Got a degree? No thanks, I’d rather be happy and successful

From drop outs to big wigs. Many people say “no thanks” to tertiary degrees and “yes please” to setting up success their way.

Let’s be clear though – college/university degrees are certainly not a waste of time. If you’re studying for a specific career path and you find that it suits you, great. You’re one of the lucky ones.

If however, you’re enrolled in Ancient Latin Morphology and feel that you’d quite like to be a sneaker designer then you may want to reconsider your options.

There’s no need to panic. Plenty of people from Bill Gates to your online yoga teacher have snubbed their noses at tertiary studies and decided to make a go of things by themselves.

Quentin Tarantino (film director)

The Pulp Fiction director didn’t even make it to the end of high school. He wasn’t the first student to be bored out of his mind but backed himself and dropped out at the age of 15.

Tarantino enrolled in an acting school and funded himself by working as an usher at an adult cinema. “Hey Principal Jones – nice to see you here. Looking good!”

While that was technically his first venture into the film industry, it was his next job that set him on the unlikely path to cinematic glory.

He got a gig in a video store which he proceeded to use as his own personal film school. “I thought it was the coolest place I’d ever seen in my life. The owner didn’t realize he was saving my life.”

It was as a humble store clerk that he was able to watch and dissect hundreds of movies while paying careful attention to what customers did and didn’t like.

Tarantino was cast as an Elvis impersonator on The Golden Girls which paid juicy residuals over the following years. That regular cash flow allowed him to eat while writing what would become his first hit, Reservoir Dogs.

Beyonce (singer / megastar )

Another one who was massively underwhelmed by high school. To be fair, Beyonce had been performing since she was 7 and was fairly optimistic about cracking it as a singer.

At least her father certainly was and pulled her out of high school at 16. The plan was to form a girl group and worry about trivial things like education later.

Beyonce shrugged her shoulders and said “Sure!” It is hard to concentrate on your Algebra textbook when Colombia Records are taking an interest in you.

However her mother was concerned that there were literally millions of young girls with talent in the world and the chances of making it were unlikely. She separated from Beyonce’s father.

The gamble looked to be doomed when a record deal fell through and Beyonce’s parents both felt serious financial strains.

However, later that year the drop out paid off. Beyonce and her friends were discovered by a musician and producer who helped them sign with Sony Records.

Destiny’s Child was formed and the following year they had a song in the Will Smith movie Men In Black.

Amazing what wealth can do for a struggling relationship. Beyonce’s parents soon reunited and all was forgiven.

We’re not saying money is the most important thing in life, but let’s face it – it’s probably better to have lots of it than not much of it.

The high school diploma-less Beyonce earned $250 million during her On The Run tour. That is a disgusting amount of money, if it’s not yours.

Chuck Runyon (Anytime Fitness founder)

By his own admission, Runyon was an average student at best. After struggling through high school he did what everyone else around him did and enrolled in college.


Only when he started working part-time at a gym did he get an inkling as to what the future may hold. He excelled at membership sales and the idea of developing his own business excited him.

“I like that immediate gratification and the competition within sales. I like the creativity demanded by sales and in a business.”

Ah, the real world. Runyon spotted a gap in the market and went to work.

He spoke with thousands of gym-goers and realized many people didn’t want to pay for fancy locker rooms, pools and complicated machines. They wanted 24 hour access, cheaper fees and just the necessary equipment.

Runyon set up Anytime Fitness which has become the world’s fastest growing franchise with over 3,000 gyms worldwide.

At the time of writing he is yet to express regret about not having finished college.

Adrian White (organic farmer)

if you struggle to find a link between Spanish/English literature and organic farming that’s because there isn’t one.

Certainly none that White could see as she plodded through her degree. In order to rack up credit points she had a look at environmental biology – which opened her eyes to problems in food systems and production. It was compelling.

“I realized that I wanted to learn how to grow food myself and become a farmer. And I knew I wouldn’t be able to learn a purely hands-on skillset like that in college.”

White used her final semester to learn as much as possible about organic farming from the farmers themselves. She was already dubious about the merits of a tertiary education.

“I was struggling with the concept of college – taking on debt and pursuing only jobs related to my degree.”

She quit her studies and sought out work on farms, including a 4 month stint in Ecuador. It was here that her knowledge of Spanish literature may have proven useful, although unlikely. She went on to managing and then owning farms which she does with her husband.

White is a firm believer in pursuing other options if college has no specific purpose.


“It has been mind-blowing, rewarding and has completely validated my decision. Our experience has been fantastic!”

So that’s a no, then.

Steve Jobs / Bill Gates (billionaires with an interest in computers)

It would be remiss not to mention Jobsy and BG, who are the flag-bearers for saying “I don’t think so” to tertiary learning.

To say that they were extraordinarily gifted and exceptions to the rule is missing the point. (Gates scored 1590 from a possible 1600 in his Harvard entrance test which does seem high.)

Jobs and Gates also found college unfulfilling with no discernible career path.

They had a passion they wanted to follow and dropping out was the only solution.

Their success was obviously of historical proportions, but their situation was the same as anyone who opts to pursue something meaningful.

Finishing high school is a prerequisite to get anywhere these days except perhaps for drug dealing or the circus.

College and university isn’t for everyone and the ludicrous costs are for no-one.

However the world does need teachers, doctors and engineers so please stick at it guys.


  1. Love the cheeky ingenuity of Tarantino & envious of Adrian White’s ability to forgo what seemed an appropriate career, for something where she could get her hands dirty.
    Gutsy characters, all of them & an uplifting read Hamish.

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