Deciding whether or not to go to school is a tough choice for any young entrepreneur to make, but anyone who doesn’t really know your total situation and gives a definitive Yes or No answer to this major decision is likely short-sighted and unable to look past their own personal experiences.
Instead, the word I’d like to etch into your brain right now is trajectory: the path followed by a projectile moving under the action of given forces.
When you’re young, whether you realize it or not, your trajectory is easily influenced by a lot of forces. In order of importance, these forces are the people that you choose to keep around, the activities you spend your time doing, the opportunities that you have at your disposal and ultimately your ability to stay focused on improving your skill set and building your career. Changing any one of those factors even slightly can give you an entirely different life later on.
College is great for some people, largely pointless for others. The more important thing to keep in mind is where you are at this point in your life and how you honestly think that is going to shape where you go next.
In other words, what is your current trajectory?
If you’re not already positioned towards success, that’s what we really need to work on. Pointing you in the right direction. This may or may not mean college, depending on your individual circumstances, but I’ll get back to that in a second.
Since you’re reading a website about starting your own business, I’m going to go on a limb and say that’s something you’re interested in. To be sure, if you’re reading this as a high school student — or anyone who is starting out, learning as much as possible is the pathway to your eventual success.
But what is the best way to learn?
You often hear the conflicting, clichéd advice “college just prepares you to be an employee” versus “you won’t ever make as much money without a degree.” Both statements have truth to them, but are completely ridiculous when used as blanket generalizations that can’t possibly apply to everyone equally in today’s business and education environments.
By and large, I think most university graduates with only business and business marketing degrees know profoundly less than nearly anyone who spent the same amount of time working in the trenches and learning by doing.
You’re not even going to be on the same planet as those with quality, hands-on experience.
But that doesn’t mean that those graduates don’t have a leg up when it comes to discipline, potential contacts and (early) job opportunities. It also doesn’t mean that college didn’t help transform them from a lost ball of sludge into having the necessary early intuition of a capable entrepreneur.
I’d argue that you can learn most anything onlinethese days — and you’ll learn more in the first month of your own project than many semesters in any class. But some people may actually need the structured environment in order to later flourish into something great. Are you one of them?
THE BEST ADVICE FOR HIGH SCHOOL AGE STUDENTS INTERESTED IN BUSINESS.
Immediately start with getting involved in the business community. No matter what. Wake up each morning and make it a point to at least once that day somehow be around already successful people and businesses that are within the realm of what you’re interested in. The easiest way to start would be to look for local entrepreneurial groups (Meetup.com is a GREAT resource for this) and work your way in, ultimately aiming for more regular employment or intern opportunities.
Check out your local Chamber Of Commerce, too. This is immensely easier than coldly sending e-mails or submitting resumes (you likely don’t have one yet anyway). Plus, you have the novelty advantage of being young. People love helping young people who show promise, you just have to make sure they see your passion.
Faced with these real world situations and mentorships, you’re going to have a better grasp on whether or not college is a good idea. What do the successful people you’re newly around advise you to do based on knowing you? Is it possible you can go to school and work part time in a related field through one of these contacts? Can you maybe go to school -and- start your first business?
If you start looking at your future through this lens and realize that where you live doesn’t make it very easy to find other like minded and successful people (are you in a rural town? a tough neighborhood? are you surrounded by idiots? is your family unsupportive of your passions?), then getting out of where you live needs to be the priority.
College, as it happens, may be your ticket out.
But if you’re already on the right path, around the right people and spend your time learning the right things, college may just be an unnecessary (and expensive) waste of your time.
Another thing worth mentioning? The people who are currently your friends, dates and the like. As impossible as it may seem right now, to put this bluntly, most of those people won’t be even a small part of your life in even just a year or two, and you shouldn’t give two shits care too much about what they think regarding your future plans. If they try and change your plans based on what is best for them, put your headphones on. Besides, if they care about you, they’ll want what you want…
WHAT WAS MY COLLEGE DECISION?
When I was originally making the decision whether or not to go to college, I had already been involved in starting my own businesses, was a member of the Chamber of Commerce and had a laser like focus on becoming a successful entrepreneur. My trajectory was established in that, no matter who or what I was around, I’d ultimately end up trying to make a business out of it. Throw me in the middle of Kansas, and a dot com business was inevitable.
Had I opted to go to college, I would have certainly gravitated towards similar-minded people and likely started something with them. Since I would have been in college in the early 2000’s (aka: the dot com boom days), who knows what kind of business that would have been. Facebook launched in what would have been my Junior year. A lot of major multi-million dollar digital companies did around the same time period.
Instead, I moved to Las Vegas and began working in entertainment. I then went on to launch a popular and profitable dot com based on Las Vegas nightlife. Point being, my trajectory was always going to be being a dot com entrepreneur, it’s just the all important forces of who, where, when and why dictated what kind of dot com entrepreneur I’d be. Since I was in Vegas and a part of the nightlife industry, that’s the business I started at the time. In hindsight, I have no regrets, but it’s hard not to wonder if I might have built something much more financially relevant had the trajectory of my circumstances involved going to college in those days. Perhaps, Zuckerburg would be writing this guide and I’d have connected the world instead. Either way, I’m happy with my decision.