Senior year of college: time to think about finals and term papers and, most stressful of all, getting a job. Unlike many of her classmates, Kristin Raether sealed up those worries well before starting her final year at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis.

Last August, with her parent's backing, the entrepreneurship and real estate double major signed the dotted line and was awarded her own Culver's Frozen Custard franchise. She used Culver's as the basis for many of her final projects and was able to use her class time to complete important start-up tasks like writing a business plan. "I wanted to learn about all different aspects of entrepreneurship," she says, "about starting something from scratch and also about franchise systems, where everything's all set up and you pay a fee and learn their operations."

Raether considered her franchising class particularly helpful. "We had a lot of speakers come in, and that was beneficial. I always like hearing about other people's experiences and ideas," she says.

While learning about all that went into running a franchise, Raether never had second thoughts about becoming a franchisee. In fact, the class made her more enthusiastic about the prospect. "I was just really excited," she says. "It was nice to know what I would be doing after school."

And Culver's didn't have second thoughts about Raether. "Culver's took me seriously when I applied for the franchise," she says. "I convinced them I could do it by proving I could learn the operations no matter what my age. I had a lot of leadership training."

Raether's professors knew she had purchased a franchise and offered her help and encouragement whenever necessary. "They were wonderful. They went above and beyond to [share] anything they thought applied to what I would be doing--they gave me extra things to read, and would sit down and talk with me about ideas, any concerns I had," she says. Raether is still in contact with many of her professors.

Once she graduated, Raether headed off to Culver's Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin, headquarters for four months of training. She opened her franchise in Rice Lake, Wisconsin, her hometown, in January.

Age hasn't been a negative factor in starting her franchise; in fact, Raether considers it an asset. "If anything, I've had a lot of energy and no husband [or] kids to split my time with," she says. "I'm so thankful to be starting young and to have a lot of opportunities and time ahead of me."

Raether is at the restaurant every day, doing everything from accounting to making shakes, a slight departure for the real estate student. "I knew I wanted to finding some business to go into, but I never thought I would be running a restaurant," she says.

Now that she is running a restaurant, Raether can't picture herself doing anything else. "I see myself involved with Culver's in 20 years--this restaurant and, I hope, several others," she says. "I won't work as many hours if I have a family but will always be very involved."