Many believe that entrepreneurs are born, not made. While I agree that successful company builders usually have a natural inclination to be entrepreneurs, a good education helps polish that apple. There are people who are natural musicians, but that doesn't mean we don't try to teach them music.
There's no law saying you have to go to college to start a business. We can all point to examples of successful entrepreneurs who dropped out of college, but still went on to make a big impact. Current young adults have grown up hearing about Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook) as the paragon of success. But the entrepreneurial wunderkinds who find success without higher education "are exceptions to the rule," says Robert Litan, Vice President of Research and Policy at the Kauffman Foundation. The most successful entrepreneurs are those with multiple real-life experiences, who have personal exposure to markets where opportunities are being left on the table.
Academic research supports that this experience pays off. It also shows that survival prospects are higher if the owner has at least four years of college, like Sergey Brin and Larry Page of Google (GOOG), and Andrew Mason of Groupon (GRPN). The bigger question, then, for an entrepreneur, is not whether or not to go to college, but rather what to do once there.
• Study entrepreneurship, but major in something else. Many colleges offer courses on entrepreneurship, to help you think like one. But a depth of knowledge in a specific discipline, like computer science or engineering, allows you to understand that business as well as run it.
• An MBA is helpful, but not required. More important are standard business, finance, and economics courses. If offered at your college, don't forget the practical business skills like "Critical Thinking", "Business Writing" and even "Dress for Success."
• Supplement course work with practical experience. Look for that summer internship job in the field of your interest, or even just part-time work during the school year. Too many startups fail simply by missing the practical elements of money management, time management, and setting priorities.