Your advice for 17-year old Alexius? Stay in school or hit the streets?

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College_gradI am totally busy trying to get ready for my trip to Georgia this weekend (I’m teaching a consulting skills workshop for the staff of the Youth Programs at Habitat for Humanity next week – can’t wait!) but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity for you to share some advice for 17-year old Alexius who asked:

"Hi, I want to start a business that I have plan thoroughly but I am still studying, so should I continue my studies or should I hit the streets? Alexius, 17"

As for me, as much as I know that traditional education has a lot to improve, I almost always encourage teenagers to go on to college.  So much of what you learn there is not in the books (and I mean the positive things, not the horrid drunken frat parties that you should avoid) and it is much harder to go back to school once you are rocking and rolling in the working world.

I think starting an entrepreneurial venture on the side of your studies while young is the way to go so you get the best of both worlds.

I am sure that all of you will have many different perspectives and opinions about this, so comment away!

I would love it if Alexius’ parents would comment too, as I think their perspective would be interesting.

16 Responses to “Your advice for 17-year old Alexius? Stay in school or hit the streets?”

  1. Tim King says:

    It depends on what he’s studying in school. If he’s studying Engineering, and he needs this knowledge to make his business work, the choice is pretty clear: Stay in school. Likewise, it’s probably worth getting his High School diploma. But if he’s pursuing an MBA, the question is much fuzzier.

    In any case, as a general rule, if you don’t know which one to do, try both! That experience may give you the wisdom to decide one way or the other. Try a little; learn a lot. This is your first lesson in becoming an entrepreneur. 😉

  2. JasonC says:

    Hey Alexius,

    Having been faced with the same decision just a few years ago (I’m 21) I can certainly relate.

    Television shows like The Apprentice that focus on “Book Smarts” OR “Street Smarts” drive me crazy. The smartest entrepreneurs should seek to develop “Book Smarts” AND “Street Smarts”.

    I started by first business in high school and have had the entrepreneur bug ever since. That business now makes me a six figure salary… not bad considering I’m also juggling a University degree.

    Both school and work can give you a wide range of experiences that develop you as a person and will make you more successful in future endeavours.

    Is it tough to do both… sometimes. Will it be worth it… absolutely.

    I’m not the only person who thinks so. See the article from Inc on “CEO Regret #4”.

  3. lilalia says:

    What if you work on your entrepreneurial talents at the same time as qualifying for further education? My sixteen year old son is participating in a wonderful entrepreneur project (, there is an link to the English site on the bar at the top of the page). Take a quick look; it is an interesting, motivating, and fun program. The high school students learn all about what it is like to start up a business first hand.

  4. Eleanor says:

    I have recenlty moved back to Canada after living (and being educated) in Ireland. I can’t help feeling there is alot of pressure on people in Canada & US to go to college just because the majority do. I spent 8 years (6 of them full-time) studying courses that I didn’t really want to do (because I had no idea of what I did want to do). Personally I believe a 3rd level education is a great thing but not just for the sake of it. My husband finished school at 17 and worked ever since (now 34) and is very happy, very successful, based on his experience not his qualificatons. I am still studying and learning stuff I enjoy – all I can say is Life is one long learning experience and each of us will follow a different path. Do whatever you feel is best Alexis and keep asking for advice, just remember people can only advise others based on their experience!

  5. Matthew Bass says:

    Stay in school, but consider pursuing your degree via distance education. Some folks have already mentioned this as a viable option. I graduated from Thomas Edison State College myself. I was able to apprentice as a software developer during the day, and study over the Internet in the evening and on weekends. By the time I graduated, I had a full time job at a local software company. Of course, I have since left that job to do freelance programming, but the point is that non-traditional programs can give you the flexibility you need to pursue your dreams while still earning a college degree.

  6. Alexius says:

    I think I should focus on my studies first. I don’t want to be labelled a ‘dropout’ and I feel that having that business cert will give me better knowledge and credential when meeting an angel. Thanks for all the comments!!!

  7. Benefits of Education

    I am sure that all of you will have many different perspectives and opinions about this, so comment away!

  8. I think Leah’s advice about non-traditional programs is great. College doesn’t have to be sitting in classrooms for 4 years the way it is usually done. I’ve heard lots of great things about Thomas Edison State College ( ) and worked with a client who got his BS in Nuclear Engineering Technology through them.

