When I arrived at Morehouse College, I was focused on doing well in my classes so that I could get a high-paying job as a computer programmer. After catching the entrepreneurial bug during my sophomore year, I was just trying to graduate with a decent GPA. At that point, school was a barrier, a prison preventing me from doing full-time what I loved. I vividly remember sitting in one of my core classes—religion, to be exact—and feeling trapped. That day I tuned out the professor, pulled out a piece of paper, and began working on computer algorithms. I felt that I was learning so much more pursuing my entrepreneurial endeavors. I had had enough of school. When I graduated, I was ready to sprint off campus.
It turns out that my experience is common among entrepreneurs. In his book The Millionaire Mind, Dr. Thomas J. Stanley dedicates forty-five pages to describe the school days of America’s millionaires. A great majority of them are self-made entrepreneurs. He writes, “Millionaires also report that they were not A students in college. In fact, only about three in ten reported receiving a greater percentage of As than either Bs, Cs, Ds, or Fs. About 90 percent graduated from college. Overall, their GPA was a 2.9—good but not outstanding.” Likewise, Dr. Stanley found that most millionaires did well on the SAT, but not excellent. His research confirmed that characteristics other than great school performance were more significant factors in most millionaires’ success. Some of these characteristics include being honest, disciplined, amiable, and diligent, and having great leadership skills.
Realizing that there is actually a negative correlation between the amount of schooling after college and entrepreneurial success, some wealthy individuals discourage students from pursuing school if they have entrepreneurial talents and great ideas at an early age. Most recently, Peter Thiel, the billionaire cofounder of PayPal and angel investor, started his innovative and shocking program that pays students to drop out of college. His program chose four bright college students who show amazing entrepreneurial promise and funded each of their companies with $100,000. Thiel said in an interview with ABC News, “Learning is good. Credentialing and debt is very bad. College gives people learning and also takes away future opportunities by loading the next generation down with debt.” I can relate to Thiel’s quotation. Many of my friends would love to start a business but are stuck with high student loan payments that could be used as start-up capital. I was fortunate to receive a full scholarship from NASA to attend college. Without this boon I probably would not have chosen the entrepreneurial path.
Considering the frustrating experience of my college days, the compelling data from The Millionaire Mind, and the popularity of Peter Thiel’s college dropout program, you may believe that I support young entrepreneurs dropping out of college or forgetting college altogether. I do not. College is an important experience for entrepreneurs. People often point out that Mark Zuckerberg and other successful entrepreneurs dropped out of college, but their examples did at some point attend college. As in Zuckerberg’s case, there were huge benefits from attending college. We can all agree that Facebook wouldn’t be what it is without Zuckerberg’s Harvard experience. David Kilpatrick in his book The Facebook Effect says, “Facebook’s ultimate success owes a lot to the fact that it began at college. That’s where people’s social networks are densest.” I couldn’t agree more, given that I started my first profitable business for college students in college.
The passionate debate persists about whether college and advanced degrees are worth it for entrepreneurs. However, everyone can agree that although you may not be in school, your education should never stop. Entrepreneurs who excel educate themselves constantly about new technology, business strategies, and so on, and you don’t necessarily have to be in school to do that.
This is a revised segment from the new book The Entrepreneur Mind: 100 Essential Beliefs, Characteristics, and Habits of Elite Entrepreneurs.
Kevin D. Johnson, president of Johnson Media Inc. and a serial entrepreneur, has several years of experience leading his multimillion-dollar marketing and communications company that now serves many of the most notable Fortune 100 businesses. As an innovative leader, he has appeared on ABC’s Good Morning America, CBS, Oprah Radio, and in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. Moreover, he has appeared on CNN frequently. He is author of the new book The Entrepreneur Mind: 100 Essential Beliefs, Characteristics, and Habits of Elite Entrepreneurs.
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