Should Aspiring Entrepreneurs Go To University?

Sarah McBride
5 min readJan 15, 2015

Exam. Time. Sucks.

It’s the end of my first semester at University. I’m 2 exams down with 1 to go. They’ve been truly horrendous thus far; I even managed to mix up my timetable and had 4 hours to learn an entire semester’s worth of work for my Business Economics exam. Really very far from the ideal scenario. So it’s during this time of late night, caffeine-fuelled cramming that the University dilemma has reared its head once more — as an aspiring entrepreneur is there really any need for me to be at University?

I was very fortunte to spend the past year getting involved in a number of cool projects in Northern Ireland. From the Young Enterprise Company Programme, to joining the Generation Innovation network; to securing my first marketing internship, and finally getting to CEO Create:2014. It’s been crazy — and it taught me something very important about life — you can achieve a lot very quickly if you turn yourself from a day dreamer to a doer.

And this is what got me hooked on the fast-paced, ever-evolving world of technology — there’s no messing around, no “what ifs”, no age constraints — the people who ‘go do’ are the winners and the disrupters. It’s no secret that this world of startups care little for your degree and care more about the creativity and experience you will bring to the table. There’s no job requirements listing ‘a 2:1 from a Russell Group University’ to become an entrepreneur. You just go do it, and I love that.

So seriously - why the hell am I at University? This does keep me up at night and I’m sure I’m not alone. Especially with tuition fees taking a hike to £9,000 a year, University is a substantial investment for young people today. So to comfort myself and avoid revision, I’ve put together some reasons for why University is a worthwhile experience even if you’re going to go straight into a job in a startup where they couldn’t care less about your degree.

  1. Life experience

It’s good to be ridiculously ambitious — but we need to remember to live a little. You can’t help but socialise at University and I know for a fact that many of the people I’ve met since starting Uni will be friends for life. They’re also the same age as me. If I’d gone straight into working in a startup my friends would likely all be a good 5 years older than me. Which is cool, yea, but I haven’t quite developed that acquired taste for red wine yet and that’s kind of a prerequisite if you’re going to be friends with older people.

2. Go on, bet the farm

This was on the front cover of The Economist one time and I thought it was hilarious. Anyway, it’s supposed to incite risk-taking. And there’s no better time than at University to take risks in business. Go try out that wacky startup idea, take a job in a startup that’s pretty much 100% going to fail because all they do is ship glitter to peoples’ enemies — do it because in later life you’ll have a rent to pay and a family to support with no fall back on that comforting student loan.

3. Netwerking

Before starting University it had never really occurred to me that I was going to be going somewhere with 15,000+ people within like a square mile of you every day, that between them would have all the skills needed to kickstart a new venture. You can’t code? One of the computer science students is going to want to start building up their portfolio. Can’t understand accounting? Hello BBA’s. Need to do some market research? A marketing student will help you design it, then you can knock yourself out asking the thousands of people on campus everyday.

Still not convinced? Yup, I’ve been there.

So instead I’ve devised a plan whereby I try to get the best of both worlds. i.e the benefits of University and having that shiny degree at the end, as well as building up real world experience in startups. Firstly, I have chosen a degree that has a compulsory 1 year placement in France so if I want to go work in a french startup or get the boring corporate experience, the University are actually making me do that for a year. Happy days. Secondly, University isn’t like school — you only have a couple of hours at most in lectures and seminars each day, which leaves ample time to tinker around with a new business idea or start putting together that MVP. I have already joined the Entrepreneur society and love meeting up with fellow business & technology enthusiasts to throw around ideas. I’m also doing market research for a local startup with students on campus — giving me that precious startup experience. In my spare time, and when my head is completely melted with University work, I’m learning about digital marketing. When you’re at University you get a solid 3 months off during summer so that’s 12 weeks of prime interning time. And I still easily have time to fit in a social life, might I add. Finally, I pretend my student loan is my income, work out a daily rate and only devote so many hours to Uni work accordingly. It’s actually a very effective method of motivation.

So should aspiring entrepreneurs go to University?

Yes, during exam time when you are quite literally losing the will to live, it’s easy to think of how wonderful life would be if you had have just sacked off higher education and gone to work in a white-walled, mac-filled office in Shoreditch. But during these times of academia-bashing by the stressed aspiring entrepreneur, you have to remind yourself that it’s possible to achieve your academic potential, while setting yourself up for a career in entrepreneurship where experience > qualifications. I’m trying to do both, and yea it’s not going to be sun and rainbows all the time but I’ve found a pretty fulfilling balance.

After all- technology and entrepreneurship are about disruption & going against the norms. Go mess with the system and the status quo — go get yourself a degree and start some kickass startups simultaneously.



Sarah McBride

Comms + ice cream @ Zenly. Writing about organic marketing & Gen Z musings.