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When it comes to making major life decisions, nothing is ever easy.
Often, one decision can ultimately affect us years into the future, and looking forward, it isn’t always clear what decision is the right one. We may think we have an idea, but we never truly know for sure.
Therefore, rather than trying to predict the future, let’s take the smart approach. Let’s go over a bunch of potential scenarios, analyze your own life, and help you come to a position that best aligns with your long-term values and goals.
Before We Begin, Let’s Go Over A Few Scenarios
Because everybody’s situation is different, let’s look over a few scenarios up front and knock a few choices out.
1. You Have A Full Scholarship, And Won’t Incur Debt
If this is the case, you should probably utilize it for everything that you can. This was the case for me, and I dropped out. I regret not making more out of that free education.
We’ll go over specific degrees to attain, and fields to study later in this article.
2. You’ve Been Accepted Into An Ivy League School
You should go, as long as the debt load won’t be too bad, and trap you inside of a corporate job for years to come.
Not only will the quality of education be top class and allow you to gain true expertise you may not ever get elsewhere, but the network you build will serve you for the rest of your life. Study networking and practice beforehand. You can not put a price on a network like this.
That degree will be pretty valuable too, if you ever need to get a regular job for some reason. Having a backup plan isn’t a bad thing. It’s called not being an idiot.
3. You’re Already In College / University, And Are About To Finish
Don’t throw away your degree just because you’re impatient.
You can start preparing for your business now, even if you are still in school.
Utilize this time to double down on networking, building connections and making friends in a variety of fields. You never know how you’ll be able to tap into that network later down the line.
This article is based on the assumption that you truly know that you’re an entrepreneur at heart.
It’s important to analyze whether or not this is true for you. Entrepreneurship is heavily glamorized today, pushing many people to pursue it when they otherwise wouldn’t have done so.
It may be a phase, or something you’re looking to do in order to ‘look cool’.
This is especially common for people in their teens and early twenties who crave social acceptance and attention.
When you’re making choices regarding a major life decision, it’s very important to analyze how you would feel about this decision looking back 5, 10, 30 years from now.
If you’re an entrepreneur at heart, you’ll ultimately end up running your own business regardless of the choice you make now. Therefore, your choices should be carried out in a way that makes your eventual entrepreneurial success as quick and easy as possible.
If You’re Not Currently Enrolled In College Or University
If you’re not already attending school, and your circumstance doesn’t fall into one of the above mentioned categories, it doesn’t make much sense to go.
This is primarily for a few key reasons:
1. You’re Going To Incur Debt That Will Hinder You
Perhaps the biggest problem you’ll be faced with is the debt you incur while attending school.
Regardless of what you study, you’re going to have to pay that off, and the bills will start adding up quickly. You drastically hurt your ability to actually begin an entrepreneurial pursuit, because you’re tied down.
Those bills have to be paid, and you need to know that they’re going to get paid.
You’ve trapped yourself in a hole that’s hard to get out of, and you’re forced to get a traditional job – at least for a while.
This means waiting even longer to start your business (or be able to devote yourself to it full time) than you would have otherwise.
All in all, it increases the stakes, without necessarily offering much that will help you succeed in the long-term.
2. College May Not Benefit You Enough To Outweigh The Costs
The right college experience could actually be useful for your long-term entrepreneurial success.
Unfortunately, this usually isn’t the case.
Most degrees won’t help you much when it comes to succeeding in your field.
Remember, degrees are centered around helping you to find a job, not to start a business.
Additionally, remember that your whole goal is to avoid having to work a traditional job in the first place.
Therefore, it really doesn’t make that much sense.
Yes, there are great connections you can make in college, and these may in fact end up being more valuable than the education itself. However, not all networking has to be done in college – it’s still just as effective to network in other places as well.
Networking is a skill that is possible to be applied anywhere, so telling yourself that you should attend just for the purpose of networking is also silly.
3. The Time Cost Is Too High
This one may even be worse than the debt.
When you go to college or university, you are giving up years of your life towards something that ultimately may not matter shortly after graduation.
You may hear people that say, “college was the best time of my life!” or, “I would give up anything to get those years back!”
This has nothing to do with college and everything to do with living a meaningless life.
That may sound harsh, but it’s true. If you stop making memories, hanging out with your friends and peers, and trying out new things, that’s your fault.
It’s true that college and university provide an environment that makes this easier, but it’s just as possible to attain what people refer to as the “college experience”, anywhere else as well.
