The value of higher education to entrepreneurs is a debate that has raged for decades. The loudest voices are the ones that argue passionately that there is nothing to be gained by getting a degree if you want to spend your life earning a living through your own entrepreneurial endeavors.
Should You Go to University if You Want to be an Entrepreneur?
They’ll often cite examples like Richard Branson, who dropped out of formal education before getting a chance to go to university, and Mark Zuckerberg who famously dropped out of Harvard after founding Facebook.
But they often overlook many of the nuanced factors that should be considered by entrepreneurs and those who dream of one day starting a business.
University is Not Just About Getting a Degree
Listen to any of these impassioned debates about why universities are a waste of time for entrepreneurs, and you’ll almost certainly hear the words “just a bit of paper”.
Sure, a degree is just a bit of paper that won’t offer much value if you plan on starting a business right after graduating. But university offers much more to students than just that bit of paper.
For those who are savvy enough, the university will provide the perfect opportunity to network with like-minded people, as well as those with very different backgrounds and interests to your own.
Having a strong network is vital for any business person, as it opens doors when you’re looking for new employees, clients, and finance.
Having a good circle of people around you can also provide you with a sounding board for ideas, as well as a reliable source of emotional and moral support on your long (and often lonely) journey into entrepreneurship.
You’ll also develop new skills, become more productive, learn about topics that might be applicable to your business, and even get the opportunity to mix with influential people in the local business community.
Not All Universities Are Created Equal
Another reason that makes it difficult to give a definitive answer to the question is the fact that not all universities are the same.
Certain ones, either for historical reasons or because they have more resources than others, seem to offer better prospects to their students and alumni than others.
In the UK, the University of Oxford has produced more Prime Ministers than any other. As of 2021, the institution has seen 28 of its former students step into Number 10, double that of its traditional rival the University of Cambridge. The next closest is the University of Birmingham, which has only produced two of the country’s leaders.
The same applies across the pond. MIT and Harvard have seen many of Silicon Valley’s CEOs pass through their doors.
Some universities produce more successful athletes than others too. Britain’s Warwick University has seen numerous leading professional poker players pass through its campuses at one time or another, more than almost any other institution.
Meanwhile, Alabama has consistently been the college with the most former students signed with NFL teams.
Therefore, it’s not necessarily just a question of IF you should go to university, but also WHERE.
A Backup Plan
You may not want to think about it, but there’s always a chance that your business idea won’t get off the ground. According to Investopedia, 90% of new businesses eventually fail; two in ten within the first year, half within five years, and 70% before they turn 10 years old.
There are many reasons why a business can fail, including funding issues, strong competition, and not having the right team. Some are within your control, others are not.
With the odds stacked against you, it’s a good idea to have a backup plan. A degree can certainly provide that, as it will often open up more doors if you ever need to look for a job.
Getting a job doesn’t mean you’ve failed as an entrepreneur either. Almost everyone fails at least once. It’s part of the learning curve. Many entrepreneurs have, at some point, got a “real job” for a short while to earn money while they work on their ideas. And even a first job can be well paid.
You May Not Start a Business Right Away
Working a nine-to-five can give you key insights into a particular industry, as well as how to (or how not to) run a business. For this reason, many people don’t start a business right out of university.
Instead, they choose to get some experience in the world of work, build up more knowledge, expand their network even further, and save up some money. Having a degree will generally make the job market more accessible to you.
The people who believe entrepreneurs should never step foot inside an institute of higher education are often the ones who are most vocal on the matter.
However, well-intentioned these people are, they may be discouraging potential entrepreneurs from following a path that can expand their network, give them valuable experience, and provide a safety net in case things don’t go to plan.
Of course, entrepreneurs shouldn’t just sign up for any old university course. Some institutions offer much more value than others, either through a specialism in a particular field, or a long-standing position of influence in certain industries or an entire country.