With the costs for college rising and public opinion changing about the necessity of a college degree, self-starters who are entrepreneurs might ask what the benefits of formal schooling are. It’s easy to look at such astounding success stories as dropout Facebook inventor Mark Zuckerberg and wonder why his success can’t be duplicated.
It might be. But in most cases, it’s the harder path. As it happens, they are many reasons to complete a degree, even as a nontraditional student. With so many options available to enhance your resume with a B.A. or a B.S., it’s worth at least considering.
Is Dropping Out the Way to Go?
Since college is difficult, it can be frustrating, especially when completing required classes which we think we won’t be using, or if we’re struggling to hold down a job while meeting the expectations of professors and family members. Why not chuck it all as Zuckerberg or Bill Gates did?
That path worked for these innovators, but the truth is that far more people who are successful have degrees than those who don’t. Amazon titan Jeff Bezos, for example, has a net worth of $134 billion—and a degree from Princeton. Not only is Bezos active in such causes as education and combatting homelessness, he is also pursuing space tourism with his aerospace company, Blue Origin. While specialization and experience are necessary in any career field, completing a B.S. or a B.A. provides a platform in exploring a well-rounded view of the world: Dance majors are asked to take a lab science, and information technology specialists must successfully complete a fine arts class. Exposure to “the other side” of talents and interests boosts creativity, increases networking opportunities, and encourages collaborative learning.
The Conversation recently studied the educational backgrounds of wealthy influences: Government leaders, CEO’s, and business power brokers. The editors found that in the United States, 94% of those studied had at least an undergraduate degree, and even Zuckerberg and Gates, as commencement speakers many times over, were awarded honorary doctorates. (It bears pointing out that both men graduated from extremely competitive high schools, where they received intense and excellent educations in a success-focused environment.) An article in Forbes recently compared their non-degreed success to “justifying the purchase of a lottery ticket.”
So, if you’re enrolled, might as well stay put. Even Harvard dropouts Zuckerberg and Gates at least went through freshman orientation.
You Might Not Wind Up Where You Think You Will
College is a place for exploration even beyond required courses. Many college graduates change majors or even switch from a B.A. to a B.S. Some change their majors as many as three times.
While this may sound like indecisiveness in action, it’s actually people getting to know themselves and their skill sets. For example, a person might start out as a pre-med major, but enter into the first lab class and find the odor of formaldehyde sickening. A budding journalist may find that he or she detests conducing interviews. Finding this out early is a healthy part of a vocational discernment process.
Even better, many colleges offer a “practice run” in the form of internships and work-studies. These give students an opportunity to work in their field of choice without making major commitments. They’re a good way to not only gain hands-on experience, but to discover whether he or she is really suited for the line of work which they find attractive. An accounting major may find that the cubicle life is far to limiting and decide to study forestry instead with no moving costs lost.
Even if, at the end of a college career, there are still changes ahead, a graduate still has a diploma in hand. Conversely, a business loan for a failed venture leaves an entrepreneur with massive debt and little else to show for the attempt but potential bankruptcy.
The failure rate for startups is 70%. Good entrepreneurs know not to play those kinds of odds without a backup plan.
Options Beyond the Four-Year Ivied Walls
If you just can’t wait to open that bar or start creating apps, guess what: You can begin now while still attending classes.
Even if taking a course at a time, online college is becoming more and more a viable option for people seeking a B.S. or a B.A. Many local schools will also cater to non-traditional students, offering courses at night or on the weekends.
This option can be the best of both worlds for entrepreneurs who might already have working world experience. In this way, degrees can be earned while still having working hours available to take meetings, raise funds, code, or perform marketing tasks. You might even pay your own way through school through your business ventures, and leave college with not only a degree, but also an impressive resume or even an employee or two.
Online degrees tend to be cheaper and, in some cases, faster, as several courses can be taken at once and year round. Some even offer credit in exchange for life experience or classes completed at other colleges. The modern miracles of asynchronous learning and virtual classrooms mean that you can oversee a workshop in Omaha while taking online classes from Cornell.
Soft Business Skills & Collaborative Learning
Business majors are usually big earners. Degrees in such stable fields as finance, accounting, human resources, and market research usually translate to job security.
But even beyond this financial reality, the skills honed in most business courses, if not in core classes, usually come into play in the boardroom or client meetings. Collaborative learning and group projects are usually a staple of a business degree for a reason: They’re replicas of the working world, when people with disparate interests, personalities, and skills must find a way to come together to succeed. This requires sharpening emotional intelligence, trading between leadership and ego checks, and drawing out the best of each team member. Outcome-based group projects might be frustrating at the time, but they are excellent field prep.