There are signs emerging during the COVID-19 pandemic that university students would rather make their mark in the workforce than attend virtual classes. 

With youth unemployment rates hovering just shy of 20 per cent, near the highest level of the pandemic, some students are taking matters into their own hands by following the entrepreneurship path rather than focusing exclusively on their studies.

Among those students is Harrison Snyder, a third-year media production student at Ryerson University, who thinks his time could be better spent focusing on his start-up selling vintage clothing. 

“I didn’t feel like I was getting my money’s worth for my tuition dollars,” Snyder said in a phone interview.

He's now expanding his venture, Grail Vintage, through social media platforms like Instagram to promote products, which he said has already shown promising results. 

“My business has expanded exponentially during these times and honestly I don’t know if I’d be where I am right now if it weren’t for COVID,” Snyder said.


Typically during recessions enrollment in universities increase as students look to improve their skills to gain better paying jobs. In an emailed statement to BNN, a spokesperson from The University of Toronto in Ontario said they saw a one per cent increase in enrollments, but also 225 more deferrals than in 2019. Similarly, a spokesperson from Wilfred Laurier University in Ontario said the school saw a four-per-cent increase in student deferrals year-over-year for the 2020 fall semester.

Shirin Khamisa, founder of Careers by Design, a career coaching agency, said younger adults entering the workforce through the entrepreneurship route can be considered a positive for the job market because they are creating jobs for themselves and others in a tough economic environment.

Khamisa said getting a formal education isn’t always necessary depending on the chosen field of study.

“It’s important to ask yourself what your end goal is and then ensure that whatever your education is, is going to add value to what you want to accomplish in your career,” said Khamisa.

She added that post-secondary education may look good on a resume, but practical accomplishments and skills can be equally valuable and that entrepreneurs should promote their ability to be self-starters. 

“Your degree is one part of your credentials; your track record is the rest,” Khamisa said.

Meanwhile, Filip Skotarski started his own email marketing company, Blythe Media, after dropping out of McMaster University’s computer science and mathematics program in September.

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The decision wasn’t an easy one for the 21-year-old to make in his fourth year, but Skotarski found himself dissatisfied with online learning and the lack of independence he saw in the career opportunities his degree would present.

He and his business partner now have contract employees who get paid by the hour, based on client demand. The company has been generating low-five-figure monthly profits since September, and Skotarski says they are on track to reach low-six figures this year.

“The pandemic gave me the time to reconsider what my path is,” said Skotarski, who previously interned at TD Bank and International Business Machines Corp. “This past year really is a blessing depending on how you look at it. Your perspective is everything.”

The pathway from dropout to successful business owner is well-trodden, but filled with challenges. 

Emily Lyons, a serial entrepreneur from Toronto, started her event-staffing agency, Femme Fatale, in 2009 when she was 24 years-old and with no post-secondary background. She's since started other businesses including a beauty line and a watch company.

She advises entrepreneurs who put off school to start their own business to be driven and have confidence to work towards their dream.

“Start now, don’t wait. People always wait for the perfect time, and there is never going to be a perfect time.”

For Skotarski, he is determined to follow his entrepreneurial passion and show that success doesn’t only come to people who take the traditional route.

“I want to be a poster child for somebody who has been guided by society for so long. I want to be somebody that goes the other direction and shows that it’s possible,” he said.