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

Elon Musk

  • Elon Musk said college is "not for learning" and that you can 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 wants to make sure Tesla recruitment doesn'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 later netted him $22 million after it sold.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

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 can make it easier for students to afford college, as well as create more access for underprivileged students.

Musk said that "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 spending time with people your own age before joining the workforce.

"I think colleges are basically for fun and to prove you can do your chores, but for they're not for learning," Musk said, which was followed by applause and a few laughs.

Musk said he wants to make sure Tesla's recruiting material doesn't have anything that says the company requires a college degree, calling it "absurd." Indeed, 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 asked whether he didn't require potential employees to have a college degree. And in a 2014 interview with German automotive publication Auto Bild, he also pointed to Gates, Jobs, and Ellison as successful examples of 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. Clearly, it paid off: he made $22 million when Zip2 sold to Compaq in 1999.

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