Are you thinking about becoming an entrepreneur, but not sure whether or not you should get a college education first. Let’s explore the pros and cons of whether or not a college degree is necessary to succeed as an entrepreneur. I am currently having these conversations with my teens and am thrilled that they are breaking the mold of the traditional thinking that “college is life.” As someone who values my Masters level education from a prestigious, private college, I acknowledge that the Internet has changed the way we are educated and the way we do business. Evaluating the future from different perspectives and without social pressure is something I encourage every young person to do.
1. Knowledge and Experience
Pro College: Although you can learn most things on your own, attending college can help expedite this process and introduce you to people outside of your current spheres of influence. From business management to accounting, universities open up learning opportunities that you never knew existed. In fact, the act of attending college can take learning and practice and help you gain organizational and interpersonal skills necessary for owning your own business. Plus, you’ll meet peers who you can learn from and make meaningful connections.
Con College: If your college education will not be paid in full by either a scholarship, college fund, or some other way, do not go. Student loan debt is bogging down students well into their 30s (or 40s-I am still paying off loans.) Additionally, if you have a clear direction and understanding about what industry you want to pursue, skipping college could fast track your career and earning potential. Everything you need to know about becoming a strong entrepreneur, you can learn from a combination of mentors, online tutorials, and trial and error. If you have a great idea, don’t wait. Get a day job or side hustle to pay the bills and develop your business idea.
2. Meeting New People
Pro College: Going to college will help you make invaluable friends and connections who could eventually become business partners. Networking in college with like-minded people can contribute to your entrepreneurial success. You will meet potential partners, clients, business connections, and begin networking and marketing yourself within your university. Attending college will also provide an opportunity to hone your people skills. If your college offers an entrepreneurial program or high quality business school, the doors to your entrepreneurial future could be opened. Connecting with potential investors and clients is another opportunity that academic life can provide for aspiring entrepreneurs.
Con College: Academic life can absolutely provide opportunity to network with like minded people, but what about everyone else? Creating a network of mentors, investors, and clients can be done online as well as within your community. Joining mastermind groups and connecting with local professional groups is a great way to develop your network without attending college. The stigma has begun to lift and business people are more concerned with who you are and what projects you are working on than where you attended University.
3. Chance of Success in Life
Pro College: Many people refer to the successful entrepreneurs who have dropped out of college. They cite this as a reason why you do not need a college degree to succeed. However, cases like that of Bill Gates and others are outliers when it comes to success rates. In truth, most entrepreneurs who drop out of college do not go on to produce top-notch companies that change the world. For every one Bill Gates, there are thousands of young dropouts that you have never heard of. On the flip side, having a college degree can increase your chances of succeeding in life. In fact, one reason why I was hired at the last corporation I worked for was because I graduated from The George Washington University. The HR team later told me that they were impressed by my alma mater and that pushed me ahead of other candidates. Having a degree can open more doors, both entrepreneurially and otherwise.
Con College: Times are changing. Graduating with a degree does not guarantee that you will be hired by anyone else or that investors will love your business. It is easier than ever to self-educate using platforms like Udemy and Lynda.com. The secret to success in the Age of the Internet is grit. When I consult with new entrepreneurs I can typically tell whether they will make it within the first 5 minutes of speaking with them. If you are a person who identifies problems, but looks to others to solve them, go to college first. If you identify problems and then lay awake in bed at night solving them, you have what it takes to be an entrepreneur already. If you lack the maturity to be disciplined enough to work hard without supervision, go to college. If you don’t need anyone to tell you that building a business is more than a full time job and will come close to killing you at times, skip college and jump right in! Your success is defined by the choices you make, with or without college.
4. You Have Options
Pro College: Though you may not need one, college provides a fallback option. Becoming an entrepreneur is a risk, and there is no guarantee that you will succeed. With a college degree, you will have a solid plan B in case things do not work out like you plan. Becoming a successful entrepreneur requires a lot of time, effort, and motivation. Even if you have all of these things, you still may not succeed. This is not to say that you should give up on your dreams of being an entrepreneur. Instead, be smart about it. Get a college degree, create a backup plan, and then focus on your real, entrepreneurial work.
Con College: College will always be there. After pursuing paths completely unrelated to my undergraduate degree for 15 years, I decided to return to academic life and earn my Masters in Publishing. I had already started three successful businesses when I returned to school for my graduate degree. Becoming an entrepreneur right out of high school does not preclude you from returning to earn a degree later, if you choose. In fact, waiting until you know yourself and your path a bit better can ensure that, if you return to school, your degree will be more useful.
The Short and Sweet
So, is getting a college degree necessary to become an entrepreneur? It is a personal decision. However, gone are the days where a college degree is the only way to open doors. Make the decision that works for you, your goals, and your budget. Whichever choice you make, WORK HARD!