It's back-to-school season, and you know what that means: It's time to pick classes.
Though, few people wind up pursuing exactly what they study during college (English literature and history majors, ahem), what you learn now can help prepare you for a future career. For would-be entrepreneurs, that means studying, well, entrepreneurship. Learning the building blocks of business -- marketing, accounting and management -- as well as gaining skills like perfecting an elevator pitch and numbers crunching can do wonders for those who aspire to go it alone after college.
While my brother Matthew and I didn't attend college and opted to jump right into business, we definitely recognize the value of a degree. We don't regret our decision to forego university, but there's no doubt we learned some lessons the hard way that could have been taught in a classroom with less risk of loss. For example, when we had our first business out of high school, a billiards hall and entertainment venue, we had to “wing it” when it came to basics like establishing human-resources policies and accounting practices. Some of the harder lessons learned just in those two areas, alone, likely would have been covered in any decent business program.
For those deciding to major in entrepreneurship, bear in mind that you'll have plenty of company. Gen-Yers (18- to 29-year-olds) are almost twice as likely to major in entrepreneurship compared to all bachelor's degree holders in the U.S., according to a new survey, "The State of the Gen Y Worker," from Boston-based Gen-Y consulting firm Millennial Branding, in coordination with compensation data firm PayScale. Plus, it's now the third most popular major among current college students. Just neuroscience and bioengineering top it on Millennial Branding's list of 20 popular majors.
But choosing to study entrepreneurship will hardly be the only big decision you'll need to make on your road to starting up. Here are some suggestions for choosing classes and activities that will help you rise from the pack and begin the career and life you want:
- Get set to shine. What can you do to be noticed by your professors, fellow students and potential employers? Apply for awards and other types of recognition. Look for opportunities to work on or develop special projects. Volunteer for work that improves your community. Get involved in political efforts. The more visibility you have the more likely it will be that people will think of you when an opportunity comes along.
Related: 10 Things Colleges Don't Tell Young Entrepreneurs at Graduation
- Prepare for your future. That pottery class may be an easy A, but it may have little relevance to your future unless you plan to sell pots at arts shows for your career. Look for classes that fit your goals. If you want to start your own business, make sure you include marketing and accounting classes in your schedule -- even if your major isn't business.
Related: Startup or Start School? The Degree Debate
- Network now. Don't wait until you're actively looking for a job or investors in your business. Build those relationships while you're still a student. Many professional associations have special student rates for membership. Also take advantage of any presentations by outside professionals that apply to your long-term goals. Listen, ask good questions and always follow up with a thank-you note.
Related: 7 Paybacks an Alma Mater Can Offer Young Entrepreneurs
- Get hands-on experience. Classes and books can give you a good foundation for your chosen field, but there's nothing like actually doing something to solidify your understanding of how things work in the real world. An excellent way to get hands-on experience before graduating is through internships. Some internships pay modestly, and some are just good for class credits, but the on-the-job training you'll get can be priceless.
- Start acting like a professional. Dress well. You don't have to don a suit, but those jeans with the holes aren't your best choice. Have business cards made. Many colleges have formats that you can use. Also, start developing your resume now. And if you plan to start a business right out of college, begin to develop a business plan now so that it's ready when you are.
What else would you recommend future entrepreneurs do to prepare for starting up? Leave a comment and let us know.
The author is an Entrepreneur contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.