It’s easy to look at entrepreneurs that never graduated from college, like Steve Jobs or Bill Gates, and assume that you can follow in their footsteps to achieve your entrepreneurial goals.
When combined with the sobering statistics about the growing student debt crisis in the United States, investing in formal higher education can seem like a liability, rather than an asset.
While it’s true that many entrepreneurs have found success without a college education, this doesn’t mean that education is without merit for millennial entrepreneurs today. Many successful side hustlers and startup founders still get started while taking college courses.
Still, others use their educational experience as a launchpad for growing into a new business venture.
Though the modern college system certainly has its flaws, there are still many reasons why it remains relevant for millennial entrepreneurs. A recent interview I conducted with Uri Pomeranz, CEO of Twine, further built this case. As he explains, “Education feels like such a gift… and a way to really transform your life.”
Here’s a closer look at why this statement about higher education still rings true today.
1. Developing The Right Mindset.
“It was less about the actual education, but more about the mindset that I had,” Pomeranz shares. “You don’t need a fancy college degree to adopt this mindset, but just the idea of setting larger goals, trying new things, failing, learning and trying again, that sort of kernel really kicked up in college for me.”
This educational mindset paid big dividends later when Pomeranz wanted to get more involved in programming—something he still cites as the best investment he’s ever made for his business.
“I rolled up my sleeves and said, this is difficult technology, I’ve got a steep learning curve. Through hundreds of hours of learning and sheer will power, I came out of it with a deep confidence in how systems are built, the ability to understand what’s happening in technology, and being able to be effective as we started growing and hiring an engineering team.”
With the right approach, college can become the perfect place to foster a continual love for learning. Developing this mindset in college will make it much easier to take advantage of learning opportunities later on, so you can continue to grow and adapt in your business.
2. Becoming A More Well-Rounded Person.
These days, it seems like bringing up any political issue can instantly launch a heated debate—yet despite this, research has found that millennials lag far behind other generations in terms of political awareness. A study from Pew Research even found that many are significantly less aware of major news sources like USA Today and The Washington Post.
This lack of education and awareness represents a serious issue, and not just on election day.
To gather more perspective on this, I reached out to Kevin Brown, CEO of Source Voting, who elaborates, “Specialized knowledge may help you perform great at certain activities, but you need to be aware of other things that will affect your business. You need to know the potential impact of different political policies and economic trends.”
Brown continues, “That’s why our company helps people learn about candidates running for office in their area so they become more informed voters. If you allow yourself to remain uninformed, you could be blindsided by change.”
It turns out there’s sound logic behind the general education classes that are part of earning a college degree. From becoming more aware of societal trends, to brushing up on your math skills, a well-rounded educational experience equips you with a wider knowledge base that you can use to better handle the challenges and opportunities of entrepreneurial life—and even be more informed when you head to the polls.
3. Seeing Multiple Perspectives.
Many of the biggest factors that cause startups to fail can be traced back to the same root problem—failing to understand the wants (and needs) of your customer. Quite often, this occurs because an entrepreneur approaches an issue solely from the business side, without accounting for other perspectives.
After starting a nonprofit micro-finance company, a desire to understand multiple perspectives led Pomeranz to pursue a dual degree program through Stanford and Harvard, so he could get a Masters in international economics and an MBA simultaneously. Pomeranz discovered that the public sector and business world were two very different worlds, but with a lot of overlap.
Learning about these differences and commonalities gave Pomeranz greater perspective on how to perform at scale and achieve quality outcomes for his entrepreneurial endeavors.
The more you can empathize with and understand others’ experiences, the easier it will be to place yourself in your customer’s shoes and provide life-changing products or services.
4. Building The Right Relationships (Networking Opportunities)
Networking is used to hire an estimated 80% of job openings—and in entrepreneurship, these connections can be even more valuable.
The relationships you establish during your formative college years can go on to help you identify opportunities for partnerships, investors, joint ventures, or new areas of expansion for a business you may be running years down the road.
Many of the most successful startups are built through partnerships with groups of like-minded people working toward a similar goal. There are few better places to meet the people who will share this entrepreneurial drive than during college—and Pomeranz is the perfect example of this.
He started his first micro-finance startup while still in college, which he says got him “hooked” on entrepreneurship. Later, he started the financial company, Guide Financial, with someone he’d met while attending Stanford.
College gives you the opportunity to form invaluable relationships with both professors and fellow students—resources you can go back to time and time again, to help reach your entrepreneurial goals.
From expanding your knowledge base and personal network so you can succeed in business, to simply establishing the right background for landing a paying job as you wait for your side hustle to take off, it’s clear that receiving a higher education has several potential benefits.
True, college is not for every would-be entrepreneur, but there’s no denying that furthering your education is always an investment worth considering.