Is a Degree in Entrepreneurship Worth It?

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The lasting appeal of entrepreneurship was arguably best encapsulated in 1842 by Henry Clay’s idea of the “self-made man.” Since then, the U.S. has had a storied history of famous entrepreneurs, from John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie to Walt Disney and Steve Jobs. Today, that desire to embrace the challenge and risk of having one’s own business has not only continued, it has grown.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that self-employment is projected to grow at a rate of 7.9 percent over 10 years from 2016 to 2026, faster than the projected rate for all workers. Not even the disruption caused by COVID-19 could hinder that growth, as 2020 saw a 24% growth in small business over the previous year. According to the U.S. Census Bureau applications for starting a business spiked to an all-time high of over 550,000 in July 2020. The number has dropped back down since then, but still remains higher than pre-2020 levels.

With interest in self-employment and business continually on the rise, universities are increasingly offering entrepreneurship degrees through business schools and other programs. There were 5,769 graduates with degrees in entrepreneurship in 2019, a 12.3% increase from the previous year. So if you’re considering starting a business, or are interested in exploring the possibility of being an entrepreneur, this could be an attractive option. However, college and post-graduate education is a serious investment of time and money – resources that might be better served in starting a business.

So, is it worth getting a business entrepreneurship degree? Let’s do what any good entrepreneur would do, and dig into the details to find an answer.

What Is the Value of a Degree in Entrepreneurship?

Right up front, let’s establish that you don’t need an entrepreneurship degree to start a business. After all, none of those previously mentioned entrepreneurs had one, and neither do today’s superstar entrepreneurs like Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk. So if they’re not necessary, what does an entrepreneurship degree get you?

Well, like any good degree program, it’s less about it acting as a key to unlock opportunities, and more of a means to develop skills, acquire experience and form important connections.

  • A degree program is a more controlled environment that mitigates the risks of failure. Finding out that you’re not up for entrepreneurship is less of a sting when you lose a semester of school and not, say, your initial investment into a business. Think of an entrepreneurship degree program as a practice run to ensure that you’re more likely to get it right when it really matters.
  • You’re able to build a knowledge base of useful concepts, resources and tools that are essential for starting, and running, a business. It is possible to learn these concepts on your own – but would you know where to start? Degree programs are tailored to provide specific ideas that go beyond a general knowledge base. For example, if you’re unfamiliar with the concept of “product/market fit,” then you’re likely missing some fundamental knowledge that could lead to costly mistakes.
  • Beyond the opportunity for specialized learning, degree programs are environments where you “learn how to learn.” The development of critical thinking skills is important for being flexible and creative in any environment – and it is a MUST if you’re in any kind of leadership or managerial position. Learning from failure and identifying problems, and coaching others to do the same, is key for being able to course correct when things start going wrong (and things will always go wrong).
  • If critical thinking is important for the “head,” then honing your business instincts is equally important for the “gut.” Entrepreneurship is risky because there are no sure things. Forces beyond your control, like new government regulations, shifting markets, or even global pandemics, can outright kill a possible market or create exciting new opportunities. How long does a product discovery phase need to last? When’s the right time to push to market? At what point do you “step on the gas” and begin to scale your business? There’s no straight answer to these questions, beyond being able to identify these moments and feel when the time is right to act.
  • “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” is an overly broad cliché – but it also should serve as a warning, because there is an element of truth to it. If you have two identical candidates up for the same investment opportunity, the one who personally knows the investor is more likely to win. It’s not exactly fair, but there is an undeniable “human factor” when it comes to who gets more opportunities. The best you can do is to form valuable connections and networks that will provide you with future value and resources you can draw upon. Entrepreneurship degree programs will not only connect you with like-minded peers and respected professors, many also have direct connections to business leaders and investors that you can (and should) leverage.
  • For all the advantages of a degree program, you do have to weigh it against the drawbacks. As mentioned, all degree programs require a significant investment of time and money, and there’s no guarantee that you’ll succeed as an entrepreneur. Could that effort and those resources be better spent in just starting a business? After all, others have managed to do it, some even without undergraduate degrees.

