College business degree or work?

By Rhonda Campbell

Which of these two, a business degree or experience working a corporate job, help you most to launch and operate your own successful business? Both come with challenges, including time and financial challenges.

Daniel Boorstin said, “Education is learning what you didn’t even know you didn’t know.” If this is true, getting a college business degree is invaluable if you’re starting a business.

That could be why the master’s in business administration degree has not lost its luster. About a quarter of all master’s degrees in the United States are a MBA, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Accounting, marketing, leadership foundations, technology and operations management, strategy and international economies are courses built into prestigious MBA programs.

Learning on the job could cost you years

It could take you years to learn how to create budgets that help you manage cash flows, the one thing that has sunk many a startup. A college business degree helps you to think about issues you might otherwise not consider until it’s too late.

For example, a college business degree teaches you the importance of managing human capital, assessing and managing risks and taking advantage of tools that advance your marketing efforts. A business degree also teaches you how to weigh options before making hard decisions and how to make the most of time. Entrepreneur reports that one business owner used his MBA to “reduce the time it takes him to consider potential transactions from two weeks to a single day. ”

Lifehacker‘s Thorin Klosowski said that networking is a real plus associated with a MBA. Specifically, “Grad school is often about meeting people more than it is advancing your education. So make sure you take the time to meet people, spend time with different people, and, for lack of a better word, network with as many people as possible. You will tap into them at some point for postgraduate projects, and they’ll do the same with you.”

Another college degree isn’t going to give you everything you need

Yet, school can’t teach or prepare you for everything you’ll encounter as a busy entrepreneur. It’s this sentiment that may be behind Oscar Wilde’s declaration, “Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.”

Sitting through challenging graduate business courses won’t show you different leadership styles in action. Pouring over thick textbooks won’t let you see how prospects respond to different types of sales letters that you write. But, working a managerial corporate job could.

Selena Cuffe, Heritage Link Brands’ CEO, shares in Inc. that a corporate job, “provides you with critical training and baseline skills that can serve you well as an entrepreneur.” Honing your emotional intelligence, how to communicate with people from different backgrounds, dealing with hard downturns without emptying  your bank accounts and what to look for in teams and leaders of organizational streams aren’t learned in the classroom. A corporate job can help you to pick up these skills without spending tens of thousands on college degrees and without exposing your company to undue financial and legal risks.

Work at a sustainable and powerful company and you could also gain the tools to keep your business growing decades after you launch it. Jeetu Patel tells Fast Company that, “Well-run large companies inherently teach you how to build a lasting business.”

Get the best of both worlds

Other advantages of working a corporate job are operational discipline, including how to manage innovation smartly. If you work a corporate job in a new division or department, you can also get a real feel for what it’s like to start a business (howbeit a line of business) from the ground up.

You could gain the advantages of a college business degree and experience working a corporate job if you start your company on a part-time basis. This will give you financial security, not to mention provide you the resources to grow your savings. You’ll need this extra money after you start your company on a full-time basis.

Instead of earning a college business degree, consider earning graduate business certifications (i.e. project management, innovation and entrepreneurship) in areas you don’t currently have experience in. If you do decide to get a business degree, see if your employer will pick up the costs via their tuition assistance program.

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