What do Facebook and Under Armour have in common? Both were the brain child of a college student. College students are known for their willingness to take risks and their ability to think outside the box, their idealistic worldviews and their lofty life goals. At least they used to be…
Today’s college students demonstrate a remarkable, and ultimately harmful, tendency to follow the path of least resistance as they launch their careers. On campuses across the country, and particularly at the nation’s most elite schools, recruiters for the finance and consulting industries make securing entry level positions in their fields easier than ever before. As a result, many of the nation’s most brilliant students are drawn to these industries like moths to a flame. After all, accepting a position with a consulting firm provides a secure income with little or no risk – it’s a safe choice.
According to surveys of the college class of 2010, more than half of respondents from the University of Pennsylvania, 49% of respondents from Harvard, and more than 1/3 of respondents from Cornell entered the financial sector. But as Kevin Hicks, former dean of Berkeley College said, “Too many seniors march lemming-like towards [consulting] because everyone else seems to be doing it…The danger in doing a prefabricated thing after graduation is that there’s no unique story to tell about it. If there was ever a moment to be entrepreneurial and daring – whether in terms of business or social change – and really test yourself, this is it.”
Both Mark Zuckerburg, founder of Facebook, and Kevin Plank, founder of Under Armour, exhibited great daring in thinking outside the box. And for these entrepreneurs, their creative approaches paid off: The news of Facebook’s IPO filing has launched rumors that value the company at $100 billion, and Under Armor has become the product of choice for professional athletes across the country. But, whether they are scared off by a sluggish economy or lured by promises of high salaries, today’s college students seem to have abandoned the entrepreneurial spirit to the detriment of the rest of the country.
Even as the nation’s brightest scientists, engineers, and mathematicians are “yanked off into the financial sector never to be seen again”, the rate at which new companies are created in the U.S. has flat lined. If this trend was driven by student passion for finance, that would be one thing. But, as we’ve noted before, budding scientists and engineers rarely express an interest in finance. Upon entering college, students voice idealistic goals and a desire to change the world for the better; then, somewhere between high school and college graduation, many students exchange their dreams for corner offices on Wall Street.
Regardless of a student’s interests or major, entrepreneurship holds many appeals that the finance industry simply can’t match. Becoming an entrepreneur not only allows a recent grad to be his own boss – a benefit that anyone can appreciate – but also encourages innovation, creativity, and problem solving. As an entrepreneur, a graduate can pursue his own interests and plot his own course – all while helping to revive the nation’s economy, create jobs, and renew the sense of innovation that this country has lacked for so long.
Advice for Future Entrepreneurs
- Think outside of the box. Innovation does not have to be limited to the world of technology as many young adults seem to believe. Kevin Plank came up with the idea for his athletic gear, Under Armour, when his cotton t-shirts didn’t do the job during athletic practice. There is room for innovation in nearly any field, from fashion or music to mundane areas like cooking and cleaning. Look beyond tech startups and find a new area to explore.
- Reinventions can be as useful and lucrative as new inventions. Just look at Gaston Glock, inventor of the Glock handgun. Glock, who knew practically nothing about guns, revolutionized the entire industry with his improvements. You don’t have to have a new product to be successful.
- Start young. Entrepreneurship requires more than just a great idea – a good entrepreneur must also gain people skills, problem solving skills, management skills, and sales skills. Students who start mastering these skills in high school by starting their own small businesses will be ahead of the game.
- Don’t follow the crowd. Many students who hope to become successful entrepreneurs automatically major in business as they feel that this will best prepare them for life as a small business owner. However, a business degree offers a limited skill set which may not prove helpful to a new entrepreneur. Instead, consider studying the liberal arts. A liberal arts degree teaches many of the creative thinking, analysis, and communication skills that are so vital to a small business owner.
- Make dreams a reality. Too many graduates take a safe job with the idea of leaving to launch a small business “one day.” For most of these grads, “one day” will never come. If you have a potentially lucrative idea, strike while the iron is hot or life will get in the way.