Elaine Rubin is the Senior Contributor and Communications Specialist at Edvisors. She has worked in higher education finance for more than 10 years, and provides information and advice from both personal and professional experiences. Elaine holds a degree in Political Science with a concentration in Public Policy and Administration from Northeastern University.
There are no degree requirements to start a business. But you may wonder why you should consider college. Our current economy has forced a number of business owners to think about completing some courses, even if degree completion is not the end goal.
It’s no secret that typically a poor economy results in higher enrollment in college. But this particular COVID-19 crisis is far different from the recessions we have lived through in the past. As a small business owner, or someone who has dreams of opening a small business, you may find yourself in a situation where business aspirations are on hold.
In no way should this be perceived as a time to give up on your dreams, but rather a time to determine what you can do to be prepared when we get back to our “new normal.” Higher education finance expert, Elaine Rubin from Edvisors.com, has offered some information and advice on ways you can take this time to continue your education.
Chances are you are incredibly passionate about your business and how it works. Even if you built your business based on your passion, sometimes getting an education on how to run your business is a necessity to help you succeed. It doesn’t matter where you are in your education journey, if you do or do not have a degree, there are options to help you become as effective as possible.
Deciding to Continue Your Education
Believe it or not, variety is on your side when it comes to higher education. Today there are degree and non-degree programs, as well as skills training for just about anything. Programs can vary in length, and if you’re worried about your schedule when your life gets “back to normal,” you can always find a program that offers you the flexibility you need.
So the first step, why are you considering higher education? Do you want to get your degree? Or do you want to learn a skill or improve your skills that will help you succeed? Do a bit of soul searching to really nail down what you are trying to achieve.
Higher education programs will require a commitment of time, and most likely money. So you if you’re going to invest, you want to make sure you’re determined.
How to Determine Which Program Works for You
Sometimes variety can be overwhelming. You may be someone who goes to the grocery store to buy milk, and the process takes a lot longer than you thought it would because of your options. You have organic, low-fat, no fat, full fat, a variety of prices, and then you take a look over to the left and find milk from all different animals, grains, and nuts. But here’s the thing, you always figure out which one you want, and you achieve your goal of getting some milk—even if it took a little bit longer than you expected.
Although that’s a simple example of the decision making process, that simple process of shopping is similar to shopping for a higher education program. You have to find the options available to you, and ask yourself some questions about what you really want. Unfortunately the store of college programs just doesn’t exist, so you should start researching online.
First, jot down a list, determine what skill you want to learn, or the classes you want (or need) to take. Are you looking for a degree, need to get a certification for licensure, or do you just want to expand your skills and knowledge? Getting an idea of your end goal will help guide the process.
If you already own a business (or are working), then you may need to find a program that offers you the flexibility you need. Look and compare part-time options, and/or online opportunities. Many colleges and universities offer online options, even some of those big name schools. But don’t forget to look locally, there could be perfect options for you close by, if you need or prefer an in-person, or even hybrid (both in-person and online) program.
The next step, determine how much time you can devote to your program—and be honest! You don’t want to over extend yourself. Some schools offer different types of enrollment, part-time, half-time, or full-time. Part-time enrollment options are available for in-person and online programs. Every credit you earn in a program may result in several hours per week outside of class time.
If you need financial aid to help pay for school, you may have to meet enrollment requirements to qualify (for example, federal student loans require you to enroll at least half-time). If you’re an undergraduate student completing a bachelor’s degree that may mean at least a two class course load to be considered a half-time student. If you’re a graduate or professional student, some schools may consider one class to be half-time enrollment. It will vary between schools and programs.
Once you identify a few school options, you want to make sure you understand their admission and application process. While some schools may just require you to sign up and pay, other schools may ask for transcripts, test scores, letters of recommendation, essays, etc.
Higher Education Opportunities for Small Business Owners
If you still haven’t completed your undergraduate degree, you have a few options here. An associate degree takes about two academic years. A bachelor’s degree is around four academic years. If you’re returning to school as a graduate student, depending on your program, the length of time could vary. But some master degree programs can be as short as two academic years. The actual amount of time it will take you will depend on your enrollment type. And some schools may even take your work history into account as qualifying credits.
Now picking your major. As a small business owner you may want to look into some options which will help you with your business. Some schools may even offer dual degree programs, and let you work towards two degrees at one time.
Here are some ideas, which are offered at both the undergraduate and graduate level:
- Accounting or Finance
- Computer Science
Non-Degree and Certificate Programs
Not all higher education programs focus on earning a degree. These types of programs can offer skills or could be required to obtain a license in your respective field. If your goal is to open your own beauty boutique or spa, you could be required to be licensed by your state (and some state licenses may require completion of an approved program for your respective practice at an approved school). And that requirement isn’t limited to just jobs in the beauty industry, it can also apply to real estate, gaming, and some financial or tax jobs—once again these requirements could all vary by state.
Now there are lots of opportunities out there. Starting with your small business in mind, find out if you are required to obtain any specific training for certification or licensing.
If you aren’t required to take one for licensing, that doesn’t mean that looking to non-degree or certificate programs can’t be beneficial. These programs can help with continuing your education, or help you learn new skills you may need to expand your skills and grow your business.
- Small Business Management Certificate
- Entrepreneurship Certificate
- Operations Management Certificate
- Marketing Certificate
- Project Management Certificate
- Non-profit Management Certificate
Skills or Training Opportunities
Many times these programs will not be eligible for typical financial aid options, but the cost may be worth it to give you the ability to learn new skills with help and guidance. We all have areas where we want to improve, but have you caught yourself saying, “I wish I was better at….”? If you have, why not find a program that will help you get better? The more efficient you can be, the more efficiently you can run your business.
Skills training programs tend to be more low cost and not as much of a time commitment. And the type of classes can be anything from common computer programs (think Microsoft Office Suite), to soft skills training (like the art of negotiating deals). These types of programs can be held at a typical school or college, but sometimes opportunities may be available in the form of conferences or conventions.
Financial Aid Opportunities
Depending on the program, you may be eligible for financial aid. Unfortunately you can’t assume that your school will offer financial aid for all programs they offer. The best way to find out, check your potential school’s program website and look at the costs and financial aid section. And like we discussed before, your enrollment status (full-time, half-time, and part-time) could affect your eligibility for some forms of financial aid.
If your program is eligible for federal financial aid, then you would need to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®). The FAFSA is the application used for not only federal student aid, but it may be used by your state or school to provide additional financial aid opportunities.
Along with federal financial aid, you may want to explore grant and scholarship opportunities. Although some state grants only require the FAFSA, some states may require an additional application.
As a small business owner, higher education can help you succeed and remain competitive. It’s not the path everyone takes, but it could help boost your confidence and your bottom line.
This article was originally written on June 3, 2020 and updated on June 16, 2022.