You don’t have to go to school to be a startup entrepreneur. As Peter Thiel will try to convince you, sometimes dropping out is actually the best option for budding ‘treps. However, getting a degree can be a strong choice for many reasons. (Go here and here for some good analyses.)
The right education can help focus your entrepreneurial passion and build up the skills—including social skills!— needed to work at or run a badass enterprise. Check out these top 10 majors for college-bound entrepreneurs:
1. Computer science
Studying the realm of computer programming and Web development puts you at the heart of any tech startup: building stuff. Given their central role, it’s no surprise that software engineers and Web developers are in seriously high demand.
Just make sure to hone your non-technical skills, too. Especially in a small startup, you need to be a jack of all trades rather than a specialist who can’t handle wide-ranging projects.
Creative writing, journalism or communications are all about getting your message across. And this is a vital startup skill, whether you’re pitching a business proposal, drafting a blog post or persuading investors to get on board.
Depending on your area of expertise, a working knowledge of HTML, CSS and basic computer science can come in handy. This tech knowledge can put you miles ahead of the crowd—and help the engineering team take you seriously!
Public relations or marketing majors bring essential talents to the startup table. Without marketing, no one will know about the cool new product your team invented. With this major under your belt, you can help your company figure out what services to offer, who your target customer is and how to get the word out.
Finance basics are vital to startup survival. As a recent Forbes article puts it:
For an entrepreneur, the truth is that accounting and finance are tools to accomplish three key tasks:
(1) To make predictions about the future;
(2) To help you make more effective commitments of time, energy and money to attract customers and deliver goods and services at a larger and more efficient scale; and
(3) To measure and reassess your progress, so you can reward and encourage profitable behaviors, report progress to third parties, and change directions when necessary.
Pretty important stuff.
The growing field of User Experience (UX) is a perfect place for psychology majors. Your understanding the human brain and research background make you an ideal candidate to design and run user tests.
Your goal? Develop killer products.
6. Graphic design
Graphic design is an insanely competitive field. But if you develop your skills for a startup world (i.e., learning HTML/CSS, UX basics, how to talk to an engineer), you can differentiate yourself.
All startups are looking for design unicorns. You don’t need to be one of those mythical creatures, but the closer you can align your skills, the better.
Okay, we know ROTC isn’t a major! But military background—whether via ROTC during school or a stint in the military—can be amazing prep for the startup trenches.
Why? Because military training teaches you how to execute (a.k.a. get sh*t done), work well in highly pressurized situations and be a true team player—awesome traits for the startup world.
In a world of big data, economists and statisticians rule. Enough said.
Okay, this one comes with a caveat. If you do some Googling, you’ll find many current entrepreneurs and startup leaders don’t want to hire undergrad business majors.
“The cold hard truth is that kids who major in business are generally considered to be kind of dumb,” writes Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan. That being said, majoring in business or entrepreneurship can give you a good set of accounting, marketing, finance and leadership skills. Just proceed with caution.
10. Anything you’re actually passionate about
Spanish majors. Film majors. Environmental studies majors. You can find future startup entrepreneurs lurking in almost any academic field.
Will you have to work harder to develop practical business skills? Yes. Will you have a harder time selling yourself to potential startup employers? Maybe. But here’s the deal: if you have an intense interest in what you’re studying, it will foster commitment, passion, drive and mastery—keys to startup success.
One more thing: No matter what you major in, do not pass go and do not collect $200 unless you have at least one internship. The biggest success factor for an entrepreneur is experience—experimenting 24/7 and learning from mistakes.
So don’t think your diploma means your education is over. Life at a startup is about constant exploration, innovation, iteration and failure. The ride is just beginning.