One of the online joints that I like lurking in is the personal development site by Steve Pavlina. While I do not always agree with or relate to the topics Steve chooses to talk about, I love reading his articles on entrepreneurship and motivation. And boy, is he good at it! He is very articulate and infectious, and makes you really want to get up off your ass and do something! Recently, I joined his forum and started reading through some of the discussion there (mostly in the “Business and Financial” and “Technology and Technical Skills” sections). And even though it is not surprising, it is a bit disturbing to see that many people are so influenced by Steve’s ideology that they want to quit their job or school to start their own business. I am a big believer in college education and I have been bitten by the entrepreneurship bug too. So, this particular thread really had me thinking. Should someone not go to college so they can devote the entire time to building their own business? I am really interested in listening to what you all have to say about this, so please indulge me with comments about your own opinions and personal experiences. Hopefully, it will help someone in their process of making the right decision. Here’s what I had to say to the OP (with some additional points added as I started writing it here).
Go to college anyway
Right now, you don’t want to go to college because of what you think college is and what you have heard about college. Start going to college anyway. Experience it for yourself. If it is really not for you, you can always quit later. You will likely lose a year or so in the process, but at least you won’t be spending years and years later, wondering if you did the right thing by not going to college.
You can learn some things in college
It’s like any other life experience – there is always some things that you can learn. Not all classes will be helpful, but there will certainly be a few that will form a great foundation for your future. Also, the fun, the energy, the networking in college is something unique and should be tried at least once. Most of the people in college will be smart, and you will learn as much from your peers as you will from your professors.
You can still start a business while in college
Going to college does not mean that you cannot start a business too. Don’t stress yourself out about college – take it slow and easy. At the same time, start the business. If you decide to stick through college, in 3-5 years, you will have both the degree and a budding business. Once you leave college you will not have to work for someone else, but apply your knowledge and skills to your own business which has already gone through the teething trouble and is on it’s way to maturity.
This path will prove you are not a bum
All of us are lazy to a certain extent and want easy money. Maybe it’s just that part of you that is justifying to get you out of going to school and starting a business. If you don’t go to college and start a business, you will always wonder if you took the easy way out and a small part of you will start to believe that you might be a bum. But if you go ahead and do both anyway, it will give you a legitimate reason to be proud of yourself.
College doesn’t have to be expensive
If you decide to go to college to just get an idea of what it is like, and don’t want to spend a lot of money on it, it may be better to start by taking classes in the community college. While the experience is not quite the same as that of going to a big university, it will still give you a sampling of what it is like. After a while, if you decide not to pursue college, this will not ding you too much financially. On the other hand if you decide that you do want to continue college, you can get credit for your community college courses at many accredited universities. Alternately, you can start in a good state college and use the tips here to get good financial aid to reduce your out of pocket cost. Also, Nick @ Punny Money has a a great article about going to college without taking loans that you may want to check out.
Starting a business is easy, being successful is not
I don’t want to burst your bubble, but starting a business is easy, but being successful is not. To start a business, all you need is a smart idea and some motivation. To make the business successful, you need to have a plan. You need experience to deal with unexpected situations. You need the drive to stay motivated. And you need the freedom to fail a few times, before you can be successful. By going to college, you buy yourself enough time to plan. If you take up internships in summers and apprentice with some business/companies in your area of interest, you can gain some invaluable experience. If you can still keep up with your goals of starting a business while you take classes in college, you will know you have the drive. And finally, while in college, your life is not solely invested in your business. So you can take some chances and try out different things without being under pressure to succeed. That freedom will eventually give you the success you seek.
Finally, college degree is like getting insurance
At the risk of sounding tediously repetitive, let me stress again, starting a business is easy, being successful is not. You would not buy an expensive car and drive it without proper insurance, would you? You would not buy a house in a flood plain and not get insurance, would you? Then why do you want to play with your life without having some insurance. Yes, it will be great to succeed. No, you don’t want to start out by negative thoughts like “what if I don’t succeed”. But to get on the tight rope without a safety net, you either need to be extremely experienced, or really really stupid. So, you are young and you have a lot of time on your hands. Spend a few years in getting that insurance we call “a college education”. And nurture your dreams of entrepreneurship at the same time. And laugh in the face of naysayers who advocate the one-or-the-other route. And tell me if you don’t feel Exhilarated. Thrilled. And a wee bit Proud and Arrogant of your accomplishments.
Alright now, that was a long and fairly serious post. So here are some Calvin and Hobbes strips. Have a good one, everybody. (Update 05/21/07: I have removed the cartoon strips since I realised I was violating the authors copyrights.).