College for Free: How to Be a Genius

UTaerial

Freshman year at UT, I knew a couple of guys who didn’t attend the school, but were on campus everyday. We kind of thought they were weird, didn’t necessarily respect them, but we talked to them, because we found it funny. Interesting. They were mainly there – to just pick up college girls. Guys in their 20s, no job, not in college, just random guys who lived in Austin. What better way to spend their time than on a college campus where 20,000+ girls mostly aged 18-22 are located everyday? It’s actually not a half bad idea when you think about it. Maybe these guys were geniuses.

They got the college experience without paying for college. They made friends, went to parties, slept with college girls. I hung out with one of these guys a couple of times. He even started sitting in on some classes. Just for fun. He wanted to see what they were about. He’d even take notes and even took a couple of tests – writing whatever fake name he wanted on the test. Since he wasn’t enrolled anyway. It didn’t matter. He’d never see his score. It didn’t matter. He took the test just for fun. Just to “see if he could”. I thought he was crazy.

On a campus with 50,000 people, where classes are held in large auditoriums with 300+ people, it’s easy to sneak in. To pretend like you belong when you don’t. These guys would even eat in the dorm cafeteria. The one that costs $2 for an all you can eat buffet if you lived in the dorms, but $6 if you didn’t. I can almost guarantee you they didn’t pay $6. They probably talked somebody with an ID into swiping them in. Maybe they gave them $2 to cover for it. Maybe they even ate for free. Who knows. I’m sure they didn’t pay $6 for dorm food. No way. These guys were too crafty for that.

It was interesting. It is interesting.

Hustle. Graft.

Like these guys..

Like these guys..

I always respected the hustle. The graft of some folks. In some ways I was a lot like that at that age. At least to the point that’d look for the little wins anywhere. Even that same dorm cafeteria. Sometimes I didn’t even pay the $2. It was easy. Just convince the girls that work there to let you in for free. They’ll do it.

The little wins. They felt good.

Sometimes I did it just to feel a win. Sometimes I did it to show off to friends. I already had somewhat of a reputation for being a hustler – so I took it a step further – show up at the movie theater and somehow get a free ticket. Or if not a free ticket, then talk to the guy behind the snack counter and convince him to give you free popcorn or free candy. Convincing the girl at McDonalds to give you a free soda with your sandwich. It’s funny really. How much you can get by just asking. It amused me at the time. I enjoyed my little wins.

All you had to do was wink at the girl behind the counter, “Hey, throw in a free coke for me too…. c’mon, you can do it. Your boss isn’t looking”. The look on her face when you make such a request. A bit of shock. You can tell she doesn’t get asked this question much. Then the quick darting around of her head to check that indeed her boss is not looking. Her own little thrill. Then, she’d scurry back to the drink machine, get me a coke, and hand it over to me ever so coy. Like she gets to be a sneaky spy for the day.

My friends would look at me, “if you can get her to do that, why didn’t you just get her phone number?”

Because, it didn’t even cross my mind. All I wanted was a free coke.

Little wins everywhere. I once convinced a homeless guy to give me money. I think that was the highlight of my “hustling” phase.

Maybe I should’ve been focused on bigger prizes. Maybe I could’ve gone to college for free like those guys I met freshman year did. Sure they didn’t get the degree. But who cares? Degrees aren’t worth anything these days anyway. The best part of college is the experience – and you can get that without paying for it. Just sneak in and pretend you’re supposed to be there. Flirt with the women, befriend the guys, go to the parties, attend the classes, take the tests. Get the whole experience without the debt.

I have no idea what actually happened to those guys. Maybe they kept doing it for years. Maybe they only did for 1 to 2 years. Maybe they did something stupid and got blacklisted by the campus and were never allowed back. Maybe they did something even more stupid and wound up in jail. Who knows.

It doesn’t matter. For that one year -that year I saw them around on campus all the time – they were winning.

It was more than just a little win….

Maybe they were geniuses.

 

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My 5 Biggest Regrets About Going to College

1.) Choosing Engineering Over Business

When I applied to the University of Texas, engineering and business were initially about equal in my mind. And with due reason – they largely are rivals at UT in some sense. Cockrell Engineering School, McCombs Business School – probably the two main schools at UT that churn out successful graduates (in terms of salary, career, lifetime earnings, etc). In fact, they are two of UT’s most highly ranked and most selective programs: engineering and business.

Exactly

Exactly

On my application to UT, I ranked Engineering as first choice, Business as second choice. I did this partly because I thought engineering at UT was harder to get into than business. But even at time, my interest for business was growing and I started to half-hope that I wouldn’t get into engineering and into the business program instead. But, I did get into to engineering. Of course I did – I had a very well put together and well-rounded application – high SAT score, top 10% of high school class with a very high GPA, very well-written essays (my HS English teacher loved them anyway) – everything was there. (I was loads more qualified than idiots who don’t get into UT and later sue the school.)

