Go to college or not go to college? As an aspiring entrepreneur, this is a particularly tricky question -- especially as the deadline for enrollment at many U.S. universities looms.
A college degree isn't necessarily required to be a successful entrepreneur. Just look at Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Bill Gates of Microsoft and the late Steve Jobs of Apple, to name a few. Also, given that the cost of getting a degree is on the incline and not showing signs of abating, some may wonder if it isn't better to skip college entirely.
Though these points are valid, they're hardly the only factors to consider. There's also the relationships you'll make and the skills you could pick up in school that you may not get fending for yourself. Plus, many entrepreneurs who attend college first say the tutelage and advice from professors pays dividends down the road.
Indeed, college graduates and those with graduate-level education are more than twice as likely to be entrepreneurs as those without a high-school education and almost 50 percent more likely than high-school graduates, according to the 2011 Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) U.S. Report issued recently by Babson College and Baruch College.
As a future entrepreneur, college is one of the best investments that a student can make. I often say to my students, “The more you learn, the more you earn.” Actually, the College Board reports that students with a four-year college degree will earn about $1 million more over the course of their lifetimes than those with just a high-school diploma. There is also significant research showing that higher education increases the chances of entrepreneurial-business success.
Here are a few examples of key skills you might learn in school that could help you in entrepreneurship:
- Business skills: While many entrepreneurs have no problem coming up with their “big idea” or several “big ideas” even, being able to run a successful business and turn it into a profitable company is another story. Accounting, finance and management skills are vital.
- Marketing knowhow: It's important for business owners to know how to define their target audience, develop a strong brand and be able to market themselves effectively to that target audience. This is where market research and promotional skills come in handy.
- Technology savvy: This is so important in today's business world. With new technologies being introduced daily, it's important that students receive proper training. Many colleges and universities today are incorporating the latest technologies into their classrooms and their curricula.
- Work experience: As a college student, there are many more opportunities to gain hands-on experience in a field of interest. Students should take advantage of internships, co-op programs and independent study opportunities.
College is also where students build their personal and professional networks, which they'll rely upon throughout their careers. Whether it is fellow students, professors, alumni or even connections made through college internships, a student's college years offer access to a wealth of people who can help with everything from further developing his or her business plan, to obtaining funding, to generating business leads down the road.
While there are many ways to prepare for an entrepreneurial career, we tell students to consider an undergraduate degree in Entrepreneurial Studies, a growing area of study on college campuses that provides a strong academic foundation and the resources students need to develop the next great idea. Students interested in studying entrepreneurship should research programs offered at colleges across the country, including these programs recommended by our IvyWise team of counselors:
- Babson College, Wellesley, Mass., The Arthur M. Blank Center for Entrepreneurship
- University of Houston, Houston, Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship
- University of Oklahoma, Norman, Okla., Center for Entrepreneurship
- Northeastern University, Boston, Entrepreneurship & Innovation
- Temple University, Philadelphia, Innovation & Entrepreneurship Institute
How did a college education help your entrepreneurial efforts? Let us know in the comments below.