Do entrepreneurs need to go to University? Do they need any qualifications at all?
I must have seen about four million forum threads asking variations on the above question. I’m going to do my best to answer them – but here’s a forewarning; there’s a caveat to the answers I’ll give further down.
Let’s get on with it.
Do Entrepreneurs Need a Degree?
Tales abound of the entrepreneurial geniuses who went to University or college and dropped out, not getting their degree.
There are just as many stories of entrepreneurs who never went to University or college in the first place.
In fact, there are a lot of entrepreneurs who do the lifestyle-guru rounds who create for themselves a false-equivalence with the big entrepreneurs based on the fact that they also dropped out.
“I’m just like Bill Gates… I dropped out of college and I can teach you how to do the same!”
Sadly for the guru, it doesn’t really work like that.
That said, there are very few instances in entrepreneurship when you’ll need a degree. That’s bachelors, masters or a doctoral degree.
I say that as a person who runs a publishing business and I’m obviously a copywriter/evil marketer/sneaky salesman.
If you want to start a bio-medical company, then I’m less sure – but you probably need a degree. Similarly, if you want to start a law firm, there’ll be barriers to entry as far as qualifications go.
Ultimately, those barriers to entry exist, but in terms of the day-to-day running of your business, nobody cares. I’ve never had a client ask me to prove my qualifications and if they did I’d probably be a bit weirded out by them.
Nothing I learned in my academic life really applies to real-world business. *
*See the caveat later.
Do Entrepreneurs Need To Go To University?
The question for this section might seem the same as the above question – but it’s not.
University in general provides an experience that’s wider than just the certificate.
This’ll depend on your life, where you’re from and what you want to do.
If, for instance, you’re from a small town in the middle of nowhere, then University will be a profoundly life-changing experience should you pack up and move to the other side of the country and live in a big city.
Similarly, if you move to a place where there are a ot of international students, you’re going to open doors that simply haven’t been there in your life.
However… University/college is ludicrously expensive. That’s not the caveat, but it’s a consideration.
When you’re paying 10k a year for the privilege of living somewhere and doing not a lot… that’s a hefty amount of money; especially if you take out a student loan to do so. Is it worth it?
The experience is probably not worth years of debt, because there are ways to get the same “experience” and know-how for a much-reduced cost.
What Qualifications Do Entrepreneurs Need?
You might think from the above analyses that I’m on the anti-university bandwagon. More on that in the next section, but for now; University education is not the only education.
If you want to be an entrepreneur, then you need to have a massive education.
There are going to be things that you never knew you’d need to know when it comes to business. You’re going to be a marketer, salesman, bookkeeper, customer support punching bag and a million other things.
You’re going to learn to build your own website (or at least how to work one) and you’re going to have to learn how to operate equipment or software you never knew existed until you needed it.
Sure, you can teach yourself on the job, but if you’re not investing in your business education, then you’re probably not going to succeed in the long-term. You will take longer to do things, you’ll get things wrong and you’ll cost yourself more in opportunities than you save by trying to fumble through things.
As an entrepreneur, the qualification is less important than the education, but you’re going to need a lot of education. (And trust me, after wasting three days on a technical problem when you could have spent $10 on an Udemy course, you’re going to want a lot of education.)
Here’s The Caveat…
University, or college education, can be a great investment. However, it should be considered a business expense. That is, you must think of each qualification you undertake as an investment that you are going to get a return on.
If you want to start a law firm, then you need to spend the tens of thousands to get a law degree and then do the pupillage or whatever and work your way up. Should you succeed, you’ll become a partner in your firm and make £X and you can then decide, taking into account your odds of success. (How many lawyers become partners in their own firm? Those are your odds. No psychological trickery like, “I’ll do what it takes to be in the 1%”)
If you can gain something from a course – be it a higher-education course or otherwise – then weigh up the cost of the qualification with the likely return on investment.
This doesn’t have to be law degree = lawyer or business degree = business owner, but it can be something more subtle.
A short law course at your local college might not make you a lawyer, but it’ll help you understand the law better = a positive return on your business.
Taking a bookkeeping course won’t make you an accountant, but it’ll help you decide which accountant to hire.
Those are the sorts of questions you should ask yourself before trying out a course in order to be an entrepreneur.
Most people approach their education in a haphazard way. When I was younger, I certainly did.
It’s easy to overcomplicate the process – especially when you have people shouting in your ear, “You’ve got to go to college because it’s the right thing” or “Don’t go to college unless you study STEM it’s a complete waste of money” or anything in between.
Really, your education works in a similar way to any other business or career decision you make. Way up the pros, cons and the return on investment you’ll get.
If in doubt, wait. Educational institutions aren’t going anywhere, and the knowledge that’s contained within them (such as it may or may not be) is not going anywhere either.
Wait and then make an informed decision.