Matt B. is a 17-year-old high school senior in a small town in southwest Connecticut. He spends many hours studying for the SAT and keeping up his grades, which he says are just good enough to keep his mom off his back and his prospects for college strong. Matt is also a recruited athlete and expects to “go D1” for track and field. But ask him what he’s excited about, and chances are he’ll tell you about his latest video edit.
“It’s pretty cool,” says the aspiring digital creative. “I taught myself Adobe and started making short videos using sports highlights or animation clips and special effects, and set it all to music,” he adds.
“Ultimately, I want to have my own post-production business and work with networks or athletic brands,” Matt says. “But right now, I make extra money promoting my videos for free on Instragram and giving Aftereffects lessons to my followers.”
The nation’s 31.7 million small enterprises account for 99.9% of the total businesses in the United States and employ nearly half of the workforce, according to the Small Business Administration. Clearly, Matt’s not the only member of Gen Z to adopt a side hustle with an eye toward building future wealth. From stringing lacrosse sticks to giving guitar lessons, today’s high schoolers are achieving and earning more than ever before.
If you or your student wants to open their own business and plans to go to college, here’s what you need to know.
Understanding the entrepreneurship major
Getting an undergrad degree in business is a great place to start. But to thrive early – and have the best chance of launching your own enterprise after college ends – check out what it takes to graduate with a degree in entrepreneurship.
The entrepreneurship major teaches more than just finance or leadership skills. Instead, this program of study incorporates courses from a broad spectrum of curricula, from marketing to law to operations, according to The Princeton Review. And many schools require entrepreneurship majors to launch a business before graduation, giving students a great chance to test the waters while wearing a life jacket.
Finding a strong program
A strong curriculum is a great launching pad, but the best entrepreneurship programs nourish their students by building collaboration-focused facilities and providing access to tight-knit post-grad networks.
Many schools, such as Washington University in St. Louis and Stanford, make it easier for grads to find seed money to fund their ideas after school ends. And the strongest college programs, according to U.S. News and Inc., make innovation a central theme in their curricula.
Positioning your application
Grades and test scores are essential factors in nearly any collegiate application. But to make yours stand out from the stack, participate in nearby entrepreneurship-focused clubs and contests. Also, don’t hesitate to schedule entrepreneurship department tours at the schools you’re interested in so you can wow them with off-transcript business activities.
“This helped me a lot when I was applying to school,” says Matt. “I was able to share my Instagram account and explain how I taught myself how to use Aftereffects. I think it proved my interest and showed the professors how serious I am about pursuing this as a career.”
Paying for college
Discipline, whether related to personal finance or other habits successful people adopt, can make or break an entrepreneur. College loans are plentiful, but since nobody wants to graduate with tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars of student loan debt, applying for scholarships is a great place to start.
“I really have to think about the value of the degree I’m getting relative to the price tag,” Matt says, adding that he plans to apply for private scholarships to reduce his dependence on loans.
He may be in luck. Entrepreneurs in particular are well-positioned to qualify for certain unique scholarships. For example, the “Be Bold” no-essay scholarship is awarded to applicants with the “boldest profile,” according to Bold.org.
For students like Matt with a highly specialized background and a clear vision for what he wants to do next, these scholarships are a great chance to preserve future resources and get ahead of debt before it starts to accumulate so he can invest where it matters most – in himself.