Ultimately that question of “value” comes down to the individual. A person with a clear vision, a detailed plan and access to resources may be able to find success without a degree, and might even consider the very concept unnecessary. On the other hand, a person who feels that they’re lacking important skills or knowledge could find such a program instrumental in building the confidence, skillset and support network that they would otherwise lack.

How can you make that determination for yourself? Let’s examine some more of the specifics of what an entrepreneurship degree can offer.

What Does a Degree in Entrepreneurship Cover?

Entrepreneurship degrees are typically offered by schools of business and will share some similarities with a business degree or MBA. While specific topics will vary depending on the school and program, there are some general concepts that will be common across most degrees.

  • Principles of effective leadership that may involve:
    • How to hire the right people for the right positions
    • How to more effectively articulate your vision
    • How to effectively communicate with and motivate your team
    • How to organize and manage growth
  • Strategies of risk management through planning and research, such as:
    • Understanding principles of how to innovate efficiently and effectively
    • How to study markets to identify trends and a potential customer base
    • How to design a minimum viable product to best sell your idea
  • Processes of business operations that can include:
    • How to build a proper business or product plan that best suits your market
    • How to calculate a lifetime value of your profits against the cost of operation
    • Reviewing case studies of businesses to understand the entrepreneurial process

There are also specialized degrees that have a narrower focus on especially relevant topics.

For example, the Master of Science, Technology and Entrepreneurship (MITE) degree offered by the University of San Diego focuses on entrepreneurial concepts related to the tech industry, including:

  • The methods by which entrepreneurs have used innovation to disrupt established fields to establish their business.
  • The latest developments in the tech industry and a review of relevant resources to spot upcoming trends.
  • Instruction on certain principles, like Moore’s Law and Metcalf’s Law, that will aid in understanding the future development of the tech industry.

What Careers Options Do I Have With a Degree in Entrepreneurship?

Obviously a career path as an entrepreneur is perfect for someone with an entrepreneurship degree. It is important to understand that “entrepreneurs” can be defined pretty broadly and can often encompass everyone from an independent contractor, to a small business owner to the CEO of a large tech startup. More advanced degree options, such as a master’s degree, are likely more suitable for entrepreneurs interested in heading large companies or establishing themselves in complicated areas, such as the tech industry.

Entrepreneurial concepts can also be applied within an established company by motivated employees who manage departments, create new initiatives or lead product development. These “intrapreneurs” serve as the leading innovators within a company, utilizing their skills and knowledge to create new business opportunities and effectively manage teams. Some of these employment tracks include:

  • Business manager and C-suite positions who oversee entire aspects of a company, whether technology, internal operations or finances.
  • Marketing managers who know how to build connections, understand SEO best-practices and manage marketing teams.
  • Finance managers who leverage their skills to cut costs and maximize revenues, supervising other analysts and accountants.
  • Business or management consultants who contract out with companies to assist them in identifying problems and developing solutions.

What Entrepreneurship Degree Options Exist?

Depending on the college or university, there may be several options for earning a degree that best suits your specific needs. Higher levels of degrees require more commitment in return for higher-level insights into specialized knowledge and more collaboration with faculty. Degree types include:

  • Associate degree – short, entry-level two year program suitable for understanding the foundations of a topic, suited for entry level positions.
  • Bachelor’s degree – longer, four year programs that usually also incorporate general studies from a core curriculum. Can lead to entry-level positions, establishing a business or moving on to a higher-level degree.
  • Master’s degree – advanced one–three year post-grad program of specialized knowledge that can lead to higher-level positions or more specialized startup opportunities.
  • Doctorate degree – highest possible post-grad education for specialized expertise, 3–6 year programs. Career paths for researchers, university instructors and high-level executives.

Online degrees are becoming increasingly popular as technology allows for effective remote attendance and asynchronous instruction. Online degrees carry the same clout as degrees earned on-campus, especially if they’re from an accredited university, and allow for greater flexibility in attendance for busy individuals.

While some entrepreneurship degrees are offered through just a business school, there are some hybrid degrees that are jointly awarded with other schools of study. USD’s MITE degree is, for example, perhaps the only master’s program jointly awarded by the university’s schools of Engineering and Business in order to study the concepts of innovation, connectivity and entrepreneurship within the tech industry.

