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JOSH JONES

CEO & Founder

CEO Story

First, a bit about my academic trajectory. Then a little about some obstacles I encountered along the way. Then we’ll zoom out to the implications for the Dream Score vision.

I was born in San Diego, California, and lived there until I was 8.  I was the first person to read comfortably in my class, and was a year young for my grade.  (I was in college before I turned 18). I moved to rural Oklahoma when I was 9.  I had always read a fair amount, but I became interested in cosmology and astrophysics some time in the 9th or 10th grade and began reading everything on the subject I could get my hands on.  This interest eventually transferred to metaphysics, epistemology, and mathematics. I discovered later, when I wrote my University of Chicago application essays, that I was seeking certainty, trying to establish my worldview on a firm foundation and have a structured way of interpreting it.

Some time between the ages of 4-6, after reflecting on an experience of awakening from a dream within a dream and being convinced for a few minutes that I was still dreaming and would “wake up” again, I had a moment of radical Cartesian skepticism. My whole worldview was called into question, to the point that I considered the possibility that my familiar body, experiences with inanimate matter and even relationships with people did not have the same ontological status I attributed them.  I entertained the possibility that I could have a completely different form, in a completely different mode of existence, a completely different “awake state”, perhaps even be another being dreaming this human existence.   Of course that thought was just a moment punctuating, rather than at the forefront of, my everyday experience, and at that age I could not verbalize it, but it played such a large role in shaping who I am that it was the topic of the central essay in my application to the U of C.

I started moving heavily toward math in high school at OSSM, the boarding school I attended.  One of my math teachers, Dr. Bucki, used an axiomatic approach to mathematics, starting with set theory and logic, which perfectly coincided with my search for a firm worldview.  I was also interested in physics, as I could use it to make concrete predictions about how the physical world would evolve, and what the laws are describing it.

When I was admitted to the University of Chicago, I was naively and overambitiously set on majoring in math, physics and philosophy.  This was theoretically possible!  But there were so many options and new fields I was interested in but didn’t have enough time for that it wasn’t practical.  Each quarter of my first year, I had a math, a physics, and a philosophy course, but later I decided to stick with math.  Then one of the options for a core course was psychology, so I took that and realized that psychology not only dealt with some of the epistemological questions I was concerned with earlier, but is also interesting in its own right.  (By the way, looking back, this background was perfect for tutoring.)  Then with my math major almost complete, I decided that I didn’t want to spend my life developing new theorems and doing abstract mathematics in what felt like a vacuum, but rather, applying existing mathematics to various problems we face in the world.

I had also become increasingly interested in how the mind works.  I took more psychology classes, including a sensation/perception class which led me to take the graduate level computational neuroscience (CNS) sequence in my 4th year.  At the time CNS seemed perfect for what I wanted to do.  I was interested in the brain, and I wanted to use math and do something interdisciplinary (computational neuroscience uses many of the tools of science all in one big field: physics, biology, chemistry, computer programming, mathematics, psychology, you name it).  But again, I decided that I didn’t want to devote my life to this, for career reasons, rather than intellectual ones.  That was one of the reasons I decided to pursue economics.  I wanted the freedom to move between academia and the corporate.  I had also had some financial struggles (explained next), and had gradually started using tools from economics (without having any formal acquaintance with the discipline), and found that not only did I have a natural aptitude for business and economics, but also that the tools from economics can explain behavior (fitting with my interest in psychology).

So I had found a new fascinating field.  I audited graduate level economics and statistics courses after graduating and considered applying for the PhD program at the Booth School of Business, but eventually decided that although I value the time I spent in school, and I still actively learn new things, I do not want school to be my entire life.  I’ve found that I won’t necessarily be able to satisfy my intellectual curiosity in a university setting, and since being in one has all these concomitants that aren’t related to the reason I am there, in some ways it is more of a distraction than it is the best way to get what I seek.  I began working informally with some neuroscientists on a rather obscure yet notorious topic that was buried in the 1960’s and has only started reemerging in academia ever so slowly since the mid 2000’s (involving mystical experience and psychopharmacology).  Actually, this has a lot to do with why I moved to the Bay Area, but that is another long story (and one that probably wouldn’t make sense anyway, if it doesn’t already)…

Now, about my struggles.  I came from a working class family with little educational background. ( I was the first in my family to go to college, let alone a world-renowned institution.)  I always excelled in public school and loved learning, but I was never really challenged, until one of my high school teachers noticed how bored I was and suggested I look into OSSM, the math-science boarding school 150 miles from home. So I did and ultimately applied and got accepted. Buying a graphing calculator (at least TI-83) was required of OSSM students. I got the TI-89 (several models above the minimum) with money I got from selling my cow, an investment that really paid off, as it helped me understand calculus and save a lot of time with symbolic manipulation, I used it when I proofread economic models for the Booth School professor, and because I still use that calculator to this day!

