“I am a student currently attending university. Between school and my job, I have found very little free time to dedicate to the things that I really see as beneficial to my future. The question is, with the doom and gloom market we are in, coupled with the constantly diminishing value of a college education (even from a private university), would it not be better to focus on starting a business now?

“In the interest of not sounding ignorant, I completely and wholeheartedly agree that college has much to offer, and provides many people with an opportunity to develop their intellectual and social mobility. But if I intend to start a business the moment I graduate, and always be my own boss, then is the diploma worth the next two or three years that I could be using to get a head start and develop my small business?”

Sherri Compton
Orlando, FL

Dear Sherri,

This one is easy. Don’t quit school.

There’s no need to. You can attend classes, get A’s, and have an income-generating business on the side. People do it all the time.

I did it myself when I was your age. I went to a local state college because I couldn’t afford anything else. I studied like crazy, and I worked like crazy too. My friend Peter and I had a house-painting business. Back then, we were making more than $100 a day – a fortune by today’s standards. In our senior year, Peter and I and another friend started a pool-building business and hired other college kids to work for us. That was much more lucrative. We were earning $300 a day.

We worked weekends and evenings and during all school vacations. It was a great experience. We made lots of money, learned lots about business, and still managed to go to school.

You can do it too. But why should you? Why should you go to college?

Because you need to be better than you are. I don’t know how smart and skillful you are right now, but I do know that you can always be better. And college – if you do it right – is a great way to get smarter and more skillful.

I’ve written about this before. The secret is to concentrate on the skills that will matter for the rest of your life:

  • Thinking well. By thinking well, I mean having the ability to break down a problem and understand its component parts. If you apply this to business – say, to analyzing a market – you can come up with solutions before your colleagues have even begun to determine the questions they ought to be asking. Great marketers are really great thinkers. They look at a complicated market, break it down into understandable patterns, and develop a selling program that reflects those patterns. If you can figure out how to sell products/services when everybody else is throwing up their hands in despair, you’ll be rich and powerful sooner (probably) than you even want to be.
  • Speaking well and writing well. In any organization or organized system, power moves inexorably to those who are persuasive. Whether you do it verbally or in writing doesn’t matter so much. What counts is that you have a way to convince people that your ideas are worthwhile.

To make a high income (in excess of $100,000), you almost have to have one of the above skills. In fact, to be successful in most careers, you need to be very good at one of them. But if you are good at all three – thinking well, speaking well, and writing well – you can be successful at almost anything you do.

I recommend that you get your bachelor’s degree in liberal arts, because that is the best way to master all three of these skills. And then get a master’s degree in business so you don’t have to play catch-up, like I did, when you get serious about a career.

[Ed. Note: Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]

Mark Morgan Ford

Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Wealth Builders Club. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.

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