How to Get Paid $100,000 to Drop Out of School

Empty Classroom

Yes, you read that correctly.

The Thiel Foundation, started by billionaire Peter Thiel, who cofounded PayPal and was the first outside investor in Facebook, pays young men and women to drop out of college.

Those who apply and are accepted become part of The Thiel Fellowship. Originally called “20 under 20” because there are about 20 participants chosen each year and they must be 20 years old or less, the fellowship is in its fourth year.


Why Do They Do it?

According to its website, The Thiel Foundation “defends and promotes freedom in all its dimensions: Political, Personal, and Economic.” The fellowship, which is sponsored by the foundation, has this mission statement:

“The Thiel Fellowship is a community of visionaries creating a radical re-thinking of what it takes to succeed and improve the world, through self-directed learning, independent thought, and meaningful contributions.”

In setting it up Peter Thiel wanted to encourage young people to explore alternatives to college and to formal education in general.


What Do You Have to Do to Get Paid?

If you apply and are selected to participate (there are about 20 to 25 selected each year), you’ll be given $100,000. It’s paid out over the course of your two-year fellowship. You’ll also get mentoring and support in a variety of ways, and you’ll be working on some big project that you select for yourself. There are many different goals and projects that fit with the mission.

According to a recent Business Insider Article about the Thiel Fellowship, current participants include an 18-year-old girl who is working on a startup biotechnology company, a 19-year-old man from Canada who is making a new 3D printer, and an young woman who is hoping to “revolutionize” today’s the fashion industry. Nick Liow, an 18-year-old from Canada, is working on ways for writers, musicians, and other artists to get paid when giving their intellectual work away for free. Ritest Agarwal, from India, currently operates a chain of affordable tech-enabled inns, and is hoping to “merge the hospitality and tech industries.”

Basically you have to have a plan to change the world for yourself and others. To complete last year’s application questions you had to write an essay explaining “how you’d like to change the world, how you would personally make this change happen in a project, and how you would like to use the Thiel Fellowship to pursue this vision.” In other words, you probably won’t be accepted if you just want to open a sandwich shop, unless you have a radical approach, like a way to make money giving away those sandwiches.

Another Business Insider article profiles a 17-year-old who has created a fast computer server that uses half as much electricity as a normal one. That article notes that Thiel fellows, in the few short years they have been around, have started 67 companies that employ more than 130 people full-time. The oldest of these entrepreneurs is still under the age of 24. Just about a year after becoming one of the first of the fellows, James Proud sold Giglocator for an undisclosed amount. He had created the company to help people find live music events.

According to the fellowship rules for applicants, you must:

  • Be 14 to 20-years-old as of the deadline for application (usually December 31).
  • Stop going to school during your two year fellowship.
  • Refuse any other employment during that time.
  • Consider moving to California.
  • Define a specific objective, complete a related project, “or improve or enhance a scientific, technical, or charitable capacity, skill, or talent.”

If you meet those and other criteria you’ll get $100,000 and mentoring from tech entrepreneurs and philanthropists. They will help you develop “disruptive technologies,” and/or pursue future business and employment opportunities. Okay, I never said this was going to be easy. But if you are an overachiever who doesn’t need the structure of high school or college, or you have a child over 13 who fits that description, this might be an interesting and lucrative opportunity.


How Do You Sign Up?

Alas, you might have to wait a bit, depending on when you are reading this. The application window is usually open from October through the end of December for participants who will then start their fellowships sometime between May and September of the following year. But it might be good to wait. I suspect that the prospect of getting paid $100,000 to pursue one’s passion for two years might draw a lot of interest and make for some stiff competition. Taking a few months to decide what you really want to do and to prepare your application materials could increase the odds of you getting selected.

You can find the details and get your questions answered on the Thiel Fellowship’s official “About Us” page. You’ll find an “Apply Now” link that will bring you to a page with the latest news about when the next application window opens. You’ll also find a PDF with last year’s application questions, so you know what kind of preparations to make.

Your Turn: What do you think about getting paid to drop out of school? Will you apply or encourage someone else to? Comment below…