After I got in, I was in some respect a bit disappointed. I wanted to switch to business. I didn’t really want to be in engineering. I even asked my high school counselor how do I switch from engineering to business, who do I call in order to switch. He told me to call the recruiter and ask her. I never did. I never acted.

I’ve always regretted it.

When I got to UT, I played both sides of the fence at first – but not for long. I met people in engineering, I joined the engineering clubs… but I didn’t last long. The engineering kids wanted to live in Simkins or other weird dorms away from all of the fun that is UT. They wanted to live close to the engineering school so they could focus on studying or something crazy like that. I never bothered to get to know them. I was never interested in living at Simkins. For me the UT experience started at Jester – it had to start at Jester.

Home.

Home.

That was a real dorm. 3,000 people, 14 floors, co-ed, toilets at the end of the hall, a small room with a roommate who was weird sleeping right next to you, 2 dining halls plus a pizza place, and even all of the athletes lived there. That was COLLEGE. Jester was where everything happened. It was like its own city. Simkins was like the suburbs. The engineering kids were suburbanites. They ostracized themselves. I wanted to be in the middle of it all. I didn’t even like the side of campus the engineering school was on. I spent the least amount of time over there as I possibly could. The rest of the campus was much more interesting to me. I had a lot more friends in the business program than I did in the engineering program.

That’s right – the business school. Stock tickers in the ceiling, the AIM reading room, for some reason I felt at home there. I signed up for the Business Foundations program – a minor in business. Thinking that somehow minoring in business was my escape from the engineering life that I cared so little about. In all the business classes I did well – one of the best in the class. This is largely hidden in my UT GPA.. by how poorly I did in all other non-business classes. When you look at the business classes, you see professors that inspired me like Prof. Baker, who taught business law – who I would exchange emails about driving Ferraris, hang out in his office hours, debate with him about his answers on tests – even get him to change them some of the time. I went to the happy hours he put together. I even ran a study group in his class – essentially teaching his class to my peer group. I made an A in his class easily – a class deemed to be one of hardest in the UT business program. I went to his office hours to seek his advice when I was first considering an MBA.

I never had that kind of a relationship with my engineering professors. I don’t even remember any of their names. I never had any interest. I slept through their classes. I never cared to get to know them personally or took any interest in them.

The writing should’ve been on the wall.

And, it largely was… which leads me to my next regret:

2.) Not Being Focused Enough to Do What Was Necessary to Switch Into Business

I had friends who didn’t start off in UT’s business school, but were able to transfer in after their freshman or sophomore year. This is largely because they took care of business in the classroom. The general requirement to transfer into McCombs if you didn’t start in the business program was that you have to have a GPA above a 3.5 to transfer in.

I had friends who did this and got in. I don’t even think I applied. For some reason the effort was lost on me. I went to a info session about how to transfer in, deemed it was possible, and then didn’t even try. I think to some extent it felt like starting over. You could only transfer into McCombs at the end of the year. So that would theoretically push my 4 year college experience out to 5 years. I was never interested in going to college for 5 years.

I could’ve done it. I could’ve pushed out one year of busting my ass in a program I was ambivalent about in order to get into one more interesting to me… but I didn’t. For some reason. I’m not too sure why. On one hand, it felt like taking a step backwards. I felt like I should already be in the business school. If I would have applied to business out of high school I would have gotten in easily – and now they’re asking me to work extra hard just to get into something I could have waltzed into casually a year ago. It felt odd. Also, it felt like it’d be setting myself back – possibly a whole year if it pushed the college experience out to 5 years. I didn’t have a 5 year scholarship. Also, that’s one more year of lost income while I’m fooling around in school.

I wasn’t passionate enough about getting to McCombs then.. and I regret that. But that is one thing that I’ve learned about myself and it has held true over the years: if I’m interested in something I will work my ass off at it. There’s no time constraint and no limit on my effort. When I’m passionate I will really work hard. The opposite is also true: if I just don’t care about something I don’t put forth much effort.

From day one I didn’t care about engineering. From day one, I didn’t put much effort in. This is obvious… just look at the GPA. My first semester at UT, I had a dismal 2.4 GPA. Just awful. Horrible.

Engineering wasn’t hard. The 3.5 was readily attainable. I just didn’t care enough.

In contrast, my brother actually made a 4.0 his first semester in UT’s engineering program. He’s not smarter than me, nor is he any capable of working harder. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him work as nearly as hard as I do when I’m passionate about something. That’s no knock on him, he’s clearly more consistent than me… and able to put more effort in when he doesn’t care much about something. He did the complete opposite of me and its quite clear to see how different his UT experience was than mine. He stayed in engineering, he made the majority of his college friends in engineering, he joined the engineering clubs and went to their tailgates. He did the things I had no interest in. From the day I stepped foot into UT’s engineering school, I never wanted to be there.

3.) Going Into A Program That I Still Don’t Understand

I graduated with a degree in Corporate Communications. People sometimes ask me what that is. I still don’t know.

I have no idea what corporate communications is or what a degree in communications is even good for. I barely even know what I studied to get this degree. When getting into McCombs as a transfer student proved too annoying I sought something else. Something that checked all of the boxes: an escape from engineering, at least a minor similarity to business (it included the word “corporate”), intra-year transfers accepted (as opposed to only the end of the year like the business program), a transfer process that wasn’t reliant on GPA (to get into the college of communications you had to have a “well-rounded” application which means if your GPA is shit, just write outstanding essays), and most importantly a chance to still graduate in four years (I ran loads of degree audits, communications was the degree that I could transfer the most credits to). Communications was that something. I didn’t know what it was, and I still don’t – but I knew what it was for me – a way out of college: quickly and with a degree.

Maybe not the best way to chose a major.

Basically.

Basically.

4.) Not Transferring to The University of Houston

There was another option besides going into communications at UT. One that did really interest me.

A school 3 hours away from Austin, back in my hometown, had a new program. One UT didn’t even have: a degree in entrepreneurship. It actually ranks quite highly.

I was really interested in it. I researched it a ton – but a couple of things held me back:

1.) Going back to Houston. – what did this mean exactly: going back home? moving back in with my parents? I wasn’t too sure, and I wasn’t too sure I wanted to be back in Houston. I enjoyed being close enough to home to go back when I wanted to, but also far enough where I had my own budding adult life.

2.) Nobody considers UH to be as good of a school at UT. Despite UH’s best efforts to the contrary, it’s just not in the same league… on any level really.

Even with these two cons I was very interested in the program – as it seemed like a much better fit for me and my interests than the things I was currently fooling around with in Austin. I sought out the advice from as much people as I could on whether I should make the switch or not: my college advisors, my cousins, other family members, my friends, etc.

I don’t really remember what they said, but the consensus was really around point number 2 above: UH is no UT.

I stayed in Austin and I stayed in “corporate communications”. Whatever the hell that is I still don’t know.

5.) Not Dropping Out of College

About two years into college I faced the very real decision of just walking away from it altogether.

I had a budding music business that was taking more and more of my time and pulling more of my interest away from my college major that I didn’t even really understand.

I was constantly traveling, but not as much as I could have. Balancing a full-time school load and running a business lead to me getting burned out. I was working so hard most weeks that I was constantly crashing by Thursday afternoon. And if not Thursday, then it was by Friday. Going to bed at 3pm on Friday afternoon because you just can’t stay awake anymore and sleeping all through the night is a rather odd feeling… even more so when you are 20 and in great shape.

There were some plans that weren’t fulfilled. There were conversations that went like this:

Promoter calls: “Can you come down to Atlanta? We are going to Evander Holyfield’s house and he wants to meet you. He heard some of the stuff and he likes what you guys are doing.”

Me: “I can’t, I have a Spanish test.” (Because THAT’S the answer you expect from your CEO.)

I started to realize the business wouldn’t make it unless I could do it full-time. Full-time meant dropping out of college. Dropping out of college meant going away from that safety net. It was a scary proposition.

The business still wasn’t making money, but it was picking up. I thought it was damn close. I thought we were almost about to make it. We were starting to meet people like Kanye West and Chamillionaire. Traveling with legends like Scarface. It seemed damn close.

But it was scary. Dropping out of college seemed like it had no backdrop. It meant the possibility of traveling around for years eating ramen noodles and scraping by on practically nothing. Some told me that that’s what you have to be willing to do in order to make it. “You have to be willing to live out of a van for a year eating nothing but ramen noodles everyday” was the advice I got from a DJ from one of the radio stations in Austin. I knew he was right. I knew this is what it took. I knew how close it was.

Me, "excited" to be with Chamillionaire, circa 2005

Me, “excited” to be with Chamillionaire, circa 2005

I wanted to do it. Or at least I thought I did.

I was ready to be that broke. Or at least I thought I was.

I tried to convince my business partners to drop out of school with me. I tried to convince them to leave school and live in a van for a year eating Ramen noodles. I wanted somebody to come with me. It sounded scary to do on my own. It was a hard sell. They seemed somewhat interested in the idea, but they were scared to pull the trigger as well.

I should have just done it. I was the CEO. I should have just lead by example. They could have joined me in 6 months once things started to pick up.

I still regret it.

Making that decision was a big one. Not dropping out meant I was actually going to graduate from college and it meant putting more effort towards school. Once I started to put more effort into school and care more.. the business slowly wound down and died. I still look back on that like a part of me died with that decision.

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