College education from the eyes of a student entrepreneur / by Benjamin Steele

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Blog #39

Anyone who knows me personally must be thinking, "well, this is going to be interesting" and to be honest, it's true that I haven't exactly been the biggest advocate for college, especially since I've been introduced to the world of entrepreneurship. Unfortunately, it seems that as I have gained a greater understanding of how the world actually operates, I have also grown a sense of disappointment for the institution that I spend 30+ hours on every week. That being said, it definitely hasn't all been bad and there are undoubtably some incredible things that have come from getting a college degree. I guess I just wanted to write this blog to share a few of my thoughts about some of my negative and also some of my positive thoughts (in that order) on college. Now I doubt that this 2,000 word article will spark a reformation of the current education system, but maybe one or two of you readers will be able to relate to my words (let me know your thoughts in the comments). Also, maybe one or two of you are debating attending college in general and I hope that my words can share a bit of insight.

As a little background, I am nearly a senior and am studying Public Relations. I am currently taking 15 credit hours, which as you may assume is a full load for someone who is also trying to effectively run a business on the side. My current class schedule is:

  1. Econ 110: Economic Principles and Problems
  2. Stats 121: Principles of Statistics
  3. Comms 318: PR Research and Management
  4. Comms 336: Strategic Planning
  5. Comms 416: Media Advocacy and Social Change
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I'm writing this post in reference to my specific major classes as I'm not sure if the general education classes are as relevant to the topic. Also, please keep in mind that these opinions may not be accurate for every discipline of study, but just to my own.

Perhaps the best way for me to first illustrate a few of my frustrations is by a few experiences that I've had in classes these past few weeks.

(1) We were going to be having a midterm exam for one of my communication courses. It was on a few specific parts of the communications matrix, which for those of you who did not study communications, is basically an outline that PR professionals are advised to follow in a PR campaign. I was fairly confident with the material, so while my fellow students were getting together in study groups and cramming before class, I just showed up.

The following week we got our exam scores back. I got a B, which I was completely satisfied with. Actually, the average grade in the class was a B-, so I thought everyone would be happy. Our professor than begun to review the exam with the class, where to my surprise, students begun to negotiate with him for a better grade on specific questions. Students that scored 96 percents worked to get their scores raised to 98 percents. Students with 84 percents stared at their exams totally depressed by their scores and tried to argue for better marks.

In total this review/negotiation process took around 45 minutes of our time. Time that I knew could have been better spent working on my company or actually accomplishing something worth while with my life.

This first example highlights a few of my frustrations:

  1. The first starts with the exam itself, which was primarily a test of our memorization of something that we won't actually use much in our professional careers. On at least a daily basis, I find myself doing/learning something that has minimal or no actual application to the professional field. Why is this so? When there are so many applicable and important things that we could be learning, why does the curriculum sometimes feel so out of touch? Can't college academics be more than just jumping through hoops?
  2. It amazes me to how some students actually believe that the most important thing about college is getting a good grade. While many other students spend their valuable hours studying for exams, I am working to build a business, this blog, my social media accounts or to connect with other professionals in the area. I've learned that the curve to getting a good grade is very large in college. What I mean by that is that I believe that you can put in a 50-65 percent effort to get a C or a B, whereas an A requires a 90-100 percent effort. In my opinion, college is just as much about learning about ourselves, building relationships and having a variety of hands on experiences as it is about grades. Sure study and do well, but be sure that you graduate with more than just a good GPA.
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(2) My next example relates to the general administration of my program in general.

In order to graduate from my university with a degree in PR, it is necessary that a student has an internship with a company in the field. I personally have had two different internships in the field of PR, but they won't count for my internship credit because it has to be taken near the very end of your program, so mine will be this next summer.

When I approached the internship office with the idea that I could count my own company Sir Wylde as my internship, I was quickly turned away. I was told that I could not be related to to the person who owns the company I intern with. Clearly though, I tried to explain, my situation was a little unique. Still, they turned me away.

