Young people regularly ask, In preparing to do B4T, is it better to go overseas now and start a business or get a university degree first?  I’ve been in the world of B4T for two decades, and as long as I can remember there’s been a debate about whether young entrepreneurs need college degrees, or whether they can learn the things they need to know to start a business via “street smarts.”

But today, the college-or-no-college debate is taking on a whole new meaning. Many are questioning whether the soaring cost of college is handcuffing young entrepreneurs by straitjacketing them with debt before they even have the chance to start a business.

In the past, the ideal age to start a business was in the 20’s or 30’s. Language acquisition is proven to be easier for younger workers and B4Ters who can master the language and get started on their business before the age of 30 have a huge advantage in business, enculturation and acceptance by the community.  In addition, young B4Ters are less likely to have the responsibilities of a home mortgage, spouse or family to contend with, and in the past, they’d usually have paid off any student loans or other college-related debt by their mid to late 20s.

Today, of course, the landscape is much different. College students are graduating with tens of thousands of dollars in debt, so those who find good jobs upon graduation often put monies that could be used toward starting a business toward paying off the debt. College debt is delaying young workers from moving overseas, often till they are in their mid-30’s and by then they’ve a family among other time consuming responsibilities.

A university diploma has never been a prerequisite for success in business. Of the 400 richest people in the U.S., Forbes points out that 63 don’t have more than a high school degree or more than 15% of the list.  Though more universities are now offering courses in entrepreneurialism natural entrepreneurs often find the classroom stifling and be tempted to skip university and instead enroll in the school of hard knocks.

Sean Parker of FaceBook fame says,

“When these incredible tools of knowledge and learning (Google, on-line courses, etc.) are available to the whole world, formal education becomes less and less important. We should expect to see the emergence of a new kind of entrepreneur who has acquired most of their knowledge through self- exploration.”

So is a college degree really needed to start a business? As Jesus puts it, each worker must count the costs. Here are some factors to take into account.

  • What type of business do you want to start? Some businesses, especially those based in professional services, may truly require a degree. Others, however, can be learned just as well (or better) with real-world experience.
  • What other educational options exist? If you’re concerned about learning things like basic accounting or marketing principles, there are plenty of ways to obtain that knowledge without spending time and money on a degree.  There are many excellent, free, on-line business courses and many community colleges offer classes too.
  • What other advantages do you gain by attending a university? Social connections, opportunities for spiritual discipleship, developing a home church base, building relationships with potential team members, coaches and investors are among a few of intangibles which are readily overlooked.
  • How much money do you have at your disposal and how is it best spent? If you’re fortunate enough to have some capital on hand, do the math. How much will your startup cost? How much would college cost? Could your college fund be better spent doing a startup? Many times the cost of a start-up may equal that of a university education in both time and money. So do you learn better in a classroom or real world setting?
  • What is the Master saying to you?  Pray, seek counsel, but don’t choose one way or the other till you have that peace that surpasses all understanding.  Having a clear view of His will is assurance the right choice will be made.

Starting a business or starting college—those are tough choices. Only you can count the cost for yourself.



PATRICK LAI and his family have worked in SE Asia for over 37 years. His experience in doing business with Jesus has brought him to understand the meaning of work and worship in the marketplace. He started 14 businesses in four countries, six of which are still operating. Patrick and his wife, May, mentor and coach businesspeople working where there are few or no Christians. Check out Patrick’s latest book, Workship, now available in paperback and e-book.

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