How to Choose the Right Entrepreneurship Degree Program

Just like determining a degree’s “value,” identifying the “right” degree program largely comes down to your individual needs and capabilities. The questions you have to answer are:

  • How much are you willing or able to put into a program?
  • What’s going to work with your existing commitments?
  • What do you hope to get out of the program?

If you’re interested in a business entrepreneurship degree, there are a few important suggestions to keep in mind.

Be sure to seek accredited programs: Accreditation is a form of oversight that guarantees that the school’s content is up to date and valid, so you’re getting your tuition’s worth. Accreditation also ensures that credits are more likely to be transferable between accredited schools if you need to change degree programs.

Research online and on-campus options: As mentioned earlier, online programs can be more flexible for those with existing schedules and commitments. The overall cost of an online program can also be lower than being on campus due to lack of travel or boarding expenses. While it can be easier for students on-campus to access faculty resources, online degree programs do provide access to campus amenities.

Look for programs that have real entrepreneurial experience: Understanding theory is important, but real-world experience goes a long way toward providing important context and perspective. Prioritize programs whose instructors have worked in business or alongside entrepreneurs, or entrepreneurs who have moved into education.

Prioritize programs that offer real-world interaction in coordination with classroom instruction: Along the same lines as instructor experience, you’ll want to invest your time and money into programs that can put you in direct contact with people in the entrepreneurial world. This might translate into meetings with investors, experienced startup CEOs or other business professionals. It can also be capstone work that involves modeling a product or business proposal and then delivering it through a pitch development program.

Choose a program with a specific focus that aligns with your interests: Generalized degrees are fine enough, but choosing a specialized entrepreneurship degree is especially important if you’re interested in specific fields such as tech, health or finance. The MITE degree program, for example, is tailored for those entrepreneurs looking for a leg-up into the field of technology innovation.

For those who are looking for coaching on business, leadership and entrepreneurship for creating a tech startup, then the MITE degree is very much “worth it.” With its focus on tech-aligned entrepreneurship, the program is designed to create generalists with specialist knowledge – entrepreneurs who are able to fill any role through the application of a deep knowledge of the tech field.For those who are excited by the work of developing and scaling new ideas for tech products and services, read more about USD’s MITE program.

Entrepreneurship Degree FAQs

What’s the difference between the focus of an entrepreneurship degree and a general business degree? 

EntrepreneurMBA
Develop critical thinking and understanding of relationshipsDevelop causal reasoning and understanding of relationships
Identify potential markets and create a product planCreate a business plan and understand business models
Financial considerations center on securing funding and calculating a lifetime valueFinancial considerations center on calculating return on investments
Job prospects are for small business or startup opportunities / intrapreneurship within mid to large companiesJob prospects are corporate focused
Assistance in establishing network connectionsAssistance in establishing network connections
Goal is the thrill of starting a company and potentially unlimited salaryGoal targets high salary

How long does it take to earn a degree?

Most programs take 24 months, but some are designed to be completed in 20 months.

How much does it cost to earn a degree?

In terms of cost, it can vary greatly, as some colleges in the U.S. can cost up to $60,000+ a year, while other options can be closer to $9,000–$10,000 a year depending on credit hours. Financial aid and scholarship and grant programs can help mitigate the cost of a degree program. 

What’s my salary range after earning a degree?

There are no real measurements for the salary range of an entrepreneur, since the results can vary wildly, though Payscale lists an entrepreneurship MBA at $101,524. Depending on a whole range of factors entrepreneurs can risk losing money or stand to make millions, with the wealthiest entrepreneurs in a league of their own.

Are There Non-Degree Continuing Education Options for People Interested in Entrepreneurship?

It is possible to earn online certification for some business related subjects. The advantage of these certification programs is that they can be earned in a shorter time and are generally less expensive. The downside is that, since these are not “full” degrees, they may not offer as much information or can or limit your entry or advancement in a field.

What are some Entrepreneurship Resources?

For references on creating a startup business

Funding resources

  • StartEngine is an equity crowdfunding platform 
  • AngelList is a venture investing platform and employment resource

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