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Can You Succeed in Business without a College Degree?

Succeeding in business without a college degree, at first, can sound impossible and even preposterous.

After all, the culturally acceptable path and the generic, canned advice to any youngster interested in pursuing a career in business usually goes like this: “Get good grades in high school, participate in extra curricular activities, attend an accredited university, and graduate with a bachelor’s degree (at least) that is related to your field of interest.” Sound familiar?

While the decision to attend college is the most popular path to succeed as a business owner, it is also expensive, time consuming, and there are no guarantees you will be happy and/or successful.

This begs the following questions, “Is attending a university really the best path for me as a young entrepreneur? What will help me succeed in business more: working towards a bachelor’s degree, or taking what I learn from the school of hard knocks and applying it to my small business?”

While it is undeniable that there are countless successful businessmen who are well-educated, it’s important to note that there are also many wildly successful businessmen who haven’t gone to a day of college or dropped out of college to pursue business goals. There are even some successful businessmen who dropped out of high school!

When it comes right down to it, it’s hard to argue that attending a university is always a rewarding experience that provides you with a well-rounded background and gives you knowledge and skills you may not develop elsewhere. College is not the surefire, one and only key to building a successful business.

To truly succeed in business, it’s important to evaluate your situation, determine what type of characteristics and talents you have, and see if you have what it takes to thrust yourself right into business without a formal education.

Here are some real-life examples of people who have succeeded in business, the qualities they possessed, and the advice they give other prospective business owners. Hopefully, these examples will help you decide which path is better for you as you decide whether to start your career at university or elsewhere.

Steve Jobs, Apple Inc. – Vision and Persistence

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You know Steve Jobs as a brilliant billionaire, co-founder of Apple Computer, Inc., and the reason behind your precious iPhone. What many don’t know is, and you may want to sit down for this, Steve Jobs is also a college dropout. Gasp!

Jobs attended Reed College for one semester, became interested in Eastern spiritualism, dropped out, and took a part-time job designing video games for Atari. I know, it sounds like something that would make any mother worry. Jobs, however, had an undying passion for building computers, and a very real vision “to get a computer in the hands of everyday people,” as he puts it.

Though there’s obviously much more to this, a quick summary of how Jobs accomplished building the Apple Empire includes holding onto his vision and working persistently through ups and downs for over 25 years. He started off in his parents’ garage with Steve Wozniak, and as we all know, succeeded at getting a computer (and many other smart devices) into the hands of everyday people, just as he knew he would.

If you have vision and are committed and persistent, then don’t be afraid to follow your dreams until they become a reality.

Other notable billionaire dropouts include:

  • Bill Gates
  • Richard Branson
  • Michael Dell
  • Mark Zuckerberg
  • Dave Thomas

Simon Cowell, Producer – Never Back Down and Learn to Take Criticism

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Everyone recognizes Simon Cowell as the man who certainly can dish it out to young performers, but part of the reason he has become a successful billionaire producer, music executive, and entrepreneur is because he can also take it.

His formula for success, in his own words, is as follows, “Work hard, be patient, and be a sponge while learning your business. Learn how to take criticism. Follow your gut instinct and don’t compromise.”

As an entrepreneur, Simon Cowell is the embodiment of learning to take criticism, working hard, being patient, following his instincts, and not compromising. As a young man, he was expelled from school, didn’t enroll in any other school, failed at starting two separate companies, had a few failed television and music endeavors, but held on to his dreams of building a record label.

As he continued to work hard, and trust his instincts about what would resonate well with people, he went from dropping out of high school to owning a small record label and eventually producing hit shows like Teletubbies, Pop Idol, and American Idol.

As you pursue your passions, remember to follow the advice of Simon Cowell, because no matter how annoying and down right rude he can be, we all know he is right when he says someone straight up can’t sing. We also trust him when he says they can. As such, his advice rings true for making it in business. If you want to get where you know you can, you have to:

  • Work hard
  • Be patient
  • Learn from others
  • Learn to take criticism
  • Follow your instincts
  • Refuse to compromise

Other notable artsy type dropouts:

  • Ellen DeGeneres
  • Beyoncé
  • Brad Pitt
  • Oprah
  • John Lennon

What about Regular People?

Okay, okay, so far we have talked about people like Steve Jobs and Simon Cowell, and it’s easy to write them off as the lucky famous few who made it big. It’s true; it can be difficult to identify with famous people like Steve Jobs, Oprah, Simon Cowell, and Beyoncé. But, it’s important to remember that A) these people didn’t start out famous, and B) regular people can become out of this world successful, even if they never have the paparazzi following them.

Don’t believe me? Check out the following success stories of people who are just like you and me.

Monique McLean, Young Living – Thinking Outside the Box and Turning Passion into Business

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Monique McLean, the cream of the crop among Young Living Essential Oil independent distributors, is the perfect example of a woman who started off studying in college, received an associate’s degree in nursing at Jefferson State Community College, and then left college to pursue passions that were outside of the norm — including network marketing.

Before being introduced to Young Living Essential Oils, she had never been involved in network marketing, and only decided to pursue the business because she fell in love with Young Living’s products, namely the essential oils. As Monique continued to learn how to use these essential oils, she noticed her friends and family were constantly approaching her about how to use the oils as well. Finally, she decided her passion for healing through essential oils was a hobby that could potentially turn into a lucrative business.

As she became a Young Living business leader, she focused her business building strategy on helping others enjoy the benefits of essential oils. By focusing on helping others, as evidenced by the help and direction offered on her own personal business blog, she has built a profitable business, and helped countless others do the same.

Through hard work, approaching business from a service angle, and constantly thinking outside of the box, Monique has become one of the most successful network marketing business professionals with Young Living Essential Oils, and this is something you can do too.

As we learn from Monique, one of the best ways to build a business is to find something you are passionate about, and sell it to others with the purpose of helping them improve their lives. This can come in the form of offering a product (be it through network marketing or a retail store), offering training and education courses on places like Udemy or your own personal business blog, or offering a service. For example, if you’re great at fixing cars, an internship at an auto body repair shop may be a much better option than 4 years studying Psychology.

Christie Somers – Turning your Talents into your Profession

christie somers hair and makeup

Another example of a successful entrepreneur who didn’t go to college but has fashioned a successful career is hair and make-up artist Christie Somers.

As a young girl, Christie had a love and a knack for color, style, art, and making anything beautiful. Rather than pursuing a traditional education, she went to trade school, and learned how to do hair and make-up. After completing hair school, she worked as an assistant in New York City’s popular Cutler Salon, until being offered a full-time gig there.

By immediately recognizing her natural talent for color and style, and pursuing a career where her natural talents lie, Christie has been able to secure a ritzy clientele base including people like Ann Romney and many actresses and models.

If you have a talent for music, design, style, or anything similar, consider what the best path is for turning your natural talents into your career path. This may, or may not, include college.

To Go, or Not To Go?

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The examples above are just a few examples of people who have chosen a successful path that didn’t include college. Now, it’s up to you to decide what path is best for you. Additionally, I would love to hear what you think. Do you think college is necessary for building a successful career, or do you think it’s better to take what you learn from the school of hard knocks and apply it to business? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

To learn more about how to succeed in small business, please visit our blog at Shield Funding today.