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Forget About Your Prestigious College Degree

Focusing on me, not where I went to school, made me successful

Throughout my experience, I have enjoyed the great opportunity to work with young, aspiring entrepreneurs. And when they ask for advice, I can predict with almost 100% certainty, the following question: “Where should I go to school if I want to be a successful X or Y?”

Then it seems I always end up coming around to the same point:

A prestigious degree is helpful in increasing the likelihood of being successful, but it is far from a determinant of success.

I say this out of experience. And these are my thoughts on why focusing on your own development, cultivating your pre-existing skills and talents, is a more beneficial use of your brainpower than trying to figure out where (or if) to go to school.

In a way, you could say this is my argument about why tears shed over a denied admission to Harvard is a waste of water.

Confusing Association with Causation

Just because many successful people have a degree from an institution, doesn’t mean that it was the cause of their success. It is more probable that they were already in possession of the attributes, intelligence, and drive, that determined their current success — the skill set that got them into school in the first place.

The university was likely nothing more than a vessel that helped refine and perfect those skill-sets.

You will need to work harder, though, to prove to the world why you didn’t bother to go the more traditional route, but the same can be true about anybody leaving the beaten trail. The trail is beaten because it is easier and faster. But as long as the end result is high-level productivity, then you’ll be alright.

There are a few elements to keep in mind, even for those who do have the “prestigious degree”, that will be necessary to your future success:

An unrelenting focus and desire

Those that rise to the top, do so as a direct result of an intense burning desire to get there — this desire manifests itself in a deep focus of your goals and the process required to attain those goals.

It may be hard, yes. You may want to give up, true. But whether you are in school or in the workplace, without the drive to be the best at what you do, to be successful, then it won’t matter how many hours you work or how many classes you take. They won’t help you.

College classes teach you facts and formulae. Extracurriculars teach you skills. Workplace experience refine and build on those skills. So the question is begged: if you already have the skills, why re-learn what you already know?

“Hang around the hoop”

Nobody succeeds alone.

Everyone needs help and a great deal of it if they are going to succeed. The one’s who do succeed, usually understand this and make a habit of surrounding themselves with high-caliber people, the kind of people who inspire them, challenge them, and teach them something that they wish to pursue or understand better.

Here is where the old alumni network is invaluable, as these connections are immediately available to you and often strong. By continuing on to secondary education, you will definitely come to understand the phrase, “It’s about who you know, now what you know,” better than ever before.

But getting out and establishing your own connections and creating your own networks is entirely possible as well, especially in today’s digital age — you just have to make it a focus of your life and devote an increased measure of time and effort to creating it.

Refine your skill-set

Know what it is you want to do. Know what the attitudes and aptitudes you must develop are, and then pursue those with an unforgiving desire.

The person who wants it the most, who is willing to go the extra mile at every opportunity, is going to win out 100% of the time against the same person who doesn’t, regardless of their degrees.

Use this to your advantage, and hone in on what skills you need to master and go to work on acquiring them. This is where you will create a name for yourself, and it will matter more to your reputation than where you studied.

All of this can be achieved independent of a prestigious degree, if you want it bad enough you can go out and make it happen.

Some of the most successful people I know were able to do carve out a successful path without a Princeton degree, they simply outworked those who felt as though success was entitled to them.

Aaron Webber is a serial entrepreneur and CEO of Webber Investments LLC, as well as a Managing Partner at Madison Wall Agencies.

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Aaron Webber

Aaron Webber


Chairman and CEO, Webber Investments. Partner at Idea Booth/BGO.