For the Startup-Minded, Debating the Pros and Cons of College
Free Book Preview Entrepreneur Kids: All About Money
Join Jason Saltzman at the Entrepreneur 360™ conference on Oct. 7 in New York City as he discusses why your startup should build a powerful community and how to do it. Register now.
I hardly finished college. It seems silly at this point of my life to even be upset about it, but I was raised with the idea that you go to high school, you get good grades, you get into a good school, and you get a good job and live happily ever after. Well… I cut class everyday, ditched the SAT, and -- as my mother puts it so eloquently -- my youth was responsible for her grey hairs. I turned out OK.
The truth is that I hated sitting in class. And I was not into the idea of waiting years and years and going into debt before finally making money. When kids were preparing for school, I was setting up call centers and learning how to make money. I got my own education, and I got it by actually doing. It’s not polished; it’s not all in all accurate. Many times I failed because I was never taught. However, failure comes with the prize of a many lessons.
This, at its core, is what drove me towards entrepreneurship and my life today.
I was recently speaking at a young entrepreneurial event and someone asked me about the pros and cons of going to college. I had some thoughts on this subject that I figured I'd share. Keep in mind that this is my very biased opinion:
PRO: College is one big networking event. The people you meet you will more than likely know for the rest of your life. I always say, life is about meaningful relationships. It’s not about what someone can do for you, or what you can get out of someone; it’s about the time you spend together. One of my business partners went to an amazing college and was part of a frat, and I was always astounded by his huge network 10+ years later. If he needs something, he can tap his massive network. He got that by doing keg stands and sharing youthful life experiences with his buddies. That is pretty awesome.
CON: College is one HUGE business. The system is set up to herd you in and out like cattle and make the most money possible off you. The loans you take out, in most cases, will follow you around for years to come and the hard work you do after school will go to paying the man. To me, this is a huge pain in the ass, especially if you don't know what you want to do in life. In my experience, most people don't even get into careers they went to school for. I went to school for fine arts. I can draw a hell of a bucket of fruit, but does it pay?
PRO: New entrepreneurial programs are popping up all over the world. Education is evolving, and as our culture shifts into a world of people who want to build things, new curricula will be developed around teaching how to do this. Learning in a virtual environment could lead to plenty of lessons that save you money in the real world.
CON: Time is precious. I could never sit in class for eight years. I am the type of person who wants to get in and I want to get in now. Put me in the game coach! Four to eight years is a hell of a lot of time to be out of the workforce. I know that it is socially acceptable, and I speak only from personal experience, but spending years and years not making money and working your ass off sucks to me. I like to be in an environment where the market teaches me my lessons. I learn from the value I create and if someone is willing to pay me for that.
PRO: I was always jealous of my friends' stories about going away to college. I used to visit some of my friends in their schools and think to myself, “Why the hell didn't I do this?” I'm talking about life experience. When you get involved with being an entrepreneur, your life, for the most part, is filled with your business. We have very few times to just kick back and relax. Going away to college for some people is some of the best memories of their lives. You can't put a pricetag on that experience.
CON: Until curriculum catches up to today’s environment, the lessons they teach are outdated. I have seen it time and time again. People come out of school and go to start their own business and the first thing they do is work six months on their business plan. Business plans are hardly needed anymore. It’s great to have a plan, but spending time that you could have spent on your business hypothesizing takes time away from the real lessons you need to learn to become successful.
PRO: If you have a specific target of what you would like to do and that requires a degree, it's a no brainer that you should go to school. Who the hell would use a doctor who's home taught? If I were ever to be involved with a legal trial, I sure as hell want someone representing me who has a great educational background.
CON: Money. It costs so much money these days to go to school. The debt may follow you around for years and years. Today, we have alternatives to traditional education. Programs like General Assembly and Code Academy are all over the place to teach you real-world practical applications and skills for the workforce today. Traditional schools are simply not cost effective. The cost benefit may not add up for most people and you may think back and say, “Why the hell did I spend so much money on that?”
PRO TIP: I didn'twant to put this in the PRO section because it’s crazy. When people ask me where I went to school, I tell them that my girlfriend went to Yale. She did, and saying that is awesome. :)
The truth is that it is very subjective. If you're fortunate to be in a position to go to college and figure out your life while someone else is paying for it, I highly recommend doing it. If you are like me, and you really didn't have the financial support to have this luxury, you may want to hit the streets to get your education. When I say hitting the streets, I mean joining a startup now, not selling dime bags on the corner. Whatever you choose, just know that if you really care about this subject and if you really put the thought into it, you are going to be just fine - college or no college, HUSTLE ON.
Related: Why Competition Is Good