Written by Joanna Hughes

We often hold up examples of entrepreneurs who have succeeded without college degrees. However, the reality is that they are the exception not the rule. The truth is that many successful entrepreneurs credit their successes to their college degrees. Here’s a closer look at how college degrees support entrepreneurship, along with why online programs are a smart solution for many

The Case for College Degrees

“Nelson Mandela’s mantra, ‘Education is the most powerful weapon that can change the world’ continues to hold true to this day, even in the context of entrepreneurship. Whilst it’s true that hustle, grit, and intelligence can steward you through the windy, bumpy road that awaits budding entrepreneurs, there’s no substitute to education. Understanding the way things work, whether it be accounting, finance, computer science, technology or engineering, is critical,” argues Crimson Education co-founder and COO Sharndre Kushor, in a guest piece for Forbes.

And while the focus is often put on the degree, the piece of paper itself is not what matters. Rather, it’s the skills, knowledge, and network acquired during college that entrepreneurs build their companies and careers on every day.

This can be especially confusing given that many of the world most successful people are college dropouts. But as Kushor points out, people like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg are outliers -- neither represents the norm. Not only did both attend elite prep schools, but they also got into Harvard before eventually dropping out.

This can glamorize dropping out in a way that’s inherently detached from reality. Kushor adds, “There’s something inherently alluring about ‘dropping out’ and ‘putting it all on the line’ to succeed with an entrepreneurial idea out in the competitive world, without a degree or job to fall back on. To get to the conclusion that entrepreneurs don’t benefit from a higher education, or are better off without one, requires serious mental gymnastics, and a baseless reliance on the extent to which outliers – such as Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg – reflect the reality of most cases.”

In fact, more than 90 percent of tech company founders in the US have bachelor’s degrees, while those with business school degrees start and build their companies faster, according to Forbes contributor William Arruda, who shares Kushor’s belief that education should be a precursor to entrepreneurship. Specifically, Arruda cites three ways in which education provides opportunities for aspiring entrepreneurs, including by facilitating access to mentors, business leaders and other valuable relationships; enhancing their ability to work with many different types of people; and teaching leadership and management skills aimed at steering their companies through the rocky waters startups invariably encounter.

The Many Appeals of Online Learning

While online degrees are a good fit for many students, they are uniquely appealing for entrepreneurs -- for a number of reasons.

For starters, entrepreneurs are often extremely ambitious. Online bachelor’s degrees not only save time, but also let students organize their time in the most efficient way for their busy schedules. This is just another skill honed during undergraduate years that entrepreneurs can apply in the field.

Additionally, just as entrepreneurs need to be motivated self-starters in order to thrive in their careers, so must they be driven in an online program. Learning and practicing these skills as a student can help entrepreneurs apply them more successfully in the future.

And then there’s the fact that entrepreneurs are financially savvy. Given that online degrees are often more affordable than their classroom counterparts, by choosing online studies entrepreneurs are, almost by definition, showing off their savvy and smarts.

Lastly, the business world moves extremely fast. As entrepreneur careers live and die depending on their ability to keep up, online studies are ideal because they offer ongoing access to the latest emerging trends and practices.

One last thing worth keeping in mind about the question of education versus entrepreneurship? The two are not mutually exclusive. Kushor concludes, “We need to understand that learning doesn’t necessarily need to slow down your entrepreneurial journey, but rather it can speed it up. We need to understand that by going to university, we aren’t, as Mark Twain might say, letting our schooling get in the way of entrepreneurship, but rather allowing it to propel us forward.” 

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Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.
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