According to the Forbes 400 list, over 98% of the richest people in the world have at least a bachelor’s degree and nearly 45% majored in engineering or business. Yet times are changing, and now more than ever, the wealthiest at the top of the list took a leap of faith and hold no institutional credentials.

Many of them started the journey to the classroom but did not finish. They knew there was something better waiting for them and wanted to seize it. From the fashion to the space world, these are diverse individuals who didn’t settle for safety.

To be clear, there is no right or wrong way to go about the educational path. Everyone has their reasons for attending and more often than not, it’s decided by parents. If you go through HS and complete your MBA, great for you — but it still doesn’t certify success nor financial independence, especially these days when tuition is only rising with inflation and the government has no cap on how much a student can borrow. Thankfully wages keep up with higher prices but not by much and certainly will make it hard for you to land a spot on the Forbes list working for someone else.

I’m afraid my fellow colleagues have become too reliant on school, that once they jump into the real world, they will realize their annual income for the first few years most likely won’t make a dent in their debt, something they’ll have to monitor until middle-age.

With more companies, predominantly in the tech and IT industry such as Tesla and even Google offering positions with no degree requirement, this is a hopeful alternative strategy for boost-strapped families but it does come with disadvantages including the cost of wasted time and too high expectations since there’s no guarantee the student will get the position of their dreams just by applying. If we could, almost everyone would prefer to save $400k but the safe path is still too satisfying. I predict colleges a.k.a businesses will always be in demand since there will always be someone who wants a degree. Institutions are one of the few business models that can gauge prices each year and still drive hefty profit, even during a pandemic!

More Risk = More Return?

Yet as with everything, going through the college route is something you must consider for yourself. There’s a risk to reward payoff for everything. In your portfolio, the more risk you take as an investor, the more return you COULD have, never guaranteed except for U.S. gov’t debt, the most secure investment yet of course with a small yield for that reason. Hedge funds offer this promise yet due to their lengthy lock-up period, extreme moves in hedges, margin plays, and risky bets, they could lose big just like Melvin and Archegos Capital which lost 50% of its value due to underestimating AMC, Blackberry, and GameStop in late January.

That’s the game of life and what the rich play daily. The more shots you take, the likelier you are to win and get addicted. In terms of education, it’s a different story. Seriously, no matter where you go, what you put in is what you get out. Just listen to Malcolm Gladwell who’s proven Harvard cannot be better than the University of Toronto.

A person carrying a leather briefcase

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Education = Pay

To be clear, education isn’t solely what’s learned on the chalkboard or these days via Google Classroom. Students shouldn’t become comfortable and dependent on the teacher or the textbook. School isn’t the real world and until a student can really learn to make mistakes, become comfortable with being embarrassed, fail, and not be focused on the GPA starting in Kindergarten, they will most likely be better off according to the Forbes nominees who all had to take these frightening yet rewarding steps to move past the crowd. There is endless proof that students who take risks and learn outside of the classroom make it further but the degree may help in that regard as well especially since the real world involves people. It’s not always about what you know, but who you know and colleges are prime spots for that.

There’s no cap on how much you can or will make with or without a degree. It is unlimited as with a degree but the piece of paper convinces students they MUST make a base salary that can keep up with inflation and convince their parents they will be more successful than them, parents’ ultimate dream.

Putting down a deposit and going into debt lures students into believing they will get an immediate ROI just by attending which can be dangerous considering the work is mostly outside of the books with the people, experiences, clubs, internships, and activities. It’s what you can’t do on your own that counts.

The bottom line: The more you can learn and invest in yourself each day, whether it’s through reading or networking, the better off you will be.

Education should be taken at your own pace and that’s what the people who own a majority of the wealth in this nation have capitalized on. They have mastered the art of not relying on anyone or anything. Salary doesn’t come first, impact and value do. Tinker, test, and experiment — don’t follow the rules and get caught up on the test score.

You can’t take everything so seriously and have to take a larger lens into your life. That’s what learning is really about and students would learn much more and enjoy their experience if they weren’t afraid to fail at something new.

Simple and Sweet

The more you know, not in terms of IQ rather EQ, non-cognitive, people, hard and soft skills, the easier your life can be. Strive to be an open-minded generalist knowing a little about everything, not a close-minded specialist who knows too much about a little.

People skills are everything and sadly not appreciated enough in the classroom. There are no 500 person lectures or pop quizzes every day at work it’s all team-based. Interviews happen between people, not computers.

One of the questions I hope to answer confidently when I graduate in 2023 is, “am I someone I genuinely want to work with and be around?” Simple as that, yet, oftentimes not even considered in school since it’s not strictly ‘academics’.

Much of the work involved in business to the arts is networking and being of value. Clients want to know you are the best in your field and want to be sold on the product that can help better their lives. The price doesn’t matter if you are more likable than someone else with a more decent offering. Brands have proven that they can charge $60k for shoes and someone will buy them.

It’s up to you to tell them WHY they need it and that comes with knowledge.

Two coworkers laughing and high-fiving

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Is Education the Problem or Solution?

Knowledge is power after all. Ditch the textbooks and construct, experiment, and make something. Prove to yourself, no one else, you can do more than just pass a test that means very little down the road and rarely indicates success beyond the institutional walls.

Make your life easier. Identify a problem you have. Don’t buy it and let someone land a seat on the Forbes List. You create it yourself.

We can all predict the obvious accelerated earnings trend of those with higher degrees.

Although those with higher degrees indeed tend to earn more throughout their lifetime, considering their family was already well-off able to dish out enough till a Ph.D., clearly it isn’t evident amongst everyone. These surveys are results for the majority of the population but after all, to be in the top 10% or above, you are a small percentage of the population, and remember, what you earn today, most likely won’t be where you end up.

So what can I do to earn more with no formal education?

Every day you should prioritize investing in yourself. It’s underrated but vital since it compounds tremendously. Every piece of knowledge, even a fact can take you places. It multiplies. One fact can help you land a job or have you use it in a tweet that ends up being retweeted a billion times. You never know so keep prioritizing yourself.

Next, reach out to your network. If you are this far into reading this, you are already one step ahead. You have people who support you because someone must have helped you get here and is interested in learning. People are everything and can make or break your career. More often than not, they are friendly and want to lend a hand.

Next, I would hold off on the business for now. Side-hustles are attractive but scary. They take several years to build up with no immediate payout. As a result, focus on securing a steady job, any job to just pay the bills. It probably won’t be at the salary you desire but at least it will help you stay grounded and get back on your feet. Starting from scratch can be scary but doesn’t have to be if you have a purpose and utilize your outside time effectively.

This is a good framework if you are stuck in a ditch. Plan for the worst, hope for the best, and align your risk just like investors. If school is too expensive, I wouldn’t suggest getting into more debt, especially if you don’t have a secure salary and not enough time. And remember, hard work doesn’t happen overnight, and where you are today doesn’t indicate where you will be.

We all started somewhere and get an idea of how to get your feet off the ground will prepare you more than any other economics class since they preach scarcity not abundance which is a false belief.

There’s an abundance of money in this world and it has gone to the hands of people who are less qualified than you. Luck and timing play the biggest roles.

With preparation and opportunity, success will eventually come but only if you are patient and do what no one else does now to live like no one else later.

Stay curious.

About the author: Mia Gradelski

Hey I’m Mia, a NYU student passionate about blogging what’s on my mind all finance, tech, lifestyle-related. I'm also an investment analysis intern here at Atticus!

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