Do I Have to Go to College to Be Successful?

It’s a proven fact that a person with a college degree will earn a million dollars more than a person who has a high school diploma over a lifetime.  The higher a degree you have, statistically, the more you will earn.  But, does more money equate success?  What does success mean?  The official definition of success is “the favorable or prosperous termination of attempts or endeavors”.  A secondary definition states that success is “the attainment of wealth, position, honors, or the like” (

So it seems that depending on what success means to you, determines how you measure your success.  So if you can be prosperous or attain wealth without going to college, then the answer to my question is No!  Can college help you to be successful, yes, but it is not the only way to be successful.  Take a look at these famous people who did not earn college degrees (please note that I am NOT promoting dropping out of high school):

Tom Anderson, co-founder of MySpace. A high school dropout.

Mary Kay Ash attended college but dropped out after she got married. She started Mary Kay Cosmetics after being passed over for a promotion that was given to a man who she’d trained. The company started as a book Mary Kay intended to help women and turned into a business plan. With the help of her son and $5,000, Mary Kay Cosmetics was created. Mary Kay Inc. was named one of Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work for in America and one of the 10 best companies for women.

Halle Berry is an Oscar-winning actress who never went to college. Instead, she moved to Chicago immediately after high school to become a model and actress. She ranked #66 on Forbes’ Celebrity 100 in 2006 and reportedly made $16 million that year. Berry is also a spokeswoman for Revlon cosmetics and was able to command a higher advertising fee after winning an Academy Award.

Michael Dell, the founder and CEO of Dell, Inc., dropped out of college at 19. He first started his computer company in his college dorm room, later using company’s earnings and family loans to expand. In 2008, Forbes ranked Michael Dell #11 in its 400 Richest Americans. As of 2009, he has an estimated net worth of $12.3 billion.

Henry Ford never graduated high school, but went on to start one of the largest automobile manufacturing companies in the world, Ford Motor Company. He’s also credited as being the first auto manufacturer to use an assembly line, completely revolutionizing the way cars were produced. The assembly line allowed Ford sell cars at a lower price but the company kept making higher profit because sales volumes continually increased. Time called Ford one of the most influential people of the 20th century.

Bill Gates, a college dropout, has been named the richest person in the world by Forbes magazine 27 times. Bill Gates, who was 10 points away from a perfect score on the SAT, enrolled at Harvard College in 1973 only to take a leave of absence two years later to form a partnership with classmate Paul Allen. The partnership became known as Microsoft. In 2007, Bill Gates received an honorary doctorate degree from Harvard University. In 2009, Forbes reports Gates’ net worth at $40 billion.

Rachel Ray hasn’t had any formal culinary training, including college, but has several cooking shows on the Food Network, a talk show on NBC, several New York Times bestselling cookbooks, and her own magazine. She got her start teaching cooking classes to customers at Cowan & Lobel, a gourmet market in Albany, New York. The classes showed customers how to cook meals in 30 minutes or less. In 2008, ranked Rachel Ray #76 in Celebrity 100, reporting her earnings at $18 million a year.

Steven Spielberg, is a movie director and producer. Spielberg was denied acceptance to film school and dropped out of California State University in Long Beach. He co-founded DreamWorks, a major film studio that’s produced several of the highest grossing movie hits and Academy award winning films. Spielberg ranked #205 on Forbes 2009 list of world billionaires with a net worth of $3 billion. He was later granted an honorary degree by USC in 1994.

Mark Zuckerberg, founder of the social networking site Facebook #785 in the World’s Billionaires ranks #321 on Forbes’ list of 400 richest Americans. Born in 1984, Mark had an estimated net worth of $1.5 billion in 2008 and is the youngest person ever to appear on one of Forbes’ billionaire lists. He developed Facebook one year on summer vacation after borrowing money from Paypal’s co-founder Peter Theil. In 2008, Microsoft paid $240 million for 1.6% share of Facebook, leading us to believe the site is worth $15 billion.

Warren Buffett actually never planned to go to college; out of high school, he was already earning a solid salary delivering newspapers. However, Buffett’s father pressed the issue and convinced Buffett to attend Wharton Business School at the University of Pennsylvania. Buffett was not satisifed with the quality of education at Wharton and transferred to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln he graduated in only three years, despite working full time.

And finally, the only famous black male who I could find that didn’t earn a degree, but is very “successful”…Sean Combs attended Howard University in Washington, DC where he majored in business. While at Howard, he became an intern at Uptown Records and eventually dropped out of Howard University in favor of a full time high-level position with the record label. Combs did not complete his education and still has not received his degree.

One common thread with these people is their drive and determination to make their dreams come true.  In addition to their drive and determination, they also had a plan.  They didn’t get to where they are today by sitting on the couch and playing video games, or sitting at home waiting for someone to call them to say, “You’ve won a million dollars!” They got out there, hustled, and did their thing to get to where they wanted to be in their industry.

Going to college definitely will open up doors for you, and it can make things easier, but it is not the only way to be successful.  You can even talk to recent college graduates who get their shiny degree, but end up working in an entry level job; probably doing tasks that they could have done right out of high school.  So the grad probably starts thinking, “Why did I go to college?”  Well, that basic entry-level job probably required a college degree!  And, if you’re smart, you take an entry-level job in the industry that you want to be in, so that you have opportunity to build your resume, do a little volunteer work on the side, and maybe after 18 months you start applying for other jobs in that company.  Your dream job/career is not going to be handed to you, unless you inherit it from your daddy; but really how likely is that to happen?  You gotta go out there and get it!  I believe the real truth behind success is self-confidence and belief in yourself that you can take over the world.

Be prosperous!

3 Replies to “Do I Have to Go to College to Be Successful?”

  1. GREAT article and information. There are so many of us out there who feel as though we need something “official” from a “big” school that will automatically open doors for us. Not always the case. Sometimes, we just gotta sneak in the back or kick in the front door!

  2. True indeed! People think that just going to college makes you smart or successful. Being educated is seeking knowledge and applying it-which can also come from experience. I’ve seen plenty of fools get degrees. They kept their head in the books and were oblivious to the world around them so they often lack common sense.

    I define success by having a dream and fulfilling it. Setting a goal and making strides everyday to achieve that goal. If college is what you need to do in order to do what you want to do, then do it. You gotta play the game to win it.

  3. It’s an intriguing approach. I commonly see minimalist judgments on the matter but yours it’s written in a pretty special way. For sure, I will revisit your site for more info. Greetings from Durham

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