Should You Go to School or Start A Business?

Thomas Brownlees

Thomas Brownlees

CEO and Founder,
440 Industries

Introduction

Entrepreneurship is exciting, there’s no doubt about it. Not only it allows to completely unleash your intellectual and creative potential, but it also allows you to “walk the unthrottled path” putting you on a new life course filled with risks and rewards. 

Students right out of high school are really wondering if they should spend their parents’ savings on college tuition, or use it to start a company. So much can be learnt online, and tuitions so high that the value of higher education has become questionable. Moreover, in many cases, students feel that their instructors haven’t collected the right experience to teach subjects that require direct, personal contact with customers, suppliers, investors and employees. 

It is true that education is not evolving as rapidly as other fields of business and to some extent, the very philosophy of education seems to prepare students for a rat race, as opposed to fostering a sense of support and help within the student community. 

In this post, we’d like to discuss some thoughts regarding the meaning of investment in education, and what we should consider, as we make our decision. We’ll discuss four essential elements you should compound into your own reasoning, to make sure you come with the right decision for you. Without any further ado, let’s jump right into this.

  1. You don’t go to school for knowledge. You go to belong to a community of like-minded individuals.
  2. Schools, more often than not, teach how to manage, not how to lead.
  3. Opportunity cost, that’s the most important thing.
  4. Conclusions.

1. You don’t go to school for knowledge. You go to belong to a community of like-minded individuals

Business schools were born to balance an academic offer which, at the beginning of the 20th century, was highly biased towards humanities. Students from wealthy families would go to college to learn about the arts but would eventually find themselves unequipped to run a family business. On the one hand, this happened because higher society would want to show how their intellectual pursuits would be more refined, and of course, the learning experience of studying history, art and philosophy was so much more appealing than spending your days looking at accounting regulations. This is why the first MBA was born, Harvard University in 1910, realised that a lot of students needed to learn about business management, as they would soon go on to take other their family businesses. 

The MBA or Master’s of Business Administration was a 1-year course designed to break down the complexity of business into its individual departments to teach how each clog and component of the “machine” worked. This type of study was essential, as, in the spirit of taking on leadership positions, there wasn’t too much time for a learning-on-the-job approach. Since then, the philosophy of this degree stayed intact, and here lies a major issue. Business Schools cater to a lot of students, but not all of them are going to take over family businesses, some of them – or in many cases, the majority – actually want to do something different, starting a new venture. In a certain sense, we could be led to believe that these are fairly similar purposes, but the body of knowledge that applies to one does not really apply to the other, at all. This is why in many cases business education has severe limitations, as the tools and instruments discussed cannot be practically applied to the context of an individual starting up a company. 

Starting a business is something that deals with very profound challenges not limited to what we know, but connected to who we are as individuals. I personally remind my students that starting a business has not much to do with having a million dollars idea, as much as a million dollars character.  The latter is so much harder to come by. True leadership comes from setting an example, showing care and compassion, drive and enthusiasm, and in many cases, dealing with defeat and failure. These are human skills, and business school curricula don’t focus on this as much as they do on outdated management frameworks. In this sense, students wishing to study business, have a long list of readings to go by, which have little if anything to do with business, but that deal with being a good human being, and understanding how other people’s needs are as important – if not more important – than our own. So, do go to business school, but don’t expect to be taught everything you need to know. So much will be learnt through your personal journey.

2. Schools, more often than not, teach how to manage, not how to lead.

Let’s start with the most important upside of going to a business school, the environment. As a young and proactive individual, you need to feed off the excitement and enthusiasm that can be experienced by being immersed in an environment full of opportunity. Your friends will become your benchmark and as such, the individuals that you will measure up against to assess your own success and personal achievements. Of course, the higher you set the bar, the better, as you will be more motivated towards your own goals and objectives. 

Many of the opportunities you will access are going to be though the network you’ll be able to develop, and the connections you will make. In the creative industries, such as fashion, music or even technology, this is essential, as the groups of professionals that can provide you with chances of employment are not easy to come around. Moreover, as many people want to be rockstars and fashion designers, a higher-end school will be proof of commitment and sacrifice. 

Accessing this pool of talent is essential, as it will provide you with a great opportunity, that of living through your friends’ experiences, learn from their mistakes and successes as if they were you own. This is so important, as in your own life you don’t get to start, fail and restart a business indefinitely. Sure, so much can be learnt from failure, but you can’t afford to fail too many times either. Many hard lessons can be learnt by proxy, through your friends, but to do that you also need friends that are actually going to give entrepreneurship a go, and when the time comes, you’ll find that there are not so many reckless individuals in the end.

Lastly, just like in a business, building a community is essential, building your own following is important too. Moreover, so much about yourself can be learnt by comparing and contrasting yourself with your own peers. So much of a personal success relies on a degree of self-awareness that can be so much better gained by meeting new people and learning from them, whatever it is that they have to teach.

Yes, high-end business schools are expensive, but the opportunities that your fellow students, instructors and alumni association will provide are likely to match the magnitude of the investment.If you are hungry, going to business school will not satiate your appetite, on the contrary, it will make you even more eager to succeed and along the way, you will learn a lot of information which will be vital to your success. Knowledge is power, and whatever it is you don’t know will be used against you.

3. Opportunity cost, that’s the most important thing.

Opportunity cost is defined as the cost of the opportunity forgone. It’s clear that the most immediate thing, that we would think of has to do with the monetary cost of tuition. This is a very remarkable cost, but the cost of not using your time productively. Time is the only thing we can’t buyback, and as such, it should be used wisely. As I tell my students time is our only wealth. Don’t think about the money, your future personal wealth can be positively impacted by your education if you put effort into it. If studying requires you to make personal sacrifices, that’s great turn this into motivation, and make sure you have high expectations towards your instructors. Money is never an end as much as it’s a means, and as such hoarding will not bring you happiness. 

In this sense, it’s important to consider how much of the monetary investment you are actually going to make,  either in starting a business or in pursuing higher education.  Profit always comes from the use of long-term assets, and your degree is certainly one, as it qualifies you for your entire working life. On the other hand, starting a business can be very costly as well, but it can be unclear how long this investment will serve you. 

In this sense, your age plays a very important role in deciding how to invest your savings, the younger you are, the more long term you should be thinking about the decisions you are making today.

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4. Conclusions.

In this post, we discussed some of the reasons why you should or should not go to business school to pursue a career in the arts. Of course, we’re biased, as we really believe in the value of education, nonetheless, there are many factors to consider, as each of us is different and the investment we’re making needs to be assessed on a very individual basis. Having said this, remember that a good decision can be better understood in hindsight, not looking into the future. We don’t know what the future holds, all that we are allowed to do is to use all the information that we have available today to make the most informed choice possible.

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Should You Go to School or Start A Business? With the increasing college tuition fees, many students are arguing whether they should go to business school or use the money to start a business.
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Thomas Brownlees

Thomas Brownlees

I am an Anglo-Italian business lecturer and consultant based in Florence, Italy. In 2017 I started 440 Industries, an education and training company focused on fashion, music, and technology. Our mission is to help students, entrepreneurs and managers in overcoming the challenges of starting, developing and scaling their business in the creative industries. When there's a will, there's a way!

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