Later, I went back to the admin office and filed a formal request to be able to use my company as an internship. I explained that I had a number of partners in my company who were very experienced in business and communications and could act as my mentors for the expected time frame. A few of them I explained even play major rolls in billion dollar companies. Surely, their mentorship would be enough?

Still though, because I am the primary owner of the company, I was rejected. In fact, not only was I rejected, but I was advised that I go intern at another startup, so that I can see how they do things. One administrator even told me that I would have to choose my priorities. Was it college or my business? This surprised me as I thought that I could do both. Was it not possible to get a degree as well as some real world applicable experience on the side?

So, this leads me to a few more thoughts:

  1. Other than adjunct professors (professors who are actually working professionals that only come teach in their off time), I have actually never actually been asked about my company from a professor. I once received an college-wide entrepreneurship award for it, so I know that they are all aware of it, but still, none of them seem to mind. In my humble opinion, this is a shame. I would think that professors would be highly interested in what their students are accomplishing outside of the classroom.
  2. I believe that college should provide the resources and the opportunities for us students to accomplish as many great things in the real world as possible. It is my opinion that students should be commended and rewarded for their out of the classroom application (and I don't just say this because I own a business). Currently, college primarily rewards grades, when I believe that there are so many other equally important parts of the picture.

I once heard Gary Vaynerchuk explain how he believes college generally teaches students to live their lives within the lines that society has set for them rather than to achieve their full potential. From my personal experience, I primarily agree with this statement. I not only believe that college is often very opposed to entrepreneurs and their goals, but that it can also be very ineffective in the way that it teaches in general.

With all of these thoughts above on how I feel that my college program (or even college education in general) is lacking, I also have to mention a few of the very positive things that have happened to me from studying. Specifically, I have had a few incredible professors that have helped me to become the person I am today and for those I say thank you! One in particular, Brandon Doyle, who owns a local Advertising Agency called Wallaroo Media, made a very large impact on my life. The semester I studied under him, he divided us into groups and had us find real companies that would agree to have us run their social media for. He then taught us principles throughout the semester focused on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, SEO, digital marketing, blogging, video, paid advertising, ect. and graded us on how effectively we actually applied what he taught. I'm still good friends with Brandon today and know that I can turn to him for advice.

One other class worth noting is Intro to Entrepreneurship that I took about a year and a half ago with the adjunct professor Nick Greer, owner of Greer Co. Nick divided us into groups and provided us with the challenge to start our own company that semester. He then had guest lecturers come into class almost weekly to help teach principles about business and the practical essentials to running a startup. Nick's class is where I actually started my first entrepreneurial project (a good deed suggesting app called Enable) and also where I decided that I was going to start Sir Wylde. This class honestly changed my life.

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At the end of the day, despite some of my frustrations, I'm glad that I've decided to attend college. This is primarily because when I was 18 years old and took my first step onto the campus for my first day of classes, I had really no idea what I wanted to do with my life. College has provided the opportunity for me to figure out who I want to become in a relatively safe environment. It has also introduced me to some of the people that will help me along my professional path as well as some of my closest friends. Honestly, I would go through a lot worse frustrations to make some of the friends that I have.

I almost didn't post this blog and rewrote many parts of it because I didn't want to come off sounding like an ungrateful brat. I do feel that college could be better and stand behind that opinion, but I am also grateful for the opportunity to receive an education. I think I maybe needed to write this blog to help me remember why I decided to come here in the first place and why I am going to stick it out for the next year.

Unless you are 100% sure that you want to be an entrepreneur and have a decent idea of how you are going to get there (which is unlikely at 18), than college is probably a good first step towards your goal. On the same hand, if you end up starting something incredible and find great success while studying, then I do not blame you for dropping out like Mark Zuckerberg (founder of FB) or Steve Jobs (Apple). I think the most important thing at the end of the day is that we are constantly working to achieve our personal dreams and goals. Nothing should get in the way of us doing so.

Thank you for your time,

Benjamin

PS - If you haven't ever followed Gary Vaynerchuk, I would recommend that you do so. He has some great ideas relating to entrepreneurship, particularly on the effective use of social media.