It’s long been thought that the path to success is a clear one: work hard to get into a good college, excel at said college, get a degree, and the world is your oyster. But is that expensive diploma really a necessity in order to secure a future of professional triumph?
Though new data says that “Americans with four-year college degrees made 98 percent more an hour on average in 2013 than people without a degree,” these six entrepreneurs prove that the climb to the top of the ladder doesn’t have to start with a diploma.
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David Geffen, founder of Geffen Records and co-founder of DreamWorks
The old adage “fake it ‘til you make it” might just be one of David Geffen’s go-to lines. The man behind the label responsible for launching the careers of the Eagles, Aerosmith, and Guns N' Roses pretended to have a degree from UCLA in order to land a job at William Morris Agency.
Now worth more than $6 billion, Geffen had multiple, short stints at colleges before throwing in the towel and heading to Hollywood. Though Geffen may have faked a diploma from UCLA, he has donated more than $300 million to the university.
Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group
One of the world’s best known billionaires, Richard Branson was never a star in school. Though he suffered from dyslexia and never got good grades, he was passionate and had a lot of interests. As such, he quit school at age 16 to start a magazine called Student, in which he would discuss youth issues, and would later be the platform he used to launch Virgin records.
The Virgin Group is now made up of more than 400 companies, and Branson is worth $4.6 billion. When asked which was better, attending business school or starting a business, Branson said “there is so much to be learned from successes and even more from failures – and these are experiences you get only by doing.”
David Karp, founder of Tumblr
Another high school dropout turned entrepreneur, David Karp is one of the many young faces of tech that defy the norm and forgo traditional education in pursuit of success. After learning to code at 11 and getting an internship at 14, Karp dropped out of high school to work full-time. In February of 2007, he and former co-worker Marco Arment founded Tumblr, a short-form blogging network, and within two weeks, they had 75,000 users.
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In May of 2013, Yahoo! purchased Tumblr for $1.1 billion, skyrocketing Karp’s net worth to $200 million at age 26. As to why he dropped out of school, Karp cites the lack of computer science education in the New York school system: “It wasn't 'screw this.' It wasn't that I was bored. It wasn't that my friends are so lame. I was actually really enjoying school."
Anne Beiler, co-founder of Auntie Anne’s Pretzels
As a young woman growing up in an Amish community, education and a career were never of importance to Beiler. Like many other Amish youth, she completed eighth grade and went to work, and would later focus on becoming a mother and wife. That is, until the entrepreneurial bug bit.
In 1987, she started a pretzel stand at a local farmers market with the help of a $6000 loan from her in-laws. Fast forward to 1992, and the company had more than 100 franchise locations. In 2005, Beiler sold Auntie Anne’s and has since become a motivational speaker and author.
John Mackey, founder of Whole Foods
John Mackey may have dropped out of college, but he’s no slacker. With 120 units completed at both University of Texas at Austin and Trinity University, he was well on his way to graduation, but he didn’t have any interest in that. “I only took courses I was interested in, so I was missing a few required courses to receive my degree,” he recalled.
His interests might have made him stray from a diploma, but they led him to a hugely successful international business, Whole Foods. Though he dropped his salary to $1 in 2006 and donated his stock portfolio to charity, Mackey is worth an impressive $100 million at age 61.
Susan Lyne, CEO of AOL Brand Group
Though Lyne spent some time at UC Berkeley, art school, and George Washington University before calling it quits, her long and colorful career in media has proven that nothing can come between her and success.
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She climbed the corporate ladder rung by rung, beginning as an editor at Village Voice, only later to become President of ABC Entertainment, President & CEO of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, and CEO of Gilt Groupe. As if her current role as CEO of AOL Brand Group wasn’t enough, Lyne also sits on multiple boards and is mother to four daughters.
Though each of these entrepreneurs have had success many only dream about, recent findings from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that “there a $400 per week difference in earnings between those with a high school diploma and those with a bachelor’s degree” and what’s more, “there is also a substantial difference in unemployment. As of the end of 2011, high-school only workers were unemployed at a rate of 9.4% while those with a bachelor’s degree had an unemployment rate of 4.9%.”
While paving their own path may have worked for these big names, these statistics show that a college education may provide the greater population with success in the long run.