Education for Entrepreneurs: Yes or No?

Think back to your post-college days. You were full of inspiration, thirst, and knowledge or exhausted, broke, and rudderless, or maybe somewhere in between. Either way, today, when you are an entrepreneur, do you think investing those four years was a good decision? Well, I’m going to dedicate this post to help you decide.

Again, NBC’s “60 Minutes” was my inspiration. They interview was with Peter Thiel, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and investor best known as the co-founder of PayPal and an early investor in Facebook, Yelp, and LinkedIn. Thiel sparked a controversy in the US after he came out against higher education, claiming it has become a money landfill where millions invest up to $250,000 for a bachelor’s degree and get nothing in return. He was willing to put his money where his mouth is and created a fellowship program for students under 20. His foundation encourages students to drop out of college and focus on their unique idea with the help $100,000, given by him. To support his notion, he mentions Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, and Bill Gates, all successful college dropouts.

The list is long for successful entrepreneurs who dropped out of college, but is it long enough? Are these examples too few and far between for us to make any conclusion about the necessity of higher education in general, and for entrepreneurship more specifically? So, is education a necessity for entrepreneurs?

Why yes? First, college is a great place to meet new friends and business contacts. Where else will you get acquainted with so many people for a long period of time, long enough to make meaningful long-lasting bonds? We all know about the importance of networking, so I consider college a four-year-long networking event. Even if you don’t know a person from your years in school, the fact that you both went to the same institution makes you closer. Second, even if you don’t gain knowledge that is specifically relevant to your business, a college degree gives you basic familiarity with subjects such as economics, business, psychology, sociology, history, etc. I believe that one of the most important things you learn in college is the “business language.” The knowledge and skills you gain in college are what you put in your toolkit when starting your professional life. They allow you to make your first steps in the business world—slowly, maybe, but surely.

Why not? College is expensive. The average tuition, room, and board for a four-year degree is around $80,000. That is a lot of money, and most students and parents cannot afford to pay, meaning they have to take out a loan to cover it. Second, many courses that are required in college may be considered irrelevant to the future aspirations of the student. Many students also struggle to finish these courses because they have no interest taking them. Studies suggest that popular careers for the most popular majors such as Social Sciences, Communications Psychology, and English include Retail Store Manager, Customer Service Representative, and Administrative Assistant.

Those who view college in the narrow perspective of monetary ROI may be disappointed, but I believe that college is a good starting point for the rest of your life. It gives you the time to build knowledge, create friendships, and ponder about the future in a constructive way. It is a setting that allows people to give free rein to their thoughts and aspirations without getting lost.

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