But anyway, I go through OSSM, and apply and get accepted to the University of Chicago (each a story in and of itself). The only hurdle left for me was financial; I was supposed to save a few thousand dollars over the summer to apply to school expenses. It’s difficult for a 17 year old to find work in the summer in rural Oklahoma that pays more than $5/hour without having some kind of connections. The summer before Chicago, I worked at a barbeque restaurant as a busboy/janitor. No tips, by the way. I hated it. I had to work weekend evenings until midnight, drive 30 minutes each way, and all things considered, my after-tax hourly wage, including travel time and gas money, was about $3 an hour. This is no exaggeration. Up until this point, I studied because I loved learning, and my doing well in school was largely a coincidence, as I was never that pressured by my parents. But this was when I first became determined to be successful. I didn’t want to be stuck working a job I hated, and I knew that since my parents weren’t rich, getting a good education was the only sure way to avoid that.

I also worked for an electrician that summer, digging trenches in the hot, dry Oklahoma sun, and pulling wire (much of the electrical wiring in walls runs through metal tubes–guess how it gets through those tubes…) in a hot, stuffy, humid dentist office ceiling. The ceiling was so hot (around 115 F) and humid that just standing there was enough to make sweat roll off anyone. I also sold my mule for $400 to raise a minuscule amount for college. Again, none of this is exaggeration.

My parents told me that they would let me live with them and feed me and all if I stayed home and went to a local university, but my dream was to go to UChicago and study there, and I knew when I went that I would pretty much be financially on my own. I didn’t fully realize how difficult that would end up being, until in March of my 3rd year I only had $200 in my bank account and had to pay for food, next month’s rent, and books for spring quarter. I somehow had to come up with enough money to take care of food and rent for the coming months also, but at the same time study hard and do well in one of the most intense universities in the world. I lived off less than $300 a month in rent, and $200 a month in food (food isn’t cheap in Hyde Park since most of the University population is fortunate enough to afford the high prices), so there wasn’t really anywhere I could cut corners.

I already had been cutting them too much: I didn’t realize it, but I had lost about 10% of my body weight over a few months, from a lean 153 to a slightly emaciated-looking 138. I had even stopped going to the gym because I couldn’t afford to have to eat more.  My mental health was also starting to deteriorate from stress, malnutrition, and sleep-deprivation. And no jobs were available that paid more than $10 an hour after tax, so I’d have to greatly compromise the time I would spend studying (or sleeping) in order to stay afloat. In economics jargon, one might say that the opportunity cost of my time was higher than my wage rate (when ordinarily it’s equal; Not good…).

If I didn’t find a way, I’d have to go back home and end the dream, or at least postpone it until I could afford to pay $40,000 to finish. It was like a boxing movie where the protagonist is down for the count: “7!…8!…9!…”, barely conscious and exhausted, when all of a sudden the mysterious life force within revitalizes them and supplies the energy to finish strong. That was when I first started to become an entrepreneur. Not for the thrill or for the challenge, not for hedonistic satisfaction, but because in my mind there was no other option. Flourish or perish. I started a local moving service, which I operated for a few years. With the money I earned from that, I could take care of my financial situation. And graduate! I had made it.

Anyway, I’ve had many other significant struggles (arguably as significant as the financial struggle), but they’re too personal to include here.  I just wanted to include enough that you could get a little more sense of who I am, who I was, and some of what I’ve had to overcome.

Now, past me, into the bigger picture: I remember hearing one of my friends complain “My parents only give me $600 a month! That barely covers rent! How the (am I supposed to get by on that? I’m at the University of Chicago–I don’t have time for a job!”.  I was thinking “Yeah, who has time for a job here?”.  I also thought “If I had $600/month I’d be set and my GPA would be half a point higher…”.  Up until that point, I had no real sense of how many orders of magnitude the income distribution spans.

It is mind-boggling to consider that so many individuals are limited not by their talent or motivation, but by the situation they were born into. In fact, more than 10,000,000 high-school and college aged people of very high or genius level intelligence do not have access to elite education.  Moreover, many times that number of people don’t even have the option of struggling for a chance at education, literally hundreds of millions of people.  That’s a lot of human potential going to waste.  Even in the U.S., there are millions of people with hardly any (realistic) way out of the situations they were born into.  I believe that Education (with a capital E) is one of the biggest equalizing forces and keys to improving the human condition.  It will be easier to address many other world problems when we begin making quality education freely accessible.  Humankind, I regret, is myopic in not making education for everyone a priority.

I hope someday, that within the next decade, Test Prep Unlimited will be able to help other financially limited individuals receive higher education in a significant way, here in America and elsewhere. It is my dream to start a fund to give geniuses in 3rd world countries the opportunity to study in 1st world countries and help develop their communities, or at the very least take care of their families.

What’s your ambition?

 

Get in touch and see how our team of remarkable tutors can help you achieve your dreams. Together, we can accomplish extraordinary outcomes.

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