Open Discussion: Does a Degree Improve Your Chances of Succeeding Online?

By Daniel Scocco

Let’s kick start this week with an open discussion. Do you think that a college degree will improve the chances of someone succeeding online?

Now, I do know that having a degree is not necessary. This is beyond discussion, since you have plenty of examples of people that made it big on and off the web, and had no degree whatsoever.

My question is if having a degree will improve your chances, as opposed to getting started on the Web right after high school.

Suppose you have two men with the same intellectual capabilities and skills. The first one goes to college to obtain a degree, while the second one starts working full time on the web right after high school. After 4 years the first one will also start working full time on the web, but with an academic background.

After 10 years, which of the two men will be more successful?

Honestly I think that the second one will. I think that four years spent with direct and real work experience will prepare someone much better than four years spent studying economics, business, marketing or whatever.

There are people that claim otherwise though. They defend that a degree, regardless of the knowledge that you will get and which might or might not prove useful in the future, will give you methods for thinking, solving problems and researching information.

My counter argument to that is that direct work experience will also provide you with those tools and frameworks for thinking and solving problems, just in a different way.

I asked a some friends of mine who are pretty successful online, and here is what they answered:

Lee Dodd (has an online forums empire estimated at $15 million):

No high school diploma. I did go to college early at 16 years old but dropped out after a year and went to work, good old pizza delivery.

Zac Johnson (affiliate marketer):

I started making money online while I was 15 and still in high school. I went to a local community college for a semester to check it out, but it really wasn’t that beneficial and I was already busy with my existing business. I actually ended up speaking at a few of my college classes for the semester I went. 🙂 To answer your question, no I don’t think it’s necessary, but it is very rare to find people successfully make a living off online marketing.

Frank Feingold (has a hosting company)

I think a degree adds credibility (and therefore possibly success) if there is a degree / certification. For example if you discuss real estate on-line it would help to be a licensed realtor. In other areas there are no degrees / certifications so experience is more important.

Cory Miller (web designer)

Here’s my thoughts: Not necessarily. I think having a college degree in general helps open doors and provides you with a base of learning.

But so many of us doing work online are self-taught. We’re voracious, life-long readers. We eat blogs and dead trees to improve our knowledge.

Trent Hamm (blogger)

A degree helps only in the sense that it provides them domain knowledge. For example, if you’re a history blogger, a degree in history would help you.

I think a college degree benefits anyone if it forces them to think. But I think many people skate by with some short-term memorization. If that’s all you get out of it, and you’re not entering a field where that piece of paper is part of the cost of admission, then college doesn’t help.

Suppose you had a son and he wants to work with the Internet. He is already building sites, blogs and what not. Would you tell him to go to the university anyway, or would you tell him to start working full time on the Web?

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50 Responses to “Open Discussion: Does a Degree Improve Your Chances of Succeeding Online?”

  • SEO Genius

    Quite a good question you have here and very very relevant to my current situation as i am off to University in September.

    There are many factors which would give the first and second person advantages and disadvantages some of these that i can think of are:

    First man: This person has 4 years more experience in the online business, however realistically the second person would probably spend part of their time on the internet too giving them a smaller advantage. The first person would have more time to take advantage of current niche’s or markets which are not yet saturated take for example the blogging world, ten years ago if half of your readers including myself were to develop our blogs back then, then we would have more chances of being succesfull as the market was less saturated and content had not been created areas had not been uncovered or discussed in as much depth as now.

    Secondly as the guy only has GCSE’s they may be motivated to do well in the online business as they may not find it as easy to get a job in the real world with only GCSE’s. With more and more people going on to further education and a larger competiting world of people with degrees it is becoming much harder for high school graduates to seek jobs.

    Thirdly the stress and unstable lifestyle of a webmaster may be too much for the guy this may have an affect on his efficieny towards their work or whole life.

    Now secondly we have the University graduate, well you said that they start getting online after University but i think most if they are interested would dabble in the internet business much earlier on. Therefore the basic experiences of internet business would be gained much earlier, closing the gap of experience between the two people.

    A degree with all the oppurtunities that follow may help the person develop social skills, writing skills, communication skills a larger mass of general knowledge and awareness to the real world. Experience in both real world business and interner business contacts and a hell of a lot more. Now this on its own i would say it was safe to say the degree person would have a better chance.

    The degree person would also have a degree to fall back on if the internet business was to fail and they would find it relatively easy in comparison to the high school graduate to find a job which could support them and perhaps their girlfriend or family.

    In conclusion it is a large generlisation to say that the degree graduate would have a higher chance of success due to their degree in comparison to the person who left high school and went straight in to the business.

    If the high school graduate was motivated perhaps not academic yet business minded or was creative or had years of experience in design and coding then that would give them a larger chance. In comparison the degree graduate could be largely academic yet could be lacking in general knowledge, they could struggle to grasp the coding languages and internet world. They may feel pressured or stressed they may lose money because they have to pay designers and coders, they may be following others like a sheep in to markets that are saturated and bound to not make them millions.

    This is just my thoughts.

    Will.

  • Bilingual Blogger

    Didn’t we already discuss this topic at length a few months ago?

    http://www.dailyblogtips.com/do-you-really-need-to-go-to-the-university/

    Also, there’s an online forum empire worth $15 BILLION?? How come this guy isn’t making the cover of Fortune, Forbes, Inc. and Entrepreneur magazines?

  • Jacob from JobMob

    No, or at least not in most cases.

    First of all, any education is only useful if you know how to apply it in the real world. Many people get degrees and then do something completely different for better or for worse.

    Second, which degree would be most useful for blogging? English Literature? Computer Science? Different areas of study might improve certain blogging skills for you such as writing, research, etc., until there’s a degree in Blogging like there is in Journalism, it’s a moot point.

  • Keith

    I think for some people, it really won’t matter. If you are like Lee, and doing your own thing, you can get by without the degree, and learn as you go. But if you intend to get hired by any decent size company, the degree is a near must.

    I have an MBA, and it has been invaluable for me, I wouldn’t do it any other way. I could probably have gotten by without it, but it would have been a longer/tougher road.

    I have a son, 16, who already holds down an internet job and another part time summer job. He will go to college, no matter what. I know he intends to do something internet based, and hopefully that will be his part time job during school. For me, the degree gives you options that you otherwise do not have. If the internet thing works out, great, if not, at least he has a college degree and isn’t staring at 50 hