The Young Entrepreneur’s Dilemma: Degree vs. Dropout

While many of us feel obligated to follow the traditional path to success, through higher education, networking and good ol’ hard work, the number of young dropouts-turned-successful-entrepreneurs continues to rise.

This generation has paved their own way in response to a crumbling modern workplace by forgoing their higher education in order to start their own business. Is it the right choice for you? According to an article in Forbes from January 2012, almost 16% of the 400 most wealthy Americans do not carry a college diploma; Internationally, that percentage doubles. For past generations of workers, these numbers are shocking; A college education used to mean a guarantee for a bright future.

However, with an unstable economy and a lot of jobs moving overseas, the structure of our modern workplace has changed; No longer do you work for one company your entire life. Also, the pace of technology and new ideas is increasing rapidly, allowing intelligent individuals to take advantage and use their skills to create their own place in the modern workplace.

One example that comes to mind is the one and only, Bill Gates.

When the highly bureaucratic and limited scope of Harvard’s curriculum wasn’t enough, Gates dropped out to develop Microsoft with friend, and former Harvard-classmate, Paul Allen.

Their overwhelming success has led others to believe that they don’t need a diploma to succeed in the entrepreneurial world. Another more recent example is social-media mogul, Mark Zuckerberg. In similar fashion to Gates, Zuckerberg and his Harvard friends had a world changing idea and went for it. After creating the in his dormroom, Zuckerberg dropped out of Harvard in his sophomore year to complete his project. Now #3 on the Forbes list, The World’s Youngest Billionaires 2014: 31 under 40, Zuckerberg is well known as a strong entrepreneur at the young age of 29.

Although it may seem glamorous and exciting to forgo the diploma in exchange for success on your own terms, but is it the right choice for you? While many blogs and articles claim that college is unnecessary in the modern business world, it can be essential to your success. The wild success of Gates and Zuckerberg is not the norm in the entrepreneurial community.

These anomalies were due to perfect conditions of extremely intelligent individuals with the means and motivation to succeed at their business. Not all of us have the connections or the know-how to run a business without some training. Also, you may have noticed that both Zuckerberg and Gates began their companies with friends that they met at college. Without these connections, they may not have had the same fortune.

College is the perfect place to meet smart, motivated individuals with goals and ideas, just like you. It’s also important to find areas that interest you by taking different classes and meeting new people. These experiences only enrich your life. Instead of quitting at something you can finish, why not use that time to develop your ideas and create projects that are realistic. By refining your ideas and using the environment around you, with teachers and classmates as mentors, you can avoid costly failures when you begin your start-up.

Many entrepreneurs that did not drop out, recommend turning your ideas into projects which can be turned into a real business after you graduate. Another popular option is to take a sabbatical when you have a strong possibility at your own business. Most colleges will let you take 2-3 years off and return without re-applying.

This allows you to follow your passion while maintaining a backup plan. If the business doesn’t pan-out, you can return to school and try again in a few years. It’s difficult to debate the benefits of real-life experience versus classroom training, but in the end, if you are determined, you will make it.