College acceptances are out and all anyone can seem to talk about is how low the admissions rates are this year (5.2 percent at Harvard, 4.7 percent at Stanford -- you get the idea). But if you think about it, the success rate of most startups is about the same as your chances of getting into a top school.
While it's easy to lament the increasingly competitive academic landscape, as any entrepreneur will tell you, anything worthwhile is difficult. As the co-founder of an educational consulting company, I often speak with students about their goals for college and beyond. Recently, an international student expressed her desire to study in the U.S. so that she might "become an entrepreneur."
Of course, she wanted to know where she should she go to college.
"Don't go to college," my co-founder replied, half-jokingly. I rolled my eyes at him from across the room. While we all love the drop-out-strikes-it-rich narrative, the truth is that the Zuckerbergs of the world are the exception.
However, selecting the right college is important. Here's how you can cultivate your future entrepreneur, both in the college you choose and the choices you make once graduation day has long passed.
Explore the Liberal Arts
The instinct for many ambitious, business-oriented students is to attend a school with the best "entrepreneurship program." Don't get me wrong, it's helpful to learn the nuts and bolts of accounting, finance and marketing. But what's equally important is an understanding of people. While an economics or organizational behavior class will teach those skills from one perspective, courses in psychology, religious studies and literature offer an entirely different outlook - one, which I would argue, is essential for any up-and-coming entrepreneur. Certainly, this approach to learning doesn't have to stop after graduation. Want to be a better manager? Drop those business books and pick up some short stories or a novel. There's no better way to learn about empathy than through storytelling.
Many colleges are embracing the increasingly interconnected nature of today's world, and they should be. Schools like NYU and Yale are opening international satellite campuses, and just about every school encourages its students to go abroad for a semester or summer. Aspiring entrepreneurs should actively seek these opportunities and the colleges that emphasize them. Look for schools where the diversity of the student body reflects our increasingly globalized world. College campuses invite dialogue, and international perspective is essential for creating well-rounded leaders. While a full semester of travel might not be possible once graduation day passes, a short trip can also work wonders for an entrepreneur's creativity. Traveling to a new country exposes you to new problems to solve, new ways to approach challenges and ultimately, new ways of seeing the world.
Meet New People
College isn't just about what you study. It's about who you meet and the relationships that you develop. In many cases, the network you make in college will stay with you for the rest of your life. For future CEOs, your COO might be sitting next to you in your physics class, while you might bump into your CFO on the soccer field. And once college is over, well, your elusive co-founder just might work out at your gym or frequent the coffee shop around the corner from your apartment. Don't forget that learning doesn't just happen inside the classroom - and "work" shouldn't be confined to the office. Strike up conversations with people you wouldn't normally encounter and seek out the opinions of people who have different perspectives to offer. Above all, always ask questions. You never know what you'll learn.
What do I tell future entrepreneurs who are struggling with where to attend college? Be decisive. It's that simple (and that hard, too). This is one of the first times you'll need to take accountability for your own future. Where to attend college isn't your parent's decision or your teachers'. It's yours and yours alone.
And in owning that truth and taking that leap - well, that's when my students really start to act like the future business leaders they are.
Since 2007, as co-founder of LogicPrep and NY College Coaches, Lindsay Tanne has been helping students make academic decisions, tell their stories, and provide colleges with captivating answers to the question of "why choose me?" Lindsay and her team have helped hundreds of families in the U.S. and abroad successfully navigate the college application landscape.