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How To Replicate A College Education At A Fraction Of The Cost

How To Replicate A College Education At A Fraction Of The Cost

by Helen HoefeleJuly 8, 2013

Perhaps you can relate to the following scenario, too?

You are finally ready to commit to pursuing those dreams of independent business ownership.  While you know there are serious risks involved in entrepreneurship, you also know that entrepreneurs need to embrace risk and uncertainty.  After all, with great risk comes great reward, right?

To combat those fears of uncertainty, you know that you’ll want to learn as much as you can in order to minimize the risks of failure and maximize your chances of success.

You also know that the most recommended path to achieving career success is to go to college and earn a degree.

Yet, with the ever-increasing costs of higher education and the poor job prospects for recent grads, you have doubts about whether pursuing a traditional college education is still the best advice out there.

You wonder if there might not be other alternative educational opportunities out there for an entrepreneur like you.

The Good News

[quote_right]A college education. just like life in general, doesn’t come with any guarantees[/quote_right]

The truth is that a college education, just like life in general, doesn’t come with any guarantees. There are successful (and unsuccessful) entrepreneurs who hold college degrees; and there are those who don’t.

The good news is that now, more so than for any generation before us, there are more practical alternatives to the traditional college education than ever before.

In the end, with or without a college degree, you have to remember that you are the master of your own fate.  How you maximize the variety of training and educational opportunities available to you is your own responsibility, no matter which path you choose to follow.

Picking Up Practical Business Skills On Your Own

From personal experience, I can say that simply earning an undergraduate or a graduate degree isn’t always enough to teach you the more practical skills that entrepreneurs really need to hit the ground running.

I have found that the following 10 alternative skill-building actions can’t fail in setting you up for success as an entrepreneur by providing you with the practical business-building skills needed. Hopefully you will find these tips offer you time- and money-saving alternatives to the traditional college degree program as well.

  1. Take Free-to-Low-Cost College-Equivalent Classes via MOOCs (Video link).  Create your own course of independent study by taking self-study online college-level entrepreneurial courses at little to no cost via MOOCs (Massive Open Online Course), via sites such as: Coursera, Udemy, Udacity, EdX, or Codeacademy, or even via training books from the bookstore.
  2. Learn How to Learn Efficiently. College teaches you how to complete a program of study in a very logical, progressive and comprehensive sequence.  New meta-learning techniques show that you can learn more efficiently by studying the most practical information first. To learn more about this, read the first 150-pages of Tim Ferriss’s book, The 4-Hour Chef; or read all of Josh Kaufman’s book, The First 20 Hours (Video link).  Those two books offer a better alternative to the formerly popular “10,000-hour principle of experts” from Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers.
  3. Do Something With Your Training.  Just knowing how to do something doesn’t show that you know how to apply that knowledge in meaningful, useful or productive ways.  Find independent projects through volunteering, or be innovative and create your own project that solves a real world problem and showcases your talents best.  As Seth Godin has talked about, and as James Altucher wrote about in his book with the same title: Choose Yourself.
  4. Build a Success Portfolio, Not Just a Report Card Transcript.  When taking online classes and creating your own independent study projects, document your results.  Include wins and losses.  Show activity and progress. Highlight your work on LinkedIn under the “Courses” section and via a MOOC tracking site like or  Ask for feedback and learn from that.
  5. Continually Build Relationships That Matter.  College projects don’t venture into the off-campus world often enough, if at all.   Always be building meaningful business relationships and keep them current, especially within your industry of interest, both online and in-person. Build relationships, not just a Rolodex of contact information.  Recommendations, word-of-mouth, and testimonials are powerful assets, especially if crowd-funding or crowdsourcing become important components of your business plans down the line.
  6. Constantly Develop & Field-Test New Ideas In the Real World.  Entrepreneurs, similar to corporations, stay successful by always having a pipeline of new ideas.  Without spreading yourself too thin, always have a “next” idea in the works. Unlike a college class which has a distinct beginning and ending date, entrepreneurship is never a once and done activity. Entrepreneurship is not about getting a passing grade for a hypothetical some-day project, but it is about actually bringing a product or service to market, which takes hands-on persistence and committed heart-felt passion. Always be active.
  7. Invest in Equipment or Staff, Not Tuition. Many entrepreneurs don’t realize that the majority of new ventures get their financial-backing primarily from the entrepreneur, family, and/or friends before being eligible for bank or investor loans.  The best way to be as debt-free as possible is to self-fund your business, and be accountable to yourself.  Instead of investing in college tuition, why not consider investing in software, advertising, development, research, prototyping, distribution or manufacturing. Learn from that.
  8. Self-Discipline Isn’t Learned in the Classroom.  Learning how to put together a work plan and set your own priorities is not something that you can rely on a school system to do for you after you graduate.  Part of learning is learning how to motivate yourself to be consistently action-oriented. Consider getting an accountability partner or join a mastermind group for the extra support as needed.
  9. Lifelong Learning Is Needed to Keeping Your Skills & Industry Knowledge Current.  College curricula is typically industry agnostic. Regardless of where you get your education, you likely will be keeping up-to-date with current industry knowledge either on-the-job or on your own time. Own it now and always.
  10. Choose Your Own Advisors/Mentors or Partners/Investors.  When you are in college, you trust the advisors or professors who you are assigned to. That support structure often ends when the college program ends.  As an independent scholar and entrepreneur, you are free to choose from a wider selection of options. You can hire a local or industry-specific consultant and pay them for a few hours of their time without engaging into any kind of long-term contractual agreement such as enrolling in a full-term degree program.  Choose wisely.

The best way to think about your entrepreneurial education is to think of it as you think about entrepreneurship—it is never a “once and done” activity.  Similarly, independent life-long learning, as outlined above, can become your competitive advantage, or at the very least, can be the best way to keep yourself marketable no matter what direction you choose to take your career.

Wouldn’t you agree?  Please feel freel to share your tips or thoughts in the comments below.

[Image Credit: neeel / Flickr, mer chau / FlickrKeeks Cunningham / Flickr]

After working in the corporate world for over a decade, Helen Hoefele is currently re-inventing herself in the freelance world as an online writer and a Microsoft Excel data solutions provider.  You can read her personal blog at or follow her on Twitter at @figmentations.

About The Author
Helen Hoefele