Do you need to go to college in order to be an entrepreneur? Is self-education enough? originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.
When I was in graduate school, a professor kept making this joke about how economics majors are just learning how to get money from poor people. It was Berkeley, so it got a few laughs each time he said it, but I think about that comment a lot today, especially as I've become a business owner and entrepreneur myself. I twisted the question around a bit: what are entrepreneurs going to college for?
My field is college consulting and education in general, so going to college made a lot of sense--I have to practice what I am preaching. But I never intended to go into business when I first decided on a career in teaching. Over the years, I have seen tons of tech companies launch products at different schools where I have worked. Most were clunky and not teacher- or student-friendly. Worst of all, they lacked pedagogy, something that is critical for ed tech tools. And then there were the times when firms would send their best and brightest to evaluate the school's finances. Most of those folks were fresh from undergrad and had a few years of tutoring at a community center between them. Yet they were making decisions that would impact the entire educational system in the city. They made suggestions that were completely irrelevant to schools, and in most cases, damaging.
So yes, entrepreneurs and business people alike should go to college, and they should learn the ins and outs of the industry they would like to influence. While we can point to some top entrepreneurs who did not complete their college degrees, we know that Zuckerberg and Jobs did take courses in technology and design at two of the top universities in the world. They are anomalies because they didn't finish and still made a huge impact, but they attempted college and created products based on the information and experiences they gleaned in college.
I think we rest too much on the data that 90% of startups fail, so we figure chances are we are going to fail, so why make the huge effort to know what we're doing from the outset? As entrepreneurs, we measure success in terms of the number of startups we've founded, and how we continue to make money from those failures, and not the number of successful ones and the number of lives we've impacted in those efforts.
I wasn't an economics major, or as my professor would say, The Art of Making People Buy Stuff They Don't Need major. I studied education and later race in graduate school. And I'd like to think my business and where I am fixated on making change occur in those two realms. Had I not worked in education for nearly twenty years, I wouldn't have been able to see where those points are, and probably would not have been as effective in doing so. So I believe there is something to experience. But earning degrees in those areas has allowed me to think more broadly, and much further than what my experience--while lengthy, but still limited to me--would have told me.
So go to college and hear what other people are saying about environmental justice, or biological sciences, or art therapy. Then figure out what and where interjections should be made.
And while you're at it, see what's happening in the Make People Broke in Ten Days seminar.
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