University degree or straight into entrepreneurship: Which is best?

Here are a few key questions for students to ask themselves before making the leap into starting a business.

For those with an entrepreneurial spirit at a young age, the idea of four years of college or university can seem like a distraction from your purpose. Meanwhile, entrepreneurs are glamourised – the idea of working for yourself, setting your own hours and the upbeat success stories skirt over the hard work and dedication that comes with a successful self started venture. Deciding whether to go to university or head straight out into the business world is a tough choice.

Why are you considering entrepreneurship?

Why do you really want to start your own business? This is an important first question, because the glamorous lifestyle of entrepreneurs is often very hard won. Entrepreneurship takes a lot of grit, money, time and determination to see you through the hard times into the good. Take a read of these unique entrepreneur’s stories. Think carefully about where you see yourself in five or ten years’ time and make sure your plan includes plenty of backups, in case things go sour. It’s important to have extra ideas in the bank, just in case, something a tertiary degree can often help with (but perhaps isn’t important if you have enough of a plan for backup business ideas!).

Who do you know?

One of the best things about university life is that it gives you an instant network to draw from – people who are either working in the industry you’re interested in now, or who know people who do. Careers sessions also are available, and networking events on campus. If you choose not to go down this route, it’s important to establish how well-connected you are. Sites like MeetUp in your city can help you meet other entrepreneurs, and Eventbrite often run sessions to facilitate networking. General Assembly also offer online and physical courses to share essential start-up skills essential, at a much smaller price tag than a full degree. They have free networking nights fairly often, allowing you to talk to those in the know. Be aware that these things take time and outside a university institution, it can be a lot harder to make connections stick.

What do you know about your industry?

Of course it’s important to know the right people, but it’s also vital to understand the market you wish your business to enter into. If you want to develop a particular kind of app but never use any similar ones, you’re at a disadvantage – you need to understand the competition as well as having an overall understanding of the marketplace.

Sometimes it can help to get a tertiary qualification to legitimise your business credentials or expertise – after all, if you don’t have a background in science, but you have a scientific business idea, this can appear a little strange. Address this question upfront: do you actually have experience or knowledge of the industry? Once you are comfortable answering this question you are in a much better position to know whether you need further education to help start things up or if you’re ready to go it alone.

What have you already done?

Have you already tried to start a business? Any experience on this front will help you to make an informed decision about your future. After all, if you’ve never tried to start a business, you may find you actually don’t enjoy it as much as you imagined, so any experience is useful for your decision making. Thinking about starting a business and actually starting a business are very different things!

Will you need a loan?

Upfront costs of starting a business or undertaking study should be weighed against potential long-term benefits. Degrees are costly these days – In their survey, Student Money Saver found that 81 per cent of students feel they overpay for the value of their degree. However, student loans are much more flexible and less onerous to repay than personal loans, and if you don’t have savings to start your venture, you may need to find funding. This can be difficult unless you’ve been saving hard, as you may not yet have had a chance to develop a credit rating. Remember also that if entrepreneurship doesn’t work out, a degree may assist in tiding you over in terms of future income. Consider carefully how you will repay any loans you get and what you need to pay off your debt.

Do you have support?

Tertiary study programmes offer a little extra time in a structured support network. Teachers and fellow students are great sources of information and help as you venture out into the world. When you’re keen on an idea, things going wrong might be hard to picture. But it is possible, and many new businesses fail. Make sure you will have support during the early days of struggle. Utilise this list of resources for instance to help you through the tough moments. Researching possible sources of support and tools to make your business a reality is vital – use everything you can get your hands on to succeed!

Are you driven enough?

Being an entrepreneur can be hugely rewarding. But remember: for every success story, there are dozens who have failed quietly. Many factors have to align, but one of the biggest and most important is attitude. Are you going to be determined enough to see your idea through? Passion for your business is going to be vital.

Take the time to think carefully and honestly about these questions, and take stock of your resources and skills when coming to a decision. Entrepreneurship can be hugely rewarding, but tertiary education is hugely important in this day and age. Consider your answers carefully and make the right choice for you.

Further reading on students and entrepreneurship

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel was the editor of from 2010 to 2018. He specialises in writing for start-up and scale-up companies in the areas of finance, marketing and HR.

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