From the September 2002 issue of Startups

There are a lot a good resources on the Internet, at your local library, and perhaps at your elementary or high school. Self-education is a great way to learn the basics of business, and devouring business books and trade rags always helps. But at what point do you need to start your formal business education?

Assuming you haven't graduated from college yet, supplementing your regular curriculum with business classes is a good idea. If nothing else, you become more learned in management, marketing, finance and leadership. Moreover, it adds credibility to your name, which doesn't yet have a big MBA, Ph.D. or J.D. next to it.

Here are some tips about how to attend some business- or economics-focused classes at nearby universities or colleges around your home.

Next Step
Visit our Executive Education Center for help in finding business classes near you.

Who Offers Business Classes for Teenagers?
The first part of that question is easy: almost every college or university in America offers business classes. The second part is more difficult, because if you are in high school or younger, chances are that even if your high school offers a business or economics course, it will not suffice. How you can milk the resources and professors at colleges near you as a teenager and not be officially enrolled?

Sounds harder than it is. If you live in a big metropolitan area, there's a wealth of city colleges, state schools and reputable private universities. Further, there are probably adult education schools that only offer afternoon and weekend classes. If you don't live in a big city, you just have to look harder.

The best place to start is by looking, at least initially, at community and adult education colleges. That would work best with your school schedule, as you could attend evening and weekend classes.

What Exactly Are You Asking For?
Once you have a list of local colleges together, you must think about how you want to phrase your request. Asking if you can fully enroll as a student in the university is, obviously, out of the question. E-mail the dean of the business school or professors of the business classes asking if you could "audit" four or five evening or weekend classes. Your ultimate goal with all of this is to be considered an "informal student" (no tuition, no exams!).

If they call or write you back, the next step will probably be a meeting with either the dean or a professor. They want to make sure you're legit, and this is the time when you have to really impress them and show how interested you are in sitting in on some classes.

Once You're In
Assuming a) you impressed the business school, b) they were pleasantly surprised by your unusual request, and c) the professors of the two or three classes you chose would be happy to have you in their class, you can start attending. From there, just take notes and learn! Contribute to discussions, but don't try to dominate the class. Remember that the university is doing you a favor.

The experience of college classes, the skills you will take away, plus the credibility added to your resume, makes contacting your local college about auditing business classes not just a good idea, but a necessity.


Fourteen-year-old Ben Casnocha is founder, CEO and chairman of Comcate Inc., a San Francisco firm focused on providing technology solutions for local governments. His work has been profiled in over 50 magazines, newspapers, radio stations, TV outlets and Web sites nationwide. Got something to squawk about? Write to Casnocha at ben@comcate.com.