We’ve all heard of the famous college dropouts like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg who pursued entrepreneurship and did so successfully. The growing appeal of owning a business and being an entrepreneur has led Gen Z to ramp up the education vs. entrepreneurship debate.
While they both have their pros and cons, many young people are looking to the abundant opportunities of starting a business in favor of spending many years at college. We spoke to some experts in the field to find out their opinions on what Gen Z should focus on after high school.
If you’re wondering why higher education is necessary or whether you should skip college and start a business instead, this blog will provide some insights into this great Gen Z debate.
Education or Entrepreneurship? It Depends on What You Want to Achieve
Whether you pursue higher education or entrepreneurship really all depends on what you want out of life and how you plan to meet those goals.
According to R.J. Weiss from The Ways to Wealth, “What’s important is to work backward from what you want and design a plan that will most likely get you there based on the information you have.”
This means there’s no right or wrong answer, but it depends on the individual and what they want to do with their life. What kind of career do you want? Do you actually want to own your own business?
“Two good questions to ask are, what are the skills you need to acquire today to accomplish your goals. Second, what’s the best way to acquire those skills?” says Weiss. Some goals and careers are much more suited to higher education, but for those interested in running their own business down the track, the pros and cons of education vs. entrepreneurship might be more pressing.
Why Higher Education Is (Maybe) Necessary: Better Access to Resources and Networks
Further education has long been the preferred pathway to success for most generations and it certainly still has its merits for Gen Z. In fact, Gen Z is set to be the most educated generation, with nearly 60 percent pursuing college after high school, according to Pew Research.
Depending on what you’re interested in, higher education can develop your skills and knowledge in a certain field that will help set you up for a career or job in the future. For Weiss, the real benefit of education is this: “That you have access to resources and people that can help you learn the skills you need.”
This ability to network and have a wide variety of tools and resources at your fingertips at educational institutions is something that those who pursue entrepreneurship miss out on. And when it comes to skills, it doesn’t only have to be college that you consider.
Other forms of higher education, such as trade schools, also provide this kind of access to knowledge, experts, teachers, peers and tools that you might not get elsewhere. Even if you have plans to start your own business later on, these networking skills and access to knowledge could prove to be a real benefit for your future.
Skip College to Start a Business? Pursuing Entrepreneurship Can Provide Real-Life Skills
On the other hand, one of the biggest cons of higher education is the lack of real-life skills and experience. Jumping into the deep end with entrepreneurship forces major knowledge and skill acquisition in a more realistic environment and at a faster pace.
For Ken Coleman, author and career coach, the biggest downside of education is the “massive debt, wasted time and a lack of real-world experience.” While, in reality, you could have been out there in the world finding your feet as an entrepreneur and pursuing your goals.
In this sense, pursuing entrepreneurship can be more appealing to those who don’t learn very well in a classroom and prefer to learn on the job. “A lot of people learn a lot faster because they’re getting immediate feedback on their ideas. The more real-world practice you get the better,” says Weiss.
In fact, most successful entrepreneurs spend less time in a classroom and more time on the job post-high school. According to data collected from FinancesOnline, only 17 percent of entrepreneurs had a Bachelor’s degree, while 30 percent had finished high school and decided not to go on to further education.
There are clearly trade-offs for both education vs. entrepreneurship, so couldn't you try to pursue both?
It’s Possible to Pursue Both at the Same Time
Why not have the best of both worlds? According to Weiss, it shouldn’t be considered a binary question because there doesn’t need to be a choice between the two. “Many famous businesses of our day have their own origins from the time their founders were pursuing education. You can certainly pursue education and entrepreneurship at the same time.”
Side hustles have seen a huge boom in recent years, especially amongst young adults. According to a survey from Bank of America, 62 percent of Gen Z have adopted a side hustle. This means you can pursue education and be an entrepreneur simultaneously. “If a degree is the only way or the best way to get the training or skills you need, and you can launch a side hustle, keep it small and grow slowly,” says Coleman.
In fact, Diane Gayeski, Professor of Strategic Communication at Ithaca College, believes, “Students today don’t need to choose between education and entrepreneurship.” Most colleges now recognize the budding entrepreneurial tendency of Gen Z and offer competitions, incubators and professors who will mentor and support any side hustle or business ideas that young people have.
“There’s no better place to start a company because students can find like-minded young talent who can fill out their teams and complement their skills,” she says.
Ultimately, It’s a Very Individual Choice
While the education vs. entrepreneurship debate is becoming more hotly contested amongst Gen Z members, there are plenty of pros and cons for both. Seeking higher education can set you up with access to in-depth knowledge, refined skills and wider networks, while pursuing entrepreneurship provides more real-life experience and practical training on the job. At the end of the day, it’s a very individual choice to make, based on what pathway you see as being most beneficial for getting you to your end goal or career.
There’s also no harm in pursuing both. Many colleges are recognizing the power of fostering young entrepreneurs so you can easily get a higher education and also start working on your side hustle or developing your new idea at the same time.
Consider applying for Incfile's Young Entrepreneur Grant, which can help set you up for early success. One young scholar with entrepreneurial spirit will receive $2,500 to continue their education.
Jenna Scatena is a writer and content strategist with a love for stories that have never been told before. More than a decade of working with prominent magazines and brands informs her approach to impactful storytelling. Her stories have reached more than 30 million readers, won multiple awards and been anthologized in books. Jenna's work has appeared in Conde Nast Traveler, Vogue, Marie Claire, The San Francisco, BBC and The Atlantic. She's the founder of the editorial consultancy, Lede Studio.