Famous entrepreneurs like Richard Branson and Mark Zuckerberg are well known for dropping out of university partway through or not attending in the first place. Search the internet and you’ll find plenty of people promoting the idea that university is a waste of time for entrepreneurs and those that want to run a small business.
On the other hand, there are many countries where getting a degree is seen as a right of passage and almost essential for making it in the modern world.
But is there any value in getting a degree if you plan on working for yourself?
The Arguments Against Getting a Degree
Whenever you hear people promote the idea that there is no point in going to university if you plan on becoming self-employed, they usually give a few typical reasons.
The first is that going to university is expensive. If you’re studying in certain parts of the United Kingdom, you could end up paying more than £9,000 a year for your tuition fees alone, while in the United States, graduates of prestigious colleges can easily be left with over $100,000 in the red.
Whatever you plan to do for work, that’s a lot of money that you’ll need to pay back and for someone who is starting a business, it can add to the already excessive levels of pressure.
Another argument against getting a degree is the fact that most universities and degree courses are designed to give you skills you’d need for corporate life. For example, the University of Liverpool lists some of the recent jobs their graduates have secured after studying its Business Management BA degree and the companies that have employed them. This includes AstraZeneca, Coca-Cola, Bloomberg, Bank of America, Deloitte, HSBC, KPMG, and Shell.
While this course does contain a module on entrepreneurship, it is mostly focused on the management of larger organisations.
Other arguments against getting a degree from the university include the fact that the formal education environment doesn’t suit many entrepreneurs who are often more practical-focused and, therefore, find hours of lectures tedious.
However, these arguments, while valid, ignore some crucial points.
University is not just a place to listen to professors drone on about economic theories for hours. They’re a place where young adults learn important life skills, try new things, and make new friends.
Chances are, you’ll maintain relationships with these people for the rest of your life, and they will most likely form part of your professional network. Universities often have business or entrepreneurship societies where you can meet other people that want to start their own company after graduation, so this can be invaluable.
Most universities also have connections to many local business leaders, so you could try to leverage these to find more connections.
Not all universities are the same. Some are known for their scientific research, others are famous for focusing on their athletic programs. In the UK, anyone who wants to become Prime Minister can significantly improve their chances by attending either Oxford or Cambridge since 76% of the country’s leaders since Sir Robert Walpole in 1721 have studied there. This is in comparison to just three from both the University of Edinburgh and the University of Glasgow which share joint third place.
The same applies to athletes, Notre Dame has produced over 500 NFL players throughout the history of the league. Similarly, Warwick University in England has become the epicentre for graduates that go on to become successful poker players, including Ruper Elder, James Keys, and Alex Millar.
A large proportion of businesses fail. The exact percentage varies depending on which study you look at and how long you monitor a business. For example, around 50% of startups fail within their first five years but that figure increases to nearer 90% when you look at companies 10 years after they were founded.
While you always want to hope that you won’t be just another statistic, the odds are that you probably will be. Therefore, it makes sense to have a backup plan, just in case.
A good backup could be a degree that will help you to land a 9-5 job, at least temporarily while you try to prepare your next attempt at running a business.