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Pursuing an Independent or Entrepreneurial Career

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What Employers Want and What a Liberal Arts Education Offers—a Perfect Match

“The liberal arts promote an entrepreneurial mindset in students. Employers tell us they are looking for those who can solve problems, think inventively, communicate well, consider multiple and diverse perspectives, work nimbly, conduct research, analyze the past, understand the present, and imagine the future.

These tools are the fruits of a liberal arts education.”

John Coleman
Dean, College of Liberal Arts
University of Minnesota

You may be one of the growing numbers of liberal arts students who want to pursue a career path with a degree of independence and/or entrepreneurship. Perhaps you’d like to start your own business, for example, or pursue freelance/contract work, or run for political office, or launch a nonprofit organization, or blaze your own trail in some other way and be part of the gig economy.

The individual nature of these types of career paths makes them difficult to comprehensively cover on our website (or any website, for that matter!). But they are valid, worthy, realistic pursuits—and we can help you pursue them on an individual basis, through CLA’s career counseling and advising channels as well as through other campus resources.

Know, too, that many CLA alumni have gone on to do similar things. We can help you connect with them so you can learn from their experiences.

“What If I Want to Work for Myself?”

Whatever your specific independent/entrepreneurial vision, know that you are far from alone, especially these days:

  • A 2018 NPR/Marist Poll showed that “a notable proportion of American workers”—20 percent—are contract workers.
  • A 2017 study by freelancing website Upwork and independent workforce association Freelancers Union estimated that 36 percent of the U.S. workforce are freelancers and that at the current rate of growth, the majority of the U.S. workforce will freelance by 2027.
  • Many CLA alumni have taken the independent/entrepreneurial path after graduation. Learn more about those alumni and with a little help, you can track down even more CLA alums who were once in your shoes.

As a liberal arts student, you are well-suited to the independent/entrepreneurial path. You can deal with ambiguity. You can think critically. You can spot an opportunity. You can envision and create and execute. And you can present yourself, your strengths, and your ideas compellingly, pulling all the while from the Core Career Competencies that you have been developing throughout your college experience.

But you still might feel like a fish out of water—like you’re the only CLA student who has ever wanted to pursue an independent/entrepreneurial career path, and that you are therefore on your own when it comes to making it a reality.

You’re not. And you’re not.

Guidance for the Independent/Entrepreneurial Path

Talk to a CLA Career Counselor and/or Your CLA Academic Advisor

This is a time when you need someone who will listen closely—to your entrepreneurial aspirations, fears, and everything in between—and help you process them and start doing something about them.

Every person’s situation is different and complicated, and yours will be too. All the more reason to work with a CLA career counselor and/or your CLA academic advisor, who can help you directly and, just as importantly, guide you to other resources (people and informational) that can help you as well.

One other note: You CLA academic advisor or a CLA career counselor can also talk with you about the possibility of tailoring your educational program toward an independent/entrepreneurial path by pursuing a Bachelor of Individualized Studies (BIS) or an Individually Designed Interdepartmental Major (IDIM).

Talk to Your Professors Who Have Independent/Entrepreneurial Connections and Experience

Many CLA professors have their own personal experience with independent/entrepreneurial activities (current or past), and many more keep in touch with former students who have gone on to pursue independent/entrepreneurial career paths. 

The very best way to discover how to do something is to talk to people who have already done it. If they share a CLA connection with you, that’s even better.

Talk to CLA and Other UMN Alumni Who Have Independent/Entrepreneurial Connections and Experiences

The UMN Alumni Association’s Maroon and Gold Network is an ideal tool for connecting with CLA and other UMN alums, especially since its members have volunteered to share career-related advice and information with current U of M students.

Similarly, you can join the CLA alumni group on career networking website LinkedIn. You could begin your discussions with an alum via email and then perhaps talk on the phone or even meet to learn more.

Talk to Others in Your Life Who Have Independent/Entrepreneurial Connections and Experiences

Family members, friends, fellow students, work colleagues, old teachers, neighbors—a sizable percentage of them are either doing what you want to do or know someone who is.

Connect with Campus and Community Small Business Resources

The independent/entrepreneurial career path isn’t an easy one. But as many CLA students before you have discovered, it can certainly be a rewarding one—and an impactful, exciting way to leverage your liberal arts advantage. Below you will find a list of on-campus and community-based resources to help you explore and prepare for an independent/entrepreneurial career path:

  • Gary S. Holmes Center for Entrepreneurship - Check out their upcoming events, courses, and resources (No, it’s not just for Carlson students!)
  • Social Entrepreneurship Learning Module - Interested in making a difference in the world? Check out this module to learn more about how you can do this as an entrepreneur! 
  • ACARA - Social Innovation Design Lab - Do you have an idea for an organization, initiative or venture that that could address a social or environmental problem? This course is designed to help aspiring social entrepreneurs and change-makers from all disciplines develop a viable proposal for social change.
  • Lynda.umn.edu - This online database of training modules/videos is FREE for UMN students and has a lot of resources for starting and/or managing your own business!
  • Minnesota Secretary of State Business Resources - Information, resources, assistance, and legal forms for starting a business in Minnesota.
  • MN Cup - The largest statewide startup competition in the country, supporting emerging entrepreneurs from across the state through events, educational programming, and an annual competition.
  • MIN-Corps - Develops talent and catalyzes technology commercialization across the University of Minnesota through a series of courses, workshops, and boot camps.
The CLA Career Readiness Guide talks about the independent/entrepreneurial path and a host of other career-related topics in depth. Access it online, or pick up a copy in CLA Career Services or in one of the CLA Academic Advising offices.