How High Schools Stifle Student Entrepreneurship

High school students are our most underutilized creative resource. Unlock their talents, and we’ll unlock innovative solutions to all kinds of challenges.


Nicholas Benavides


While high school students have the reputation for being consumed by their smartphones and social media, their creativity and ambition is often overlooked.

According to research conducted by Millennial Branding and Internships.com, 72% of high school students want to start their own business someday. In today’s economy, starting a business as a student is easier than ever. Without writing a single line of code, you can create a professional website and start selling your product online in just a few hours. And, with the popularity of social media and other free marketing channels, the barriers to entry are incredibly low.

So, if students are increasingly interested in starting their own businesses and it’s never been easier to launch a company, why do so few students act on their entrepreneurial ambitions?

The answer lies in what occupies more than 10 hours of a student’s day: School.

Students Are BUSY

High school students in the US spend, on average, nearly 7 hours a day at school. Factor in an hour’s worth of extracurricular activities, 3 hours of homework, sports practices or rehearsals, and the recommended 8 hours of sleep, and it’s easy to see why most students don’t have the time or energy to pursue other side projects or businesses. There has to be some time for fun, after all.

Students that make entrepreneurial activities a priority often find themselves walking a tightrope, balancing their schoolwork in one hand and their business in the other, leaving almost no time for other activities.

Most schools today miss out on a huge opportunity to channel students’ creative abilities towards projects that create value for their communities while simultaneously letting students explore areas that interest them.

Here are 3 key issues that prevent schools from nurturing their students’ entrepreneurial ambitions:

1. Emphasis on G/T and AP courses

At the end of the day, schools are evaluated on several standardized metrics, including average SAT/ACT stores and the number of students who enroll in AP courses to name a few. Plus, with top colleges looking for students to take challenging course loads full of AP classes, it’s difficult for high-achieving students to opt for a business course as an elective when their peers are choosing to take additional AP classes.

When I was in high school, this pressure to fill your schedule with as many AP courses as possible was very real. While I took business electives my junior and senior years, my other friends at the top of the class were taking AP Biology, AP Economics, or AP European History. I felt like I was falling behind in class rank, and I was. But, I started to learn about things that interested me so much more than the components of a cell or 16th century Renaissance art.

If you’re a high school student reading this, don’t be afraid to take that one class you’re interested in even if it’s not an AP course. That one extra AP class won’t affect the outcome of your college applications, and something you learn in your elective class might just spark an idea that helps you stand out.

2. Budget Constraints

Since the Great Recession, state and local governments have consistently cut school funding, which has significantly affected elective departments like the arts and Career & Technical Education (CTE), where most high school business courses are housed. In fact,

“At least 31 states provided less state funding per student in the 2014 school year … than in the 2008 school year, before the recession took hold.” — Center on Budget & Policy Priorities Report

With teachers trying to plan activities for more students with fewer resources, there is an increasing need for innovation and creativity in business education. Fortunately, several student-run non-profit organizations, including Blue Ocean Student Entrepreneurs and ProjectileX, host events and competitions for fellow high school students to learn more about entrepreneurship and share their ideas.

3. Curriculum Limitations

Even students who enroll in business or entrepreneurship classes aren’t given the time or freedom to tinker with new ideas and projects. Strict curriculum guidelines focus instruction on fundamental business principles such as organizational structure, finance, accounting, and marketing, which are all valuable to students who hope to start their own businesses. However, the sheer amount of curriculum does not allow for students to apply these concepts to their own ideas and fails to teach key skills such as sales, negotiation, management, and business operations.

I believe the information these courses are teaching is useful, and I’m convinced that allotting more time for creative projects where students can experiment with ideas and apply the concepts they’re leaning makes business so much more approachable, engaging, and fun. Every year at the Blue Ocean Competition, we see how excited students get when given the opportunity to share their unique ideas.

“I thought business was pretty boring before, but after doing this project, I realized that once you have an idea, your motivation propels you to do something even greater.”

— Arjun, 2017 High School Graduate

But There’s Still Hope

High school students are some of the best problem solvers that we have. They’re creative, full of energy, and aren’t afraid to dream big and try new ideas. They’re the next generation of leaders, entrepreneurs, and marketers, and many of them are already starting to found their own organizations, nonprofits, and companies.

If schools could give these students time every day to experiment in a low-risk environment, I think we’d be blown away with the results.

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If you want to learn more about the Blue Ocean Entrepreneurship Competition, check us out at http://blueoceancompetition.org!

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