When you start a new business, you can be grinding all day and night for years before you really start to see the fruits of your labor pay off enough to live comfortably again. Unless you just graduated college, you may feel like going back to school could help you further your mission as an entrepreneur.
I'm not here to say that's not the case, but I'm also not going to tell you that it will definitely help you. Instead, look at the bigger picture to help you decide whether or not it's worth it. Your decision will come down to a variety of factors such as: time, money, the field of study, and whether or not you can attend courses online or are required to attend in person.
What's Your Motivation?
Starting a business is difficult enough. It's undoubtedly strained some of your relationships and forced you to make some tough choices. Why are you thinking about going back to school? Is it to further your business? That's a good reason to do it. Is it because you think it could help you further your business? Unless you know for sure that a degree will help you, it may not be worth the time and effort it takes. That's not to say you can't eventually go back to school, but it may be a good idea to wait until the business is on stable ground first.
From experience, I have an A.S. degree in Interactive Media Design. I always said that I would go back for a Bachelor's at some point, and because of the trajectory of my career, thought that marketing would be a great way to go.
Has my degree helped me in my freelancing so far? To an extent, yes. I work as a web designer, but my steady gigs come from content production. Content production is a segment of web design, I suppose, but I found more joy in putting words on a page than I have did in creating the pages for the words to go on. Therefore, the degree isn't paramount to my business.
My business is still in "startup" phase after nine years, mostly because I don't have a desire to scale it, and enjoy being a one-woman show. Could it help me land better, higher paying gigs? Probably. Do I have time to dedicate to it? Probably. But the additional debt, and the time away from paying work just doesn't make it worth it to me right now. It may or may not become a priority again someday.
How Much Time Do You Need to Devote to Classes?
Sure, you may decide to only take one class at a time, to make sure you have time to handle all your other responsibilities. But, each college has their own way of figuring out the number of credit hours your course is worth. There's class time, plus homework, and in some cases, lab time, too.
A good rule of thumb to follow is two to three hours per week per credit hour in study time. Since most classes are in the three to five credit hour range, you'd need anywhere from 6 to 15 hours a week to give a single course the proper attention, without factoring in the time you're actually spending in class, too.
What About Part-Time or Night Classes?
There are a number of pros and cons to night classes. It means you can take classes at a slower pace, making it easier to accomplish more in the other parts of your life. But it also means you've got longer days, because you still need the time to be in class and study. It provides flexibility that you wouldn't find in a traditional enrollment structure, but still puts you at risk of having too much on your plate. Plus, financial aid becomes more complex when you're taking classes at less than part-time.
Are There Others Working on Your Startup With You?
If you're not the only one who's working in the startup, you've already made some progress. But, you have to consider whether or not the rest of the team can make up for what you contribute, should you decrease the time you have available to work. Think about how these other team members, whether employees or contractors, will be paid for their work while you're focused on school. Can you afford to continue to pay their salary plus your own? Can you afford to take the cut to your own salary and give the other workers more money? Can the workload feasibly be done with the size team you have?
Do You Already Have a Full-Time Job While Working on Your Startup?
If you're in the early stages of your startup, or haven't been able to secure investors to scale up faster, chances are you're working another job to keep cash flow positive while you're in the trenches. If this is the case, adding a school schedule, no matter how many classes you take at a time could be too much. If you have a family to support, too, add even more chaos to the table.
The fact of the matter is, we all only have 24 hours a day, and we can only do so much with the time, no matter how efficient we are in everything we do. Doing too much at once can lead to extra stress, burn out, and poor lifestyle choices that could reflect negatively on your health.
What Works for You May Not Work for Another
In the end, choosing to go back to school while working on your startup may be the answer for you, while it's the last thing someone else would want to do it. It's a highly personal decision, with a number of factors to consider.
You'll know when or if the time is right.