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Entrepreneurial success and college degrees. Are they related?


Hitting the entrepreneurial jackpot without formal college degree — we’ve heard it, read it, we’ve seen it. Many pioneers who scorned the graduation robe and hat have bustled out of college years before graduation and have subjugated the business world. Names like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Henry Ford, Larry Ellison, Sir Richard Branson, Steve Wozniak or movie director James Cameron instantly come to mind.

It leads to the debate as to if a college education could be a waste of time for those people who eventually became successful entrepreneurs. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire and like many allegories, the idea of entrepreneurial success without a college degree does have some reality to it. There are numerous people who have skipped college or dropped out and gone on to lead the business world as entrepreneurs.

In most cases of efficacious entrepreneurship, it seems success in entrepreneurship has nothing to do with education. The genuine response to whether or not a college degree makes a variation is intricate. Certainly, the appropriate kind of entrepreneurial education puts entrepreneurs through a better conceptual structure, offers concepts that are requisite for entrepreneurship, and provides introduction to the world of business.

Therefore, education has its place but is certainly not an imperative to achieve success in entrepreneurship. Traditional education depends on rigid, pre-set curriculum. College degree tends to offer fairly predictive learning milieu and is concentrated towards deciphering vague problems that are based on hypothetical situations; quite simplistic for the real world. This is the reason why academia spends a massive amount of resources trying to make learning a predictable process. Concisely, academics set up certain constraints which do not allow one to unleash their thought process. Your thoughts are accumulated inside the periphery of the box, and it’s not always a bad thing. However, entrepreneurship is outside the box.

There are several role models who managed to strike the entrepreneurial gold in the absence of any college degree. For instance, the success stories of Richard Branson, Michael Dell, Mark Zuckerberg and others have given an inspiration to do what one is passionate about and not what the society expects one to do. Their stories, though compelling, point towards the conclusion that higher education may sometimes be more a deterrent than a benefit. However, the value of a degree when it comes to professions other than entrepreneurship cannot be defied — that makes perfect sense because none of us would seek a lawyer or a surgeon or even an accountant who had not endured arduous academic rigour. Moreover, there’s also the notion that liberal arts degree is worthless. But there is life after liberal arts. From an English Literature graduate Jack Ma (Chairman, Alibaba), to a B-average communications student Howard Schultz (CEO, Starbucks), to a hippie philosophy dropout John Mackey (Co-CEO, Whole Foods), these formerly dissatisfied liberal arts majors tire out everyone else to the helms of some top companies.

Entrepreneurship requires constant exercise on self, concepts, qualities, multiple skills, and outlook. Growth and learning is an ongoing process and as an entrepreneur, the process of learning is a daily endeavour. The learning, however, is not just confined to academics and restricted to a lab environment. Entrepreneurship is the real school of uphill battle and there is no particular preparation to combat it than the experience itself. Not by any means, a college degree can ensure a successful life. There’s nothing that can obstruct one’s path from growing as a professional if one is determined. Traditional college programs have been incredibly popular in the world, but there’s only so much that a degree can do. Besides the foundation, the basics, and the theoretical learning one would garner, all congruence to “career oriented learning” ends here.

There can be many reasons that coerce to drop out of college and discontinue higher education. However, making the ultimate choice is one’s own prerogative. There are, of course, many wonderful things to learn in college, which can aid in expansion of thoughts, sharpening critical thinking skills, revelling in the intellectual and cultural legacy of the world’s greatest thinkers. A college degree offers more than conventional education, but on the other hand, entrepreneurship may be one’s life’s purpose. The decision to choose a path that is right lies in the hands of each individual. A college degree can teach a lot, but life has more to offer. The crux of living a successful life is to always keep learning, because knowledge and skill is all that will stay through hardships.

By: Rashi Rastogi


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