Question: Besides all sharing a personal net worth in the billions of dollars, what do Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, British entrepreneur Richard Branson and Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich all have in common?
Answer: They all dropped out of school (Branson actually quit high school).
So, what’s the lesson here – dropping out of school leads to great success? Hardly. But the reverse is equally untrue. Yet society continues to stigmatize those who have not completed a four year degree; in fact, Jobs, Branson, Abramovich, and other notable CEOs like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg would have a difficult time breaking through their own companies’ human resources departments (where recruiters, and even software, scan resumes in order to eliminate candidates based on predefined criteria like college education and number of years of experience).
The vast majority of America’s workforce – around 70% – has no college degree. Conventional wisdom tells us that if you want to be successful in life, you need a minimum of 120 college credit hours, preferably from a top-tier university. Yet beyond status-quo expectations and an [ever-shrinking] income disparity between workers with bachelor degrees and those with a two-year degree (or just a high school diploma), there is very little evidence to support the idea that passing a series of exams prepares someone for the “real world”, let alone gives them a roadmap for finding and pursuing their ideal career.
A recent study on the relationship between a company’s success or failure and whether or not the company’s CEO attended a top school found the following:
We … do not find a significant systematic relationship between CEO education and long-term firm performance. CEO education does not seem to be an appropriate proxy for CEO ability. Our results lead to the puzzling implication that, while CEO education appears to play an important role in the hiring of CEOs, it does not affect the long-term performance of firms.
Don’t expect the Ivy League to be spreading this information. Their exclusivity and prestige depends on their ability to project an image of superiority.
Ultimately, credit hours, grades, major and the ranking of someone’s alma mater in U.S. News & World Report have no bearing on a person’s success. Rather, success depends on an individual’s level of determination – can they discipline themselves to do what needs to be done – and whether they actually have a conviction for what they are trying to do. Of course, universities and Sallie Mae can’t make any money off that kind of advice.