It has become increasing common for people to suggest that it is more beneficial for one to skip university and reach for the stars than to take what is seen as a mundane course to achieve a piece of paper qualifying you for an office job that you didn't want in the first place. However what they don't realise is that university is so much more than just gaining this piece of paper. It is life experience in its self, introducing you to likeminded academics and forcing you to question everything - something that is often not possible in everyday life out side of university.
Unfortunately, I feel that this alternative idea of university being so much more than education may not have been fairly presented. Of course, of the billions of people on this earth, a handful of those that didn't go to university made it big - although most of these individuals at least gave university a chance and opportunity struck them at the right time as a result. Furthermore, think of the many incredibly successful entrepreneurs that did go to university and had incredible experiences that set them up for success as a result.
Now, I am not suggesting that in order to be a successful entrepreneur one must go to university or there is no hope although, what I will say is that it if your business acumen is that fantastic, university can only improve your chances of success by helping you to focus your aims.
One example that is commonly used by those suggesting that if you want to become an entrepreneur you shouldn't go to university is Sir Richard Branson. They suggest that he simply elected to not go to university as he deemed it pointless and irrelevant.
Sir Richard Branson speaking on the pros and cons of university.
However, In the interview above, Branson cites one of his reasons for leaving school early as actually being the ultimatum offered upon him from his secondary school headmaster (that he either stay in school and focus on his studies or he leave and work on his magazine) - "you can either run your magazine or do your coursework. You can't do both".
This shows that one of the reasons that Richard Branson didn't go to university was not because he felt that he would be more successful without it, but simply that he wasn't given the opportunity to study alongside running his business. This is a rare case and he goes on to suggest that given the chance he probably would have taken a degree had he not been given that ultimatum. Branson not going to university didn't lead directly to his success; he was just able to make the most of the options available to him at the time and university was not one of those options.
There are some clear examples of people who did give university a go, came up with ideas and had the right people around them so decided to drop university and focus on their projects. This is important, as they did not become entrepreneurs over night when they officially left university. These individuals were strongly helped by others at the university and as a result they became successful entrepreneurs. Once they had got to the stage where their business demanded too much of them they only then decided to leave and focus on their company, and of this chunk of entrepreneurs, scarcely any suggest that they regret going to university for the time they went.
Look at Mark Zuckerburg: the majority of people that he had working on the project that he came up with and started at university (also known as Facebook) were either other students at Harvard or his lecturers. Now tell me that university was not the right decision for him.
Other examples of this entrepreneurial success as a result of others at university are Larry Page (who dropped out during his PHD), also known as the founder of Google. This idea was formed and initiated at university with the help of other students. What about Michael Dell of Dell computers? Again, he came up with and executed the initial stages of Dell at university before he dropped out. Bill Gates even met (Steve Ballmer who succeeded him as the CEO of Microsoft after Gates left) at Harvard University.
Steve Jobs is perhaps one of the most famed examples of a university drop out. Although, were you aware that after he was kicked off his course at university he continued to attend university by staying in his friends room and sneaking into Calligraphy classes, an interest of his that soon developed into Apple computers' original idea of offering alternative fonts on Word processing devices? Surely, this shows that university only enhances entrepreneurial flare and enables individuals to meet the right people and develop the right skills to pursue their entrepreneurial skills?
I can't help but feel that there is a clear trend forming here. The entrepreneurs who didn't go to university didn't do so out of choice and those that did and dropped out only dropped out to focus on the business that they had either met the right contacts for or even started and successfully managed when being at university.
I feel that this may be a good time to take a look at just a few of the most successful people that did go to university and stay to gain a degree.
First, we have Britain's very own James Dyson, founder of Dyson company (yes, as in Dyson Vacuums!) - he made his own success after graduating from the Royal College of Art. Another famed university graduate is Phil Knight: after taking a small business class at university he went on to create Blue Ribbon Sports Company (now known as Nike). The current CEO of PepsiCo, Indra Nooyi also graduated from university, as did the Chief Design Officer of Apple - Sir Jonathan Ive. The list goes on from the CEO of Hewlett Packard all the way to the owner of Tune Air (the company that owns AirAsia and QPR football club).
Now this is just a few of the vast array of successful entrepreneurs that were able to build strong careers off the back of a strong university degree, simply showing you that you do not need to give up on your entrepreneurial dreams if you decide to take up a place at University. There are countless examples of people who have been to university (even if it was just for a year or two) and still had time to exemplify their entrepreneurial flair. University can just be invaluable when it comes to providing you with the foundations of knowledge of experience and the strong contacts to help you pursue your dreams.
Either way, I feel that if you have the entrepreneurial ability and drive you will be able to achieve your aims. I do also believe that when confronted with this trade off it is always better to have gone to university and have gained that experience and built a business on strong foundations as opposed to not giving university a chance if you are lucky enough to have the opportunity to go.