I spent my days at UCLA reading business books in class and building organizations instead of doing homework. I disliked academics and forcing myself to do homework or pay attention in class would only cause me frustration. I found that I would constantly ask myself, “When will I ever use these things in the real world?”
Is this you? Are you thinking of dropping out of college to become the next Steve Jobs or Bill Gates and build a multi-billion dollar empire? I had those dreams as well, but let me tell you from first-hand experience – the real world is no walk in the park. I consistently find myself missing my undergrad days because it’s like playing a video game with the ability to hit the reset button when you mess up. College is like a giant safety net that allows you to try and fail as many times as you want without any major consequences.
So before you give up on college, take a second and let me tell you why an entrepreneur should finish his or her undergraduate education.
A prime example
Before we go into detail about why you should not drop out of college, let me give you a prime example of how to do it the right way if you were to do it.
One of my favorite bloggers is Jenny Blake from Life After College. In her 3rd year of college, she decided to take a 1 year break to pursue a startup venture with a professor. She was the youngest in the group and learned a tremendous amount about how to build a company, what the real world was like, and most of all, she learned a great deal about herself. After a year, she returned to college to finish her BA.
Key Takeaway: The important element of Jenny’s story is that she joined a startup with an experienced professor instead of venturing off on her own. Because she joined a group of people that were older and more experienced than her, she was able to learn from their wisdom, get paid, get experience on her resume, and build a great relationship with a very valuable group of people. The purpose of the startup was NOT to make it rich and build a successful company; instead, the goal was to learn and grow a new set of skills.
Well, Jenny is a unique case because she’s awesome. If you’re a normal person like me, then you don’t have professors approaching you offering you a position in their startup. So why not just drop out of college, save money by not having to pay tuition, and commit full time to your startup? Here are the reasons you should stay in school and get your degree:
1. You know less than you think
I remember sitting in my apartment reading Guy Kawasaki’s 20/30/10 Rule of PowerPoint. After reading that post I thought to myself, “I now know exactly what I need to know to pitch to VCs. Time to build the business plan and get me some funding!” That was about three years ago. Looking back, I realize just how little I knew back then. I was a naive little 21 year old with huge aspirations, but little in terms of practical experience.
Use college as a place to study entrepreneurs as much as you possibly can. I don’t mean take entrepreneurship classes; I mean get on the phone and call young entrepreneurs from top companies and invite them to have a cup of tea with you. Pick their brain, learn from them, and if you can, intern for them. You need practical experience in a startup before you can successfully build your own.
2. If classes are boring, read business books or switch majors
I studied Economics and I hated it! If you hate your major and think it’s worthless for the real world, does this mean that you should drop out to start your startup?
Of course not!
This just means that you’re in the wrong major. I found myself in this situation and added a Philosophy minor to my curriculum. Not only did I love these classes, but I actually used a lot of the writing techniques that I learned in a lot of my writing.
Since I couldn’t get out of Economics as my major, I decided to make the best of it. Instead of sleeping in class, I decided to read business books and learn as much as I could about business:
- E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber
- Good to Great by Jim Collins
- Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath
- Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi
- The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
It’s amazing how much you focus in class when you stop listening to the teacher and focus on something you’re interested in.
3. Hang out at the MBA School and find some mentors
If you find that your peers are not as focused on entrepreneurship as you are, then you need to surround yourself with people who are. As an undergrad, I made it a point to eat lunch at the MBA School and meet at least one new MBA student everyday. Because I forced myself to do it, I met some great people who guided me throughout my undergrad years and who introduced me to the people in the Entrepreneurship Organization (EO). Because of my connections at the EO, I was able to meet some amazing students who introduced me to tech startup events in Los Angeles and to a few VCs.
4. Use your undergrad years as a practice ground
The number one reason you should stay in school is so that you can build a startup without the fear of failing.
When you fail during your 3rd year at college, then you can just brush your shoulders off, come up with a new idea, and try again your fourth year at college. You have absolutely nothing to lose and a bundle of experience to gain.
But what about once you’re in the real world and you’ve graduated college? What happens when your startup fails then?
To be honest, if you fail and you have no other previous experience, then you are in major problems. Ask yourself these questions:
- What high paying job does NOT require a college degree?
- How long can you survive without generating a stable flow of income?
- What capital will you use to build your next startup?
- Do you have a skill or trade the people will pay you to perform?
If you fail and you have no college degree to fall back on, then I think you will be screwed. Sure you can keep trying and trying, but understand that most startups fail and most small business owners are not living a rich and wealthy lifestyle.
Finish your undergraduate degree. But don’t do it just for the sake of finishing; take advantage of every opportunity that your university offers. I have given you some prime homework to do in the list above so get it moving and start your journey towards living the startup life!