There is little doubt that formal education is valuable; if you are in a position to pursue higher education I strongly encourage you to do so. Studies have shown a direct correlation between higher education and higher wages.
That’s wonderful news if you aspire to work for someone else. However, not having a formal education does not automatically condemn you to failure.
When I was a teenager the common belief was that in order to succeed in life one had to possess a college degree. The parents of every friend I knew assigned as much value to that belief as they did to the law of gravity.
My parents were no exception as evidenced by the disciplinary measures imposed upon me each and every time I came home from school with a bad report card. My parents had the best of intentions and for that I am grateful.
Unfortunately, in the process of encouraging good grades and higher education, the unspoken (but well understood) consequence of not pursuing a degree was a life destined to be plagued by failure and mediocrity.
My parents didn't lie to me – they told me the truth to the best of their ability as they understood it – but at the end of the day they were wrong.
For the purpose of full disclosure and honesty, I have formal degrees from good institutions of higher learning and I am proud of the fact I invested the time to pursue them. However, I did not finish my undergraduate degree until after I had created and sold my first restaurant concept.
The degree followed my success; not the other way around. When I’m asked if my formal education contributed to my initial entrepreneurial success, I can answer “no” with complete honesty.
Once again, I am not offering this insight as an indictment of formal education. There are successful people that have exceptional academic credentials, and having a formal education is of benefit if you have the desire and the resources to pursue it.
Below are some notable and successful entrepreneurs who were college dropouts. While you know these people for their successful ventures, don’t forget for a minute that they all “started from nothing” in their garages or basements.
When they dropped out of college and started their business concepts they were no different than the majority of American entrepreneurs – broke, struggling and told by others they would "never be successful."
1. Mary Kay Ash: Founder of the popular cosmetics brand Mary Kay, Inc., Ash not only did not go to college – she never saw inside the four walls of any school. Billionaire.
2. Richard Branson: Founder of Virgin Group, Branson dropped out of school when he was 16. His empire now consists of more than 400 companies. Billionaire.
3. Giorgio Armani: Founder of a popular fashion brand, Armani dropped out of medical school because he couldn’t stand the sight of blood. Billionaire.
4. Jenny Craig: Founder of the popular weight management system, Craig never went to college. Billionaire.
5. Carl Lindner: Founder of United Dairy Farmers, Lindner dropped out of high school at age 14 to help his parents deliver milk for their dairy. Billionaire.
These examples are just of a few of the thousands of success stories in which people relied on their goals and motivation instead of academic credentials. Those who dropped out of school were told at the time they would “amount to nothing.” Those who never even went to school were all but written off by society.
There are other high profile billionaire dropouts that have founded successful companies – Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), Bill Gates (Microsoft), Larry Ellison (Oracle), and Steve Jobs (Apple).
While they may be considered to be the "exceptions to the rule," there's no reason why YOU can't be the exception to the rule until proven otherwise.
I encourage everyone to pursue higher education if the opportunity exists, but it’s proven that lack of formal education won’t automatically bar you from success and prosperity.
In life, the School of Hard Knocks is just as good as an Ivy League education in the hands of those with the mindset and determination to succeed.