In the eight years that I've lived in New York, I still get so excited when I get an invitation to speak at a school. From elementary school programs in Harlem to the Stern School of Business at NYU, I've been able to interact with a wide range of students who are almost always interested in "how to make it in the music business."
One of the questions that inevitably always arises when I speak to high school students is: "Should I go to college"?
Coming from the rigorous academic environment at Harvard, I have no other reference besides the college-to-career pathway. Therefore, I invariably give the following advice to young people who have the elusive entertainment industry locked into their career viewfinders:
First, college provided me with an array of peers who were motivated, ambitious and hardworking. This was inspiring, especially as I observed the successes and failures associated with student elections, events, and sports. Seeing the level of passion that many of my classmates had for their special interests encouraged me to follow my own passion for music and entertainment.
Second, college provided me with an incredible mentor who encouraged me early on to embrace the internet as a distribution channel for my point of view. This alternative to the traditional pathway was one that I may not have recognized as early as I did thanks to that introduction.
Third, my degree in Government and my studies (related and unrelated) to that topic, provided me with a diverse skill set that allowed me to be eligible for gainful employment that could subsidize me while I pursued my big music break.
Fourth, the environment really prepared me to be a problem solver, giving me the critical thinking skills that are applicable to any challenge, personal or entrepreneurial. This preparation was key especially in the development of the social media strategy that was the foundation for my first major hit record.
Finally, after college (even now), I am able to tap into my peer network as they become seasoned and successful in synergistic professions. Many of my classmates have gone on to become extremely proficient in the legal, financial, and technology sectors. These are relationships that were formed when we were young adults and now we revel in the opportunity to lend our expertise and life lessons to one another.
Of course there are many exceptions to the "go-to-college" pathway. The entertainment industry is replete with Horatio Alger stories -- those who slept in cars, rebelled against the system, and danced with homelessness. For the handful of young people who have shadowed me in my mentorship program, I have done my best to impress upon them the value of being a student -- college or not.
Apprenticeships and internships are an amazing way to get real world experience in a particular field. The best ones are highly competitive and deference is given to the most phenomenal candidates. Even without the absence of incredible relationships, I always advocate any activity that will strengthen your candidacy for success. For me, college was an integral part of my formative years and yes, I would absolutely do it again.