College is under fire. Media personalities, parents, students and politicians have all recently stepped up and mentioned the high (and still rising) tuition costs associated with the typical 4 year degree.
As they should. Not only is tuition more expensive than ever, but for the first time in American history there are more unemployed college graduates than non-grads. No longer does 4 years of college (and 100k of debt) guarantee you a job. For many students, this is a serious problem.
Fortunately, there is a solution to this problem. If you want to build a career you genuinely love, doing something you care about (and are paid well for), do what I did – while still in school, build your own career.
This can take several forms. For me, it meant starting a company.
You’ll hear a lot of stories about startup founders who sold lemonade or candy to their classmates, or started companies in their teenage years. I was not one of those people. I did nothing but read and play sports all through high school – honestly, starting a company wasn’t even on my radar of potential career options.
That is, until it was.
There came a point my sophomore year of college where, for whatever reason, I realized that I had no interest in what I was studying (finance). I realized that if I kept on the same path of simply completing my coursework assignments and calling it a day, I’d end up with a job I hated in two years. How could I expect a unique, special career if I wasn’t doing anything unique or special myself?
Starting a company turned out to be that something. My company, Roommatefit, provides personality-based roommate matching, much like an eHarmony for roommates. I had a terrible freshman roommate, which led to the idea (which my Dad actually gave me).
Now, starting a company is certainly not for everyone. I want to suggest the idea that to build your own career while still in school, you should undertake a challenging, interesting and engaging project during your college years. Roommatefit was my project, though others will certainly be different. I have friends who have started non-profits, conducted research, apprenticed for millionaires, filmed documentaries and have done plenty of other projects that allowed them to learn and grow while still in school.
Once I started Roommatefit, my learning sped up drastically. I started learning about the process of starting a company, began calling universities to discuss potentially using our service, found a co-founder and leveraged Roommatefit for the incredible learning experience it was.
To be honest, it wasn’t any crazy profitable company while I was in school. It was making very little money, was run by only me and had a product that was nowhere near as polished as it is now. However, doing something that set me apart from other students exposed me to many opportunities I wouldn’t have had otherwise.
I traveled to San Francisco, New York, Texas and Chicago to participate in pitch competition and other student-focused entrepreneurship conferences. I grabbed coffee with successful founders who had sold multiple companies, and formed relationships with successful entrepreneurs who wanted to help me with Roommatefit. Trust me, talking with smart people will teach you more than you ever will learn in a classroom. One of these coffee meetings even turned into a position at another startup, Cloudfab, that was acquired my senior year.
What happened after all of this?
By the time I graduated, I had my own company, 4 other job offers (all significantly more than what my friends were offered), investment from a local incubator and a network of mentors and successful founders who were invested in my success. Everything I did in college has set me up to succeed with Roommatefit, and put me in a good position for my other projects.
I have friends who have seen similar results with different projects. One of them, Charlie Hoehn, basically wrote the book on how to land a great position out of college. This approach works, and the downside is minimal. My only advice is to get started now.