Every now and then I stumble across someone who happened to make it big, despite not going to college. I’m intrigued, and I admire someone who managed to “make it” against all odds. But is that really a reason to then give the advice that entrepreneurs don’t really need to go to college? You can find lists about top entrepreneurs that didn’t go to college, and you can definitely, probably think of a few famous entrepreneurs like Steve Wozniak or Russell Simmons.
But at the end of the day I think the more important issue is not whether or not going to college will help you guarantee success (it won’t) but what do you actually get from going to college? So, here is a list of tangible things that you will get out of going to college, that will make it worth every penny:
- An Alumni network
Tapping into your alumni network can get you in front of people you might not be able to otherwise. If you are starting a company, you may be able to find people for your board of advisors, or someone who can introduce you to a VC, or help you connect with a potential partner, customer or client. People tend to be very loyal to their college or university and, if you share that loyalty with them, it’s amazing what someone will do for you.
- Experience dealing with at least one professor you don’t like, and who doesn’t like you
Most of us have dealt with a teacher or professor that didn’t like us. In the college setting, your parents are not there to intervene or help you out in the same way. This is the first time you will have to deal with a person in control of your success who may dislike you. This is a good lesson to learn as, in the real world, you will often have to deal with people you don’t like — or who don’t like you. The better you learn how to handle situations like this and still be successful, the better you will be in life.
- Dealing with a project/paper/assignment that is due, that you hate, or don’t know how to accomplish
We have all been there in our work life. Something we need to do–either for the business you are starting, or for a boss, that you don’t want to do, don’t know how to do, or hate doing. In the business world, just like in college, there are consequences for missing deadlines. College teaches people how to slog through something and get it done to the best of their ability–on a due date. There is nothing I dislike more in the real world than someone who doesn’t know how to get something done because they have never had to “learn” how to learn. In school, you learn where to research, who to ask, and what you need to read to understand the project that is due. Well, guess what people? It is the same in the real world. Sometimes you have to just figure things out. I find, in general (not always), people with college degrees get this idea faster than those without.
- Organized people do better
College is the first time most people have to learn how to organize their personal and school life on their own. There is no more mom and dad scheduling you, or saying no to that late-night party on Thursday night. Or asking you if you have completed the report that is due the next day. Now it is all in your hands. The better organized you are, the easier it is to be successful. I think this is a lesson most college students learn by trial and error. The more organized you are in the real world, the greater the chance that you will be successful.
- Showing up is 95% of the battle
This is one of the reasons I have heard people cite for NOT going to college. But I think that college helps people understand that it is not about the end result as much as the journey. What you get out of being there, showing up, and participating is probably 95% of the value. How many people do you know that went to school for a degree that has very little to do with what they do in the “real world?” It’s not about the actual facts that you learned, but about understanding that you have to show up, you have to turn in assignments, and you have to participate in order to succeed. Isn’t this the same in life, and particularly so in entrepreneurship?
So am I saying that in order to be a successful entrepreneur you must go to college? No. But I am saying that it will give you life skills that no other venue can give you. It will give you access to a network that no other venue can give you. And I PROMISE that if you show up and attend, it will give you more than your money’s worth. And if your start-up fails (more than 60% of them do after two years), then you will at least have not only your business experience, but also a college degree to fall back on, and make you that much more “hire-able.”