I left school 9 years ago and it was not my best move.

An ill-advised decision despite the lucky results

Simon Mulquin
6 min readJun 16, 2023
Someone working on a digital project with paper and pen
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What is it really to be self-taught and how is it different from being graduated?

  1. You seek knowledge from experts and learn from them.

The difference is

  • You get to choose whose mentorship you commit to.

The trades off are:

  • In entry-level jobs, schools ARE more recognized than their teachers.
  • The mentors you learn from may only be experts by name.

2. You learn the appropriate skills and knowledge to support your career.

The differences are:

  • You can tailor suit this program to your very own needs.
  • You will hardly miss any opportunity because of your agenda.

The trades off are:

  • You may lack a real-world understanding and pick a path that doesn’t lead to a sustainable career.
  • You are by yourself and sacrifice the social benefits of befriending other students, in the end, you miss a lot of opportunities as well.

3. You commit your resources and time to learning.

The differences are:

  • You will have to fund your own education.
  • Your teachers compete on the quality of their courses.
  • Your teachers are most likely to cooperate with outbound teachers
  • You can start learning the basics for a cheaper price on most MOOC.
  • You may test your learning by using it directly on the field.

The trade-off is:

  • You better learn something competitive before you go bankrupt or are forced into a job that is not relevant to your career.

The elephant in the room:

While many self-taught like me advocate for the benefits and accessibility of self-learning and find a lot of pretty good reasons not to commit to traditional schools, a lot argue this is more demanding.

A “STOP” sign in an intersection
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Let’s be honest, there aren’t many reasons to refuse the privileges of higher education after all.

A student able to keep the pace of a really good school will obviously acquire a lot more knowledge, skills, and sense of reality than a young dude learning stuff by themself.

Excluded people may rightfully argue this is because good schools are engineering an elite society — all in all, you still live in that society and good schools are a good way to make a stand in it

  • This is not a path for elites and definitely not a path that requires more discipline (at least if you don’t lack natural curiosity)
  • Good school students will not only beat you with privileges but also with expertise and experience.

Where do self-learners come from?

The employable self-learners I met come from countries where the common basis of privileges is already high.

  • Paid scholarships
  • Granted schools
  • Easy access to the internet
  • High-value currency and high-paying jobs
  • And eventually sustaining low employment

Then what are the incentives of not going to school rather than going ?

  • Public education fail to meet a basic quality of education on the international market.
  • Or there is no education for a specific field in the local market.
  • The feeling of exclusion from public education for other reasons than affordability. (Distance and student housing, disability, community, language,…)
  • We cannot afford private schools or we feel like we don’t belong there.

Why I decided to leave school asap:

I grew up in the French-speaking part of Belgium (Wallonia — Hainaut), I needed to quickly start making money, wanted to work for smart cities (in 2015 🥲) and fix basically any public services that fail to improve quality of life and basic dignity (just too much of them in Wallonia).

Someone looking at city planning data on a tablet while walking in the street
Photo by Tobias on Unsplash

My main incentive was the lack of local opportunities for my career path:

  • Access to higher education is limited by previous education, you need to commit to this for at least an intensive year in order to get the required certificate though it is acquired over 6 years of high school (12–18) which was quite catastrophic for me.
  • The IT schools that I knew were quite bad, it’s fair to say I didn’t know for sure at the moment but time proved me right as I could compete with bachelor students after a year, overskilling 80% of them in software development.
  • None of them had a program related to public interest design or public administration.
  • For that, I should have gone to a political sciences school or architecture and urban planning, I also checked for landscape architecture schools but again, nothing that really match my motivations as these were very specific to generalists jobs and required me to go to one or two other schools to learn what I wanted.
  • My English was poor and I had no idea ofstudying abroad, if I ever go back in time, I will tell myself to run for the Netherlands or Germany and skip the 1500 hours specializing in coding to make a living…

I was obviously not in a good place to work in the smart cities field, and not at the right moment.

In 6 years of working there, I didn’t see more than 20 jobs in which I could fully put my skills and knowledge to profit and progress toward my goals.

I only got two job interviews which happened to be the only two times I got a job working directly for public services in Belgium.

I tried freelancing and literally got no paid job.

I was definitely lacking the sense of reality I spoke about earlier, the job I taught myself did not exist there but thankfully,… I could code.

In the end, I often ask myself if I left school because I actually have an issue with school, or with my native country, which I eventually left as well.

Why I do not advise you to skip school?

Ego apart, Who would advise you to pick a 68% winning chance path over a 32% one?

Not me.

Many highways going to different directions
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But it’s still up to you to evaluate whether your next decision falls in the 68% or the 32% and pick only battles you can win.

I am glad I took the best decision available to me at the moment and it was to leave school, but with experience, I know it was not the optimal path to success either and the right advice could have made my career a bit closer to what I was dreaming about as a teenager, but in the end, what truly matters is not how you acquire your knowledge, but rather the passion, curiosity, and drive that fuel your learning and growth in pursuit of your goals.

My best advice?

Don’t just go to a random university because you don’t know what to do, don’t randomly skip it either, improve your English quickly before anything else and extend your perception to the world, there should be something for you out there that is more fulfilling than unemployment and marginalization :-)



Simon Mulquin

Fulltime curious guy; freelance in public interest IT; passionated by human sciences, territory development and privacy; I write in french or english 🙂