Maybe you're in college, or perhaps you're going back. You know you've got a love of running your own business; you're a dyed-in-the-wool entrepreneur. And for all the recognition of the many broadening effects of a good education, you want to be sure you also boost your chances of success.

How do you make college work for you and your plans? Make the most of your opportunity by structuring and approaching it in the right way.

Names matter, except for now

One of the old debates in education is how much an elite name means to success. I've watched these discussions go on informally among people I know. Those who went to state schools often scoff at the idea that an Ivy or other big name school made a difference. Those who went to name schools often feel that they have an advantage.

According to an article in the Atlantic, there is a big advantage to a name school. People tend to make more coming out of them.

There could be a number of reasons for this. You might have access to better facilities that let you get further ahead at an elite institution. Also, many employers can be overly impressed by big names.

However, you're not looking for a job, as the Wall Street Journal points out. You want to build a business. That changes some of the dynamics. The people who matter, those who might offer you money, want to see that you've got a killer idea to solve a big problem. It comes down to you and your talent and vision.

Networking is a major issue

The one place elite schools can come in handy is when it comes to networking. Your professors, teaching assistants, fellow students, and alumni can become an important resource as connections and potential mentors. The richer and broader it is, the better your chances to make it work for you.

That's all well and good, but not being at a name school doesn't mean your business is out of the picture. Get your head out of the picture that only the biggest and most newsworthy companies are successful. There are great businesses of all sorts that never get a second look from the press. If the entire school isn't wired for what you want to do, focus on the parts that are and start meeting people. Also, as the Journal notes, some schools are well connected and regarded in particular industries. Find the ones that are the most important in the fields you want to explore.

Consider debt

Decades ago, the relative cost of college to the amount you would make when you were out was much lower than today. Now, many students rack up tens of thousands of dollars in debt. That means payments you can't ignore and that force you to think more about how much cash you have coming in rather than how much opportunity you will see down the road.

Keeping the costs down during your studies is important, but so is the relative mix of financial aid, as wealthier institutions might be more expensive, but might also provide more assistance. A lower tuition bill doesn't help in the long run if you're saddled with more loan debt than a seemingly more expensive institution. The less in loan debt you have, the better off you are.

Be sure you do research into how you can better manage the debt. The Small Business Administration has information on income-based repayment that uses a sliding scale to determine how much you have to pay. Entrepreneurs are one class of people the program targets.

Don't (necessarily) major in business

Another suggest from the Journal resonates well with what I've seen over the years. Find something that really interests you and that provides a base of solid knowledge about a topic. Sure, take some business courses in basics like accounting and management, but get a grounding in other areas. Victoria Schramm of UP Global has argued that even undergrad entrepreneur classes taught by a business school are poor at conveying the important principles.

I've said the same thing to many people who want to major in journalism. You can learn those skills, but you've got an advantage if there's something practical you know in addition. Entrepreneurs have to manage many practical issues when running a business.

Even if you do major in business, expect that you'll need to learn skills that might not be on the business list. They might include good writing and public speaking or some exposure to programming, given how many businesses depend on computer technology. Some entrepreneurs suggest courses in areas such as psychology, journalism, art, design, world cultures, or even theater.

Published on: Nov 25, 2014
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