    Also consider testing out of EVRYTHING you can, particularly the “must have” stuff. CLEP testing is a great way to get credits, and many of those more seasoned professionals going back for their degrees opt for this route. Program like InstaCert ( ) make it easy to prepare.

  9. NLG says:

    I would definitely recommend staying in school. It is good to have different experiences in life, and school is one thing that is much easier to experience at a young age. Right now, you have few responsibilities, and few expenses, so you can afford to study full-time. In 5-10 years you may have children or other obligations that will make returning to school very difficult.

    I myself just finished a Masters degree in engineering and am working for a multinational defense firm. Looking at the organizational announcements reaffirms why I spent seven years at University. The people being promoted to top positions in my company all have some type of graduate degree.

    That’s not to say a graduate degree is necessary for success, but any type of degree certainly accelerates your success. I’m 26, and work alongside people twice my age who are doing similar jobs. I’d much rather be in my position.

    Furthermore, having a degree (and I highly recommend professional degrees, as its easy to find jobs in engineering, law, medicine, nursing, teaching, etc.) gives you something to fall back on in case one of your ventures fails, or you just decide you need a change of pace.

    I could ramble on more… but I hope some of my comments are helpful.

  10. rick gregory says:

    Re-reading the post, I’m not sure if Alexius is talking about whether to go to college or whether to finish high school. The latter, it should be obvious, is absolutely imperative. Aside from the credential and avoiding the stigma of ‘dropout’ you have to be able to finish stuff…

  11. rick gregory says:

    Paul Graham (YCombinator) gave a talk to MIT students that addresses some of the issues surrounding when to launch a startup:

    A key point here – the idea you have now won’t be the last idea you’ll ever have.

    It’s hard to give specific advice for someone I don’t know but… don’t be in a hurry to hop on the work wagon… there is more to life than working or making money and college is one of the last times you will have to spend a lot of time thinking and learning about other things. If you go, by all means take business classes… but take art history or literature or astronomy or… other things too. You just won’t get the chance to spend time doing that later in life, and even if you do, you’ll be the 33 year old in a sea of 20 year olds….

  12. Leah says:

    This is a tough one Pam…I remember when I was 17 (as it wasn’t really THAT long ago)…and I remember wondering if I REALLY needed to go to college. I personally decided not to at the time, mainly because I had a great job that paid me tons of money for that age…and I was moving fast. It took NO TIME for me to find other jobs…just as good if not better in pay. Now…well…that is a different story. Now I am trying to juggle work, a family, and attempting to get a degree finally…because suddenly…well…my resume just doesn’t look as good to potential employers as it use to…and I am not even 30 yet! I very quickly went from being incredibly desirable in the work force because of tons of experience…to not having a degree and not being usable by anyone! I feel so foolish now for not at least getting my associates when I had the time and energy to deal with it.
    My suggestion…if you aren’t “feelin” the draw to traditional college or universities…check out correspondence programs like those offered through PCDI ( If you want to do something for yourself and for your future (like starting your own business)…why not take this time and opportunity to balance both a career and your education on your time…while you still have the time and energy to do it!
    People tell you all the time that it comes back to haunt you…and I never believed them back then…I believe now!!!

  13. John Trosko says:

    Focus on school, get that done.

    The biggest mistake you can make is not to finish, or not go at all. You may feel like you’re ready to start your life, and create something, but if you skip school– your well-schooled friends will likely be better off when you’re older. That’s not always the case though. Is this a chance you are willing to take? There are plenty of people who school AND create products, services, books WHILE they are in the early learning phases of their life.

  14. David Rogers says:

    There are some great entreprenuer programs in many colleges. I’d do one of these if I were to start again. Try the idea out with the help mentors and the structure of a good program.

  15. MFD says:

    I would recommend to at least get an associates in business while starting a side venture. After that you can work full-time or transfer and get a BA.
    Having the book knowledge to run a business, of any size, although repetive forces you to look at all aspects of business.
    Without this formal training you risk have holes in you business knowledge that could compromise you success.

    I only speak from having made these mistakes myself and having to work much harder to get to where I want to be.

    Best of luck in your ventures.

  16. My advice would be to stay in school. I did not finish college and I regret it. I often think about going back but with working full time, being a mom, wife, friend, etc…I just haven’t found the time. I agree that it isn’t even necessarily the “book learning” that’s important. I also think that right or wrong it’s just easier to get ahead with the “piece of paper”.