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College and the Young Entrepreneur May 5, 2007

Posted by Brad in College, Entrepreneurship.
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There’s a panoply of information out there on the new developments in the field of education in regards to the budding the entrepreneur. Schools and Institutes have sprung up within colleges and universities and success stories abound. Few, if any, now argue college is not an essential element in the educational path of a person and college and graduate school are great incubators for entrepreneurs. What strikes me as I read these pieces is that few of them come from the people involved; those in college or those who have just completed it. Thus, since I feel that its important to gather different insights I’m going to lay out a road map of sorts based on what I have recently experienced. Hopefully I will be able to provide some interesting pointers for those going through it or contemplating going through it. Here Goes:

College Is Not a Four Year Vacation (At Least It Shouldn’t Be)

Coming into College as an athlete, dealing with injury, and then no longer being an athlete made for an atypical college process. However, I can honestly say that I believe these difficult beginnings were the catalyst to learning some life lessons far more quickly than a typical student. After the initial period of realizing I was at school to learn and advance myself I took to finding what this college thing was all about. College is definitely a time to explore and develop. College is also a time to make mistakes, but college definitely serves the self-aware. As an entrepreneur you possess a built in advantage. I’ve met several confused entrepreneurs but rarely have I encountered one without some semblance of an idea or plan as to where they ultimately want to go.

College is a Great Incubator for the Calculating and Confident

Knowing that it’s good to have a loose plan, I would also argue that it is relatively harmful to have a definite one. The loose plan enables the latitude to learn and explore, the definite one constrains and sometimes traps you if other avenues or interests begin to appear. An interesting debate occurs when it comes to the idea of a broad-based Liberal Arts education versus a highly-focused Technical Skill based education. In my opinion, having experienced both ends of the spectrum at times, the adaptability of a liberal arts degree holds great advantage over a technical degree; at least at the undergraduate level. As I see it the technical skill is the lens through which the broad based education and ability to think should be focused. Both should be developed but it should be a calculated process. This progression from well rounded to focused and specialized seems to serve the general entrepreneurial population quite well and, yes, I’m aware there are exceptions. Again they are the exceptions and not the rule. Specialization doesn’t necessarily prepare you to lead and develop.

Learning to Learn is Important

The one thing most students are not taught in high school amongst the endless memorization and college admissions frenzy is perhaps the most important thing they’ll need in their lives. The knowledge of how to learn gets imparted in college and that, if nothing else, is an excellent reason to go and to do well. Advanced college coursework forces you to refocus in a way that shows you how to learn new material rather just memorize it and repeat it on a test. Yes, it is possible to skate by while running a company or doing other things but if that’s your goal then maybe you need to consider why you’re paying so much to do so.

College Truly is What You Make of It

Realize that college is a wonderful time (best four years of your life? hopefully not). It is often dismissed as clicheed when the advice that “it is what you make of it” is doled out. When it comes right down to it, choosing a college is an act of consumerism and you can definitely take steps to maximize the value of your purchase. No other place that people typically encounter has the resources both in knowledge and skill of the collegiate setting. For the entrepreneur ,college is a gold mine of information, a laboratory, and contained marketplace all rolled into one. It’s often said that one shouldn’t let their schooling interfere with their education. Perhaps in the case of the young entrepreneur one should look to balance the two simultaneously. Hopefully its the first in a long line of successful balancing acts.

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