Should an aspiring entrepreneur go to college, or would it only be a massive waste of time and money? This is a great question!
Let’s face it, if you are a young entrepreneur you will probably be faced with the decision of whether or not to go to college. As a matter of fact, you may face that decision even if you aren’t an entrepreneur. But before you register for classes & plop down thousands of dollars for your tuition, maybe you should think twice. Some of the most successful entrepreneurs in the world (and wealthiest), skipped or dropped out of college. Yes, that includes Bill Gates, Michael Dell, Richard Branson, and scores of others.
Should Entrepreneurs Attend College?
To help in this decision, you should think about what college really does (or rather is supposed to do). Going to college is supposed to be an “educational experience.” Here, you are supposed to learn the specific skills and analytical thinking you need to perform on a job. Usually these skills are specialized & you will spend a great deal of time studying these skills. For example, you will study to be an accountant, marketer, economist, finance, etc.
But here is the problem for entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs are not ever going to do any of these things exclusively, because entrepreneurs aren’t meant to be specialized. Rather, they are generals, which allow them to see opportunities in many things.
They will never fully be an accountant (although they make help keep the books in the beginning). They will probably not do all of the marketing (although they will usually be the only marketer in the beginning). They may never perform economic studies (although they will quickly learn the laws of supply & demand). So why should the entrepreneur waste time learning information they may never ever use?
Instead, an entrepreneur uses his or her creativity, hard work, opportunistic, and calculated risk taking behavior to start business ventures in the pursuit of a handsome profit. In order to succeed at this task, there is virtually nothing you can learn in a college textbook that can help (believe me, I know).
The clash that often occurs with school is that school will continuously focus on extremely detailed and theoretical situations related to the study program. They teach you to be workers in a company. They do not teach you to start companies. The information you will learn will most likely be outdated, boring, redundant, and completely unnecessary for your life’s work.
What is even worse is that most colleges do not even teach students how to manage money, how to start a business, where to get a business license, the taxes you have to pay & when (I mean state, local, and federal), etc. These are all vital things every entrepreneur will have to learn in the process of starting a business. Yet, the college I attended did not even touch on this (which is one of the reasons I eventually dropped out with only 22 credits remaining to graduate). It blows my mind that a college can offer a degree in business, without one mention of the steps required to file a business license!
But Isn’t College Necessary for Success?
Absolutely NOT! By now you can probably tell by this point that I am not very fond of college. Don’t get me wrong, I believe that it does have its place in the world. After all, I wouldn’t want a doctor to operate on me if he or she has never been to medical school, or for an accountant to keep my books if they have never officially learned the proper accounting procedures.
However, college is not necessarily for success-particularly for the entrepreneur. In fact, if you plan on pursuing a career that does not require a degree (such as entrepreneurs, singers, actors, modeling, etc.) then I would advise you to put your money & energy into something much more useful.
There are loads of super-successful people who never attended college or dropped out (or even dropped out of high school). Some big millionaire/billionaire examples include: Bill Gates, Steve Ellison, Michael Dell, Steve Jobs, John D. Rockefeller, Ray Kroc, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Dave Thomas, Richard Branson…and the list continues.
Of course, there are also people that have been super-successful that do own a degree. My point is that simply a college degree is not a requirement or “precursor” for success, and considering the total cost ($20,000-$100,000) plus the loss of time (4-5 years) experienced, it seems the entrepreneur may be better off saving his or her cash & focusing on business ideas.
So Does This Mean Entrepreneurs Should Not Get an Education?
If an entrepreneur wants to succeed, an education is ABSOLUTELY REQUIRED! But when I say “education” I mean “knowledge.” I DO NOT mean “college.”
There are plenty of efficient (and free) ways that you can gain an education. I read now more than I ever read during my college time (before I dropped out). I visit the library often and get free books on relevant subject matter. I read blogs, articles, and news online of relevant material of my current interests and/or business needs. I also read eBooks online, consult with other people in my field, and sometimes even learn the hard way…by trying new things & failing. Learning the information you need or want to know is far more efficient than simply memorizing information.
You must continue this “education” throughout your life. Learning is a never-ending process. It just so happens that college is one of the most inefficient ways for an entrepreneur to “learn” anything. After all, I learned more about how a business works within 3 months than I ever came close to learning in almost 4 years at a “business” college! Self education about the things that are relevant to your interests, goals, and immediate business needs is far superior to formal education.
A Few Things College Could Help You Do
Just to be fair, there are a few ways college could potentially help an entrepreneur. Here are a few ways it may help:
- Networking or meeting others
- If you plan to start out working in a position (ie, nurse), and then gradually switch to an entrepreneurial role later
- If you don’t have an immediate business plan, and you aren’t sure if entrepreneurial lifestyle is for you
In these scenarios, it may be a wise move to attend college. However, if you plan on being an entrepreneur, currently have a business that is making crazy cash, etc.–then it may be wise to skip it.
Conclusion: College Is Likely a Waste for Entrepreneurs
Of course, college does have its place in the world. That is the wonderful thing about life. God created society in a way where people will have different career interests.
College can be a great way to earn money & advance your career if you plan on working for people or companies your entire life. And yes, some people are much happier working for a company and should go to college.
However, if you want to be the one owning and/or starting the companies, college probably isn’t totally necessary could even turn out to be a HUGE waste of time & money.
For an entrepreneur (or anyone for that matter) to sit in a classroom and watch boring PowerPoint presentations all day and memorize information about ridiculous theories and details that they will probably NEVER use in their life-seems totally silly.
I would like to end this article with a story I once read about Henry Ford that I think gives some great insight. During his life, a newspaper printed an article calling him “ignorant.” This upset Ford & he sued the company for calling him ignorant.
During the trial, the newspaper company’s attorney called Ford to the stand. The attorney then started asking Ford random questions to try to prove that he was indeed “ignorant” and that the newspaper company was not incorrect in labeling Ford as ignorant.
After a few questions, Ford finally became irritated & responded: “Sir, I have a little red button attached to my desk, and when I push it, I can summon any person that I need and ask them anything I need to know. Why on earth would I need to clutter up my mind with details when I can find out anything I want to know by simply pressing a button.”
Reportedly, the attorney immediately stopped questioning him as it was obvious that an ignorant man could not have given such an intelligent answer.
If you are an entrepreneur, think carefully about your decision of whether or not to go to college. Whatever you decide, just remember that college is NOT necessary to succeed. It can only merely offer you a tool that MAY help you succeed. For some entrepreneurs, it may actually inhibit your success by draining your capital & time.
“Formal education will make you a living, self education will make you a fortune.”