How to Hone Your Entrepreneurial Skills in College

How to Hone Your Entrepreneurial Skills in College was originally published on Vault.

College in America has been getting a lot of criticism, some of it warranted, and some of it based on misunderstandings about what college is supposed to accomplish. Certainly, there is truth in the claim that not everyone who graduates college leaves prepared for the job market, especially if they want to start on their own ventures. There are three key things college students can do while still in school that can kick start their entrepreneurship ventures early.  

1. Learn the Business of Your Skill

It's common for business students to want to learn entrepreneurship, but let's say your college degree is in the humanities, as these fields get the most criticism for being “useless”. Of course you'll learn about the history of your field and about people who have been successful in it. But during class discussion, be sure to ask about administrative tasks of working in a certain field. English majors looking to be writers should take classes on freelance strategies and the tax implications of contract work. History majors and those looking to work in academics should learn grant writing and the process of getting funds. Anyone considering starting their own business should take some business finance courses and familiarize themselves with venture capitalism, business loans, and the complexities of how credit can affect businesses

It's also a good idea to research all the different ways the skills you're learning can be put to use in the job market. Make a list of all the potential careers in your field. Make it as long as possible. Then note whether these careers can be pursued with private companies, government entities, or as an independent contractor. Are there needs that current companies aren't meeting? How could you build a company that fulfills those needs?

Exercises like this will help you open your mind and combat preconceptions you have about your chosen field. You might realize that you have more options than you imagined. Or you might find that your options are very limited. Either way, it's a great way to get a realistic look at your career path.

2. Seek Out Experts in Your Field

Does your professor have business experience in your desired field? Do they bring in guest speakers who do? Are your reading materials written by people with first-hand experience? If not, you're likely getting only theoretical information. Theory is important, but practicality is what helps with job acquisition. So talk to your professors about bringing in experienced speakers. Request visits to local organizations. Find out who is successful in your field. Read about them, listen to interviews with them, and learn from them. It may or may not be possible to teach someone how to grow a business, but seeking out examples is a great first step

If possible, seek out local experts. You might find a potential new mentor. Looking up local experts is an important networking strategy. It also means you're researching the local landscape in general, which could lead you to find internship or networking opportunities.

Of course, you want to look past your local bubble. Seek out TedTalks and find YouTube channels that focus on your industry. You'll learn more from people working with real issues every day than you will from any textbook. Which brings us to…

3. Actively Practice Skills in Your Field

Reading is important, but so is learning by doing. Are you creating content? Are you performing tasks that are integral to your field? There are lots of ways to actively practice your craft, but make sure you're practicing the business side as well. Create a brand. Build a website. Make marketing materials. It doesn't have to be real, it's just good practice. It's a known educational tool to have children set up fake businesses to learn the value of work. This works for all age and education levels. While you're at it, though, you could create a business to supplement your income while you're in school. The experience will be priceless, and it could impress potential future employers.