Entrepreneurship is becoming more desirable and accessible, while college is becoming more expected and expensive. Although many entrepreneurs find time and money to attend college before pursuing their business, some don't feel that step is right for them – and that's okay.
There are ways to start a business and reach financial stability without earning a bachelor's degree. You'll need to equip yourself with the right tools and support system, but it's not impossible to do. Several entrepreneurs who chose launching a business over a college education shared their thoughts on what students in this situation should consider. [Get inspired by these stories of amazing young entrepreneurs.]
Do you have the entrepreneurial spirit needed to succeed?
Before you dive into your entrepreneurial journey, be certain it's what you want to do. Creating a company is very different from working a corporate 9-to-5 job, and there are many responsibilities and stressors that come with the territory. If you're motivated and inspired to start, don't doubt yourself. But if you're not positive how you feel, don't jump in too quickly.
"True entrepreneurship is a full-time, 24/7 job," said Tom Portesy, president of MFV Expositions, producers of Franchise Expo West, Franchise Expo South and the International Franchise Expo. "Are you ready for time away from friends [and] family? Are you ready for rejection, disappointment, failure? Are you prepared for countless sleepless nights – risking everything you've got? It can be immensely rewarding, but do you have the spirit to excel?"
Does your passion exceed your patience?
Sometimes, great ideas can't wait, and spending four years in college will result in missed opportunities. This was the case for Taso Du Val, founder and CEO of global tech industry network Toptal.
"I wanted to go to MIT, but the thought of waiting for four years before starting my career troubled me," Du Val said. "So I started pursuing my passion for entrepreneurship at a young age and, years later, ended up fixing a problem I noticed in the IT outsourcing industry. It's just something I had to do. I was not going to sit around for years, listening to information I would never need in my life."
Eduardo De Arkos, founder and CEO of Dynamic Agriculture Solutions, had a similar experience and decided to fast-track his career in entrepreneurship instead of completing school.
"I felt as if I had already acquired the skills needed to start a new venture from the business courses I had already completed," De Arkos said. "A sound and promising business opportunity is very rare and will pass you by if you do not capitalize on it. [By dropping out,] I was able to learn by doing, not by reading — a hands-on approach. Most importantly, I was able to really learn and master the skills I needed, rather than taking classes at college."
Do you have any real-world experience?
For Randy Wyner, founder and president of restaurant franchise Chronic Tacos, there was no choice when it came to getting a college education: His responsibility to support his young son meant he had to get a job instead of go to school. After working his way up to a managerial position at Jiffy Lube in just a few short years, Wyner knew he had all the experience and drive he needed to go into business for himself. He allowed himself time to develop his entrepreneurial spirit before starting his journey.
"Hands-on learning helped me understand how to manage a business quicker, whereas college students learn mostly by memorization techniques and tricks," Wyner said. "Following this path helped me grasp what to do and what not to do when running a business. Although college may educate you on business elements, you can't learn how to run a business until you actually become an entrepreneur."
Have you thoroughly tested your idea?
While risk is inherent in any entrepreneurial venture, don't take on more than is necessary by leaving school without being 100 percent confident in your idea.
"Validate your idea before the thought of dropping out ever crosses your mind," said AJ Nelson, co-founder of Clusterflunk, a social network and file-sharing platform for college students. "Do a smoke-and-mirrors test. Get some signups, users, sales, etc. You can do this on a small scale while still going to school. If you can prove that you're solving a real problem, and people are willing to use your product, by all means, you should try and solve that problem full time."
How is your financial situation?
While college is an investment, so is your business. You'll need to calculate your expenses, create a budget and plan your timeline accordingly before dedicating your life to the project.
"Understanding the total costs is crucial," said Portesy. "Before you pursue a new business opportunity, map out the total investment – purchase costs, opening inventory and how much working capital you will need before you break even."
Sometimes, students will go for a degree and work in an industry for a few years, or on the side, to earn money to support their entrepreneurial journey. If you don't think you can cut it without a sustainable career to leverage your success, then you might want to focus on school first.
However, if you're currently in school and feel strongly about devoting all your time to testing or growing your business, check with your college about its leave-of-absence policy.
Do you have a strong support system?
Entrepreneurship is not a solo feat. It helps to rely on friends, family, business partners, franchisors or other entrepreneurs for support, said Portesy.
"Do your due diligence and connect with other small business owners who have succeeded and struggled," he added. "Learn about the challenges overcome and welcome guidance/best practices."
Wyner acknowledged that his entrepreneurial success couldn't have happened without the support of his family and friends.
"Surround yourself with savvy, educated people," he told Business News Daily. "I was very lucky to have some strong mentors in my corner. Having experienced, wise people there to guide and support you is critical."
Do you have a good reason?
This is perhaps the most important question: Is there a good enough reason for you to stay or drop out?
Matt Brown, co-founder and CEO of freelance management platform Bonsai, is also a volunteer advisor with the Thiel Fellowship mentor network. Thiel selects and grants funding to high-achieving students who could do more good in the world by not attending college, and focusing on research and innovation instead.
"Everyone should think critically about the value of investing four years and an incredible amount of money into a university education," Brown said. "Is there somewhere else where you can be learning faster, meeting more interesting people and working on projects you care about? Do you want to drop out because you have a burning need to create something and being in school blocks that, or are you dropping out because it seems cool and the Facebook guys did it?"
Dropping out of college without a good reason is just as silly as staying in school without one, Brown added: "Just think for yourself."
Additional reporting by Nicole Fallon. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.