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Will Starting a Company look good on a college application?

By Laurie Stach

September 15, 2015

Chris Peterson startup college admissionsWill Starting a Company look good on a college application?

Running an entrepreneurship program for high school students at MIT, I have faced this question either directly or indirectly from both applicants and students of LaunchX. Applicants want to know if attending will give them a better chance of getting into MIT, while program alumni are assessing how much of their time to balance on different aspects of college applications versus continuing their companies. In light of this question, I’ve spent some time gathering input from admissions directors, in addition to using my own experience reviewing applications, to provide an answer.

The short answer:  No. Getting into college or putting “Founder” on your resume cannot be a key deciding factor in whether or not to start a company. But what DO admissions committees care about? And what ARE the reasons to start (or continue) a company? (And do these two overlap?  Spoiler alert: they do!)

What College Admissions Care About

Chris Peterson from MIT Admissions speaks during our program, advises LaunchX, and offers additional excellent perspective in his blog: “Here’s what you need to understand: There is nothing, literally nothing, that in and of itself will get you in to MIT.” He advises that the keys to college admissions come down to intellectual curiosity, interpersonal skills, and passion. Read more in his blog post here.

Reasons to Start a Company

The top reasons to start a company come down to one key thing – PASSION.  It could be a passion for innovating and building cool things, passion for helping people, or passion for solving large scale problems. Whatever the underlying drive or passion, it needs to fuel you through the inevitable ups and downs of any startup.

The Overlap

Matt McGann, Director of MIT Admissions, says “At MIT, people care about who you are, what you can do, what kind of stuff gets you excited.” “People make a big deal about test scores. No one seems to believe me when I tell them that when I’m reading an application, I just glance at the test scores to get a sense of them before moving on to the more important parts of the application — that is, who you are.”  (Read more from Matt here.)

venn diagram of college admissions and starting a companyKey Insights

If who you are or aspire to be is an entrepreneur, then start a company.  Set aside time for it as though it’s any other extracurricular with weekly meetings and milestones.  Just like any other extracurricular, it shouldn’t be done to build your resume, though it can be a great opportunity to display your passions and intellectual curiosity in a distinguished way.

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