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Strong opinions, weakly held

Against arbitrary measures of worth

Chris Dixon explains how Tom Pinckney got into MIT without a high school diploma:

Tom grew up in rural South Carolina and mostly stayed at home writing video games on his Apple II. There was no place nearby to go to high school. He took a few community college classes but none of those places could give him a high school degree. It didn’t really matter – all he wanted to do was program computers. So when it came time to apply to college, Tom just printed out a pile of code he wrote and sent it to colleges.

It’s worth noting that the incentives for college administrators are completely misaligned with this sort of flexibility in admissions standards.

In the larger sense, this is a reminder that when it comes to evaluating things, room should be made for the exercise of human judgement, especially when the relationship between measurable factors and the final results cannot be easily quantified.

3 Comments

  1. When commercial aviation began requiring college diplomas for pilots, they lost the best of the natural-born ‘stick and rudder’ guys. For instance, if not for the military, Chuck Yeager wouldn’t be flying.

  2. I may have just been at the right place at the right time, but had dropped out of high school and was taking classes at a community college thinking that one day, I’d transfer into a university (I picked up my GED along the way). Eight years later, I finally got into architecture school but left there too as somewhere along the way, I’d taken a little hobby of putting a web site together and turned it into a full blown career, which it still is today. It can be done and I think this sort of thing happens relatively frequently (and even still, if you start low enough, in aviation).

  3. MIT has always had a relatively open attitude towards admissions with regards to this issue. I knew at least two undergraduates when I was there who didn’t have high school diplomas and heard that one of my professors had a doctorate from MIT but no undergraduate degree. MIT then and now publishes a probability of admissions chart based on SAT/ACT score and high school grades, but they’ve always seen themselves as sort of a genius asylum, taking in the intellectually homeless, but brilliant.

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