musk does have a prestigious degree. He spent two years studying at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, before transferring to the University of Pennsylvania, where he earned degrees in physics and economics. (He opened up in 2019 about graduating with about $100,000 in student debt.)

Musk did, however, drop out of a Ph.D. program at Stanford University after only two days in California, opting to launch his first company, Zip2, instead. It paid off: He made $22 million when Zip2 sold to Compaq in 1999.

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