All the meanwhile, you’re forced to attend classes that don’t benefit you, study things you’ll forget next year, and spend a lot of money for the privilege of getting a fancy piece of paper at the end of it all.
This is time you could have spent actually trying things out, learning how businesses actually run. Yes, you may struggle and fail, but you’ll rebound more quickly and be able to gain real skills that will stick with you forever.
4. Most Actual Business Skills Can Be Learned Online
Should you go to college to study business?
No, if you weren’t already going to go. If you were planning on attending college to develop a business skillset, I beg you to reconsider.
Most college courses on business are not made for you – an entrepreneur, looking to start up their own small business.
Most business courses are geared towards people who plan to work at mega corporations, who operate radically different than you will.
Not even the ‘entrepreneurship’ programs many colleges and universities are beginning to offer, are actually that valuable.
That’s not to say that many of the same business principals don’t apply, or you won’t learn anything useful. You absolutely will, and I would never say that college business courses are completely devoid of value.
However, we live in the greatest time for learning in the history of mankind. Today, you can learn all of the business skills you’d ever need to succeed, for incredibly low prices online.
I’m talking hundreds of dollars, not tens of thousands.
On top of that, these courses are taught by actual experts in their field. People who have actually ran businesses and succeeded with them. Not by professors who only learned how to teach material from a text book.
That’s nothing against professors of course – but there is something different from actually running a business, and just focusing on theoretical ideas. Especially today, when information becomes outdated so quickly.
You do not need to have a degree to become an entrepreneur!
I’m Already Attending College – Should I Drop Out To Become An Entrepreneur?
You need to count on your business not succeeding for at least a few years. Your first business may not succeed at all, which means you may have to start a second one from scratch.
Will you survive?
Factors like your current cost of living, whether or not you could live with friends or family, the jobs available in your area, and so on will all come in to play here.
How far you are into your degree, the cost to continue, and whether or not that degree will actually give you higher earning potential is also something to keep in mind.
If you’re far enough along, it may be worth it to continue – even if it means getting a corporate job straight after graduation. The higher paycheck will allow you to pay down your debt faster, and provide extra money you can use to fund your business venture.
If possible, you may also consider switching your major.
What College Degrees Should Entrepreneurs Pursue?
This is one of the most important skills that new entrepreneurs lack. You need to know your numbers, and be able to organize all of your company’s finances effectively enough to make good decisions. Poor accounting puts people out of business, and you would be surprised how much better your company will perform with a decent level of accounting knowledge.
It’s not fun, but ultimately this will have a bigger impact than most other degrees out there.
The world is dominated by computers, and it’s only going to become more so in the coming decades.
A computer science degree will benefit just about every business, not just tech startups. You’d be surprised how much you can get done and how much money you can save by building software in-house yourself.
Sometimes, you don’t even know something is possible to solve with software until you’ve studied programming.
The problem with a computer science degree however is that most of the information can be taught online if you actually have a serious interest in it, and the field changes quickly. This means you’ll need to stay caught up with the advances as time goes on if you want your skillset to remain relevant.
There are two things at play here.
1. Some of the skills you learn will actually be useful to you, and will be applicable to a small business setting. The fundamentals of business don’t change nearly as often as specific strategies or tactics do, and while I do believe all of this can be learned online, it is still better than many other degree choices.
2. Networking. You can and should network with a diverse set of people regardless of the degree you’re going for, but business courses provide even greater opportunities for networking. You’ll be networking with other future entrepreneurs themselves, as well as with students who each have their own unique strengths within the business skillset. These will be great connections for you later on – even if they eventually go on to work a comfortable 9-5.
Which of these two win:
A great product with adequate marketing, or a good product with great marketing?
The greatly marketed product will win every single time.
Marketing is what ultimately ends up bringing in the revenue that you need to thrive. While marketing strategies change along with society, the fundamentals do not. Marketing courses will delve deep into marketing at its core – it’s a far more technical course than most people realize.
Applicable in a huge variety of situations, and gives you an incredibly valuable safety net to fall back on. You may even want to utilize this at a real job for the sole purpose of building business capital, due to how much you can make.
An engineer can learn business skills without going to school. It is not quite as easy the other way around.
Determining whether or not you should go to college can be a difficult decision, especially for entrepreneurs. While neither option will ever ruin your chances of succeeding, this choice will shape your life for years to come.
I hope that this article has given you something to think about. I’d love to hear more about your specific situation and what you ultimately think you’ll end up doing. Your perspective and insights will help me make this article even better for my readers.
To your success,
– James McAllister
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Hi James, I think going to college is a meaningless exercise that, after it’s finished, leaves you with no real skills you can apply to the world today.
You get a degree, and it might get you your first job, but it won’t help you keep that job when it becomes obvious that you’re inexperienced.
The solution is to invest in yourself.
Read a lot; learn a lot; try a lot; fail a lot. And before you know it you will become a true expert or at least better than most folks.
I speak this from experience because that is how I learned SEO.
And me going to university in Serbia was a time suck I wish I could take back.
Hey Nikola! Always good to see you my friend.
You’re right. Some degrees are more helpful than others, but relatively speaking there is not that much that you can’t learn outside of college or university for a much cheaper price. And in many cases, the field develops so quickly that the information is already outdated by the time you come out of the degree program.
I agree that investing in yourself is the best way to go about it. Not only do you learn this information more deeply but you gain true expertise – being able to perform tasks and make decisions based on the real world, as you need to. There’s a big difference between knowing the information required to pass a test, and actually being able to perform the tasks at hand.
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A very thought-provoking article as usual!
If a person knows in their heart they want to be an entrepreneur, then college is not only financially costly but also time costly. In today’s world, things change rapidly and the newest information can be obtained online. Especially in the marketing department which an entrepreneur needs to have under his/her belt.
I would have to say if a person wants to be an entrepreneur, then step into it before college if possible. I know I did many many years ago and loved it. This is why I didn’t follow the crowd and go to college. I read “Think And Grow Rich” and there was no turning back at the age of 16. But I acted upon it and made money from that age on.
I did however go to college in my 30’s and realized after three years it wasn’t for me. I was making too much money doing my own thing than college was preparing me to do. Just say’n.
Hi Donna, thanks so much!
This was the situation for me personally. My entire life the importance of college was hammered into me – neither of my praents went and they felt like if I did, I was bound to end up better off in life than them.
Perhaps in the past that was true. It’s fair to say entrepreneurship is a bit more accessible than it was in the past. I am just thankful my parents believed in me enough to feel comfortable with the idea of dropping out – despite the fact that I had a full scholarship and was actually getting extra money back for “living expenses.”
I had no idea that you ended up going to college in your 30’s! I always find it interesting how I’ve learned more and more of your story over time through comments here. Of course, it sounds like you made the right decision – if you’re already succeeding with what you’re going to learn, why bother?
Really appreciate you sharing that here!
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Interesting read. I believe going to college will put food on the table, but choosing to become an entrepreneur and drop out of school means that you will teach yourself, learn online, or hire a mentor or coach to walk you through entrepreneurship. And that will make you reach. Thus, it all depends on the choices you make.
Absolutely. Just because you drop out of school doesn’t mean that your education stops – it just changes platforms.
In the case of business programs, there are so many great resources available that honestly are a much better value than most traditional college or university courses. This has been my experience going through both.
It’s not an easy decision for sure, but an important one. Thanks Moss!
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I think going to college for an entrepreneur really doesn’t worth it. Except just for having the paper certificate.
I once heard of a story of a professor who takes “computer engineering” at the university. His personal computer was faulty, (need to replace the RAM) he couldn’t fix it and had to take it to the local boys in the street to get it fixed for him.
I’m not trying to say going to college is completely not right, but one has to be definite as to what he wants from going to the college, and what he truly wants in life.
Most serial entrepreneurs I know of are not the best students in the class, they’re average in their academical studies and really didn’t do much with schooling.
I think being an entrepreneur has much to do with real life experience than (failure, experiences, setbacks, challenges, success, etc) been giving a “handout” or road map to success.
Thanks, James, nice read.
You’re right, one of the only differences of going to college vs. teaching yourself online is that certificiate you get at the end of it all. Of course, that only really matters if you’re going to apply for a job!
Ultimately we need to be sure that our actions line up with what our long-term goals are. In our case, the self-taught route – both through online materials as well as real life experiences, will ultimately yield us an education that’s not only much higher-quality, but more likely to position us for success in the future.
Crazy to hear that story about the professor by the way! I wonder how far along in the computer engineering course? Here in the United States, it’s pretty common for colleges to require a ton of general math and science classes before you even begin on the true program. I’m not entirely convinced this isn’t simply to get more money from students than necessary.
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