Even the best master's program can't magically turn you into an entrepreneur overnight. A diploma doesn't come with mystical qualities any more than slipping on that graduation gown instantly turns you into the next startup success story. Your master's program can however be the ideal training ground to hone your skills. Some entrepreneurs are born to start a company but most of them learn and grow into that role, flailing and adjusting their product as they go. A reputable master's program is often the factory where good businesspeople are made.
Not all master's programs are created equally, and not all offer a focus on entrepreneurship. If you know you want to run your own business, picking a solid master's program can be key. There should be plenty of opportunities to test out your ventures, electives that match what a future entrepreneur needs, and a business/leadership focus that's clearly centered on helping students achieve entrepreneurial success during or after graduation.
Do you think your master's program is giving you the leg up you need to become the next great entrepreneur? Here are a few signs you, and your program, are on the right track.
1. The right departments, programs and courses are in place.
Look for courses such as "Strategies for Starting a New Business" or anything with "entrepreneur" in the title. There may be options for testing entrepreneurial ventures, clubs, and mentors who have "been there done that." The course options available make it very clear if this is an entrepreneurial-centric program or not.
2. You find like-minded entrepreneurs in the making.
Your program might just be where you find a partner, co-founder, employees or even an investor. Many of the startup founders I've interviewed over the years say they first met their co-founders through business school or master's programs. Like attracts like, and if you notice a lot of inventors, startup wannabes, and entrepreneurial spirits in your program, you're on the right track.
3. You got in because of your essay on entrepreneurial dreams.
Many master's programs are on the lookout for candidates with entrepreneurial drive--especially if that's one of their major focuses. They know these candidates are ambitious, will make the most use of the program, and will be quick to dive right in and become an integral part of their classes.
4. Your professors have a history with startups.
Does your professor double as an inventor? Are they founders of small businesses? Take a look at the background of the professors in the program, and see if they're entrepreneurs themselves. If so, they're likely teaching because they want to share their knowledge with other entrepreneurs (like you).
5. You're given plenty of creative leeway.
Some programs are incredibly stringent and have a clear outline of what you're expected to do as a student. Others want you to take the lead. If there's an opportunity to use your program as an incubator for a venture or startup, take advantage of it. Look into all potential resources, reach out to others for help, and you might even be able to use your startup efforts for credit. Experience is the best teacher of all, and it's even better when in a structured and supportive academic setting.
Ultimately, your master's program is what you make of it, but you could be in a much better position if you find the right program for you. Dig deep, look at the electives, and only apply to programs you believe can bolster your entrepreneurial ambitions. Otherwise, an ill-matched program can help you somewhat, but may not optimize your startup goals. It all begins with location, including exactly where you pursue your degree.