It’s an argument that may never be settled: are young entrepreneurs better off going to college or not going to college? The founders of Google met in the Ph.D. program at Stanford, whilst Steve Jobs famously dropped out of college. So which path is best?
At different times I’ve been extremely anti-college, extremely pro-college, and somewhere in between.
Benefits of a College Education for Entrepreneurs
Here are some observations which may be useful to those who are now wrestling with the idea of whether or not to go to college, finish college or start a business of their own.
- With the benefit of hindsight, having now completed my degree (B Bus – Entrepreneurship) I am immensely glad that I have a degree behind me.
- I continue to see many university-educated young professionals who are doing really well in their own business on the back of 3-5 years of experience in the corporate world.
- Having a degree adds instant credibility to your professional CV, and if you are looking for a job in professional services or consulting, it is almost a pre-requisite.
As noted in The Pinstriped Prison by Lisa Prior, typically the smartest, most talented people are pushed from high school into college, so by sheer weight of numbers you will develop an influential network by gaining admission to a quality undergraduate program.
I’m someone who values education highly, and I’ve come to notice that people who are hungry to learn tend to be exposed to the best opportunities and meet the most interesting people.
I am currently seriously thinking about pursuing an MBA at one of the elite schools in the U.S. such as Stanford or Harvard. I actually went to Stanford’s MBA Information Session held recently in Sydney and it was brilliant. The network that they’ve built there over the years is out of this world. Here is a list of start-ups that have come out of Stanford since 2004. You can read more about the program here. *
Another point to consider for would-be entrepreneurs is that the younger you are, the easier it is to finish your degree.
Often times I hear the argument that you can always go back to study later. That’s cool when you’re in your early 20’s, however trust me it gets harder once you get past 25, are working full-time or trying to make a business happen.
If you’re living at home and in your early 20’s, you could do a lot worse than have an absolute blast, meet some awesome people, and finish a degree.
With that said, let’s flip the script and point out some counter-arguments.
Why Some Young Entrepreneurs Shouldn’t Go to College
i) College is not for everyone, and some people would never even want to complete a university degree.
There are some people for whom college would be a bad idea. They would simply go crazy sitting in a lecture theatre (even more crazy than most). In business, they are typically the ‘natural’ entrepreneurs who just have to get out there and do something. Now.
ii) Many college programs do not offer truly practical education
I heard one time that the root meaning of education is ‘to develop from within’. In other words, to bring out of you all the best qualities that lie within you. It’s safe to say probably most college and online college classes don’t do this. Let alone teach you anything that will actually help you in the building of a successful business.
iii) Universities often encourage and condition you to work for the rest of your life.
Graduate programs, work experience, careers advisors. They all push you towards selling your soul to a large corporation. Once you have been bombarded by the propaganda of the ‘steady, high-paying job dream’ for a few years it can be hard to resist. You must maintain your entrepreneurial spirit if you are to come out the other side alive and in a position to start a business in a few years.
I was speaking to Mike Casey of GradConnection fame earlier this year, and he said to me that he basically believes that the best preparation for starting your own business is to work in a successful corporate for a few years to really learn how business works. I tend to agree that this is true for a significant amount of people. I have seen many young professionals who are working full-time and getting their business going on the side with a view to transitioning to full-time entrepreneur status. Why not learn on someone else’s coin and then put your skills to use in running your own show in a few years with some cash behind you?
Francis McCarthy is a rising entrepreneur and business development expert based in Sydney, Australia. He has worked with global organizations such as Brian Tracy International, and currently is a key player in TheEntourage, a brand which connects the world’s best entrepreneurs with the world’s next entrepreneurs. You can follow Francis on twitter @Francis McCarthy
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