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Go to University or Start a Business?

Updated on January 6, 2016

With fees now at the highest that have ever been in history, there's no worse time to head to university. Although the idea of a student loan may not mean much to you now, a few years after graduation you can guarantee you'll be feeling its effects. However it appears that more and more people are heading to university, year after year.

It seems the price hike has had very little effect on university enrolment figures. This is a huge shock to most people, including myself. Of course, an increase in university fees affects every single person considering going to university for a higher education, on a financial level at the least. But this hub isn't about everyone, its about young entrepreneurs, and what the increased cost of a university education means for them.

I am a recent graduate and aspiring entrepreneur. Ever since I was young I know I wanted to start and run my own business(es), like many others. Today, I suspect there are just as many teenagers weighing up their options as they decide whether or not to head to uni. Here's what I think...

If you're a young, aspiring entrepreneur considering going to university, its likely you're looking to study a business-related degree. If this is true for you, then its probably also true that, when you really think about it, what you really want from university, is to learn how to be an entrepreneur. That's certainly the case for me now, as I decide whether or not to study a Masters degree in Enterprise.

The harsh reality is that no educational institute can teach you how to make sure your business will succeed. There is no fail-safe. There is no guaranteed success. University will not teach you how to make your business fool-proof. There will always be risks. But being an entrepreneur means being able to face these risks head on, and to in fact enjoy risk taking.

If you're researching university now, all the while knowing that, at the end of it, in three years or so's time, you'll be running your own business, then I would suggest avoiding university altogether. Many aspiring, would-be entrepreneurs, are would-be entrepreneurs simply because they lack the steely determination, risk taking and faith required to work towards something so uncertain as a launching and creating a successful startup. University will not teach you how to make your startup 100% sure-fire success.

Elsewhere, perhaps, also like me, you suffer from a serious case of procrastination. You want to start a business. Perhaps you have run small businesses in the past. Maybe you have great ideas and even business plans written down, but you just put it off and put if off and put if off, again and again. You go to University because, well, a student loan is pretty much a free education to those of us who don't come from a wealthy background - I mean, we're not likely to pay back all of our student loan before it's officially wiped off the system, 30 years after graduation. So we think 'hey, I'll go to uni, I'll keep myself busy, I'll get a degree, that will make me a good entrepreneur. I'll have a lot of free time between lectures, I can start and run a business whilst studying a degree. Yeah, that will work.' No. For most people, myself included, this will not work.

The best thing you can do is but the situation in to perspective, and take in to account the cost of a university education. The real, on-paper cost of a degree: £9,000 per year in most cases. Although you don't see any of this money - which is why it seems pretty much free - it is yours, it is a debt that you take on, and a debt that you will begin to repay. Granted, you may not repay it all, but you will repay a significant percentage of it.

So, like I said, you need to put your situation, and your possible routes, in to perspective. If you have an idea, one you truly believe in, and a rock-solid business plan, but aren't sure if you should go to Uni because, well, why not... Consider this scenario:

A new policy is put in place for young entrepreneurs. When you turn 18 you are given the choice: university or a startup. One will lead to a degree and an extremely good chance at securing a very good grad scheme with a decent salary. The other is high risk but may yield huge returns and a wonderful way of life in which you work for yourself and answer to no one else. You have to pick just one of them. Whichever you choose, you get £9,000 a year to fund it. This is what is happening for those people heading to University. Why can this not happen for people who have a good, solid business plan that has the potential to work? Why can we not have some sort of institute where young people can go after sixth form or college to turn their business plans in to reality? They are given £9,000 each year for 3 years to launch, maintain and grow their startup in to a successful business. This, in fact, is a credible idea. The startups contribute to a growing economy, young people learn self-discipline at the same time as they learn what it takes to run a business. And who knows, some of these startups could be the next mega corporations.

This is a thought I have had on and off for a few weeks. I'm in a situation now where I am deciding between a Masters in Enterprise, and I convince myself it's because I am interested in business and startups. However I think deep down, the real reason is that i currently lack the confidence to start my business, to drop everything and to focus solely on making my business idea a reality, and a successful one at that. If I was 18 again and had the choice between a £9,000 a year academic student loan, or a £9,000 a year enterprise loan (note I say loan, not grant - you will pay this back incrementally through the revenues your business generates), then I would like to say I would pick the enterprise loan. But at the same time, 3 years on, I like to think I would pick the enterprise loan, yet I'm sat surfing the web for Masters courses... Hoping an Enterprise BSc will teach me how to start a successful business... I am conflicted.

What would you do?


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