Is College Overrated?

The New York Times just ran an article where college dropouts starting companies challenge the value of college.

As a college grad and serial entrepreneur (8th and 9th underway), what do I think?  Should young people ditch college to start their ventures?

Yes, if you have tested a prototype product or service with customers and are getting some positive response, I believe by all means that you should drop out and try building your venture.  In the mid-1980s, Michael Dell called me from his dorm at U. Texas Austin just as he was dropping out of his sophomore year to launch Dell Computer.  But Michael was no amateur; he was already generating $80,000 a month, with a 40% gross margin, so I encouraged him to jump ship.

I wrote about my amazing conversation with Michael Dell in my new e-book, “In the Valley of Digital Dreams,”

However, most young people don’t have proven businesses like Michael.  Should you still try?  Yes, but you should probably stay in school while developing your prototype so you can get constant feedback from other students, friends and their families.  As Mark Zuckerberg and Dell learned, college is a great testbed for startups.  And you’re more likely to succeed selling to your generation than older people.

Given the high cost and fierce competition to get into top colleges, I believe you shouldn’t attend if you don’t want to be in class.  Save the space for a more driven student.  If your startup fails, you can always attend or go back to college, a lot wiser and knowledgeable than your classmates, and you can always try again.  If you decide to go to college and want to be an entrepreneur, save money by enrolling in a local community college to get your basic education, then transfer to a local state college that has a strong department and professors in your chosen major.  You’ll save money for your startup and you can still get a good education if you choose properly.  Given a choice, try to major in a STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) subject and credentialed programs so you have practical, hands-on skills that will enable you to get a job.  Paying your bills while building your startup is probably the biggest challenge for entrepreneurs.  Even part-time work can buy you the time, usually years, required to launch a sustainable startup company.

Entrepreneurship is a mindset, a process, an education and a lifestyle, not a destination.  Approach it like learning to play a music instrument and you’ll enjoy the process.  And perhaps someday you’ll make it to the business equivalent of Carnegie Hall if you practice and work hard enough for at least 10,000 hours.

P.S.  A Bunch Of Students Think They Have Found The Next Mark Zuckerberg via @sai


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