Today, Tom Pinckney is an accomplished computer engineer and web entrepreneur, having co-founded Hunch and SiteAdvisor before that. But he never got a high school degree. Having grown up in rural South Carolina with no high schools nearby, he learned to write video games and hack on an Apple II. So when he applied to college, his application consisted of sheets of the code he had written.
Writing on his blog, Pinckney’s friend Chris Dixon recounts the remarkable story of what happened next:
Stanford, Berkeley and everyone else summarily dismissed his application on technical grounds – he didn’t have a high school diploma.
MIT looked at his code and said, “we like it” – we accept you.
For his Masters the best four CS schools – Stanford, Berkeley, Carniegie Mellon, and MIT — all recruited Tom He stayed at MIT, the school that gave him a chance without a high school degree.
MIT is a national treasure. If you believe in meritocracy and the American dream, you believe in MIT.
Given the regimentation and gameification of the college application process since, would MIT — or any school — accept a brilliant but degreeless candidate like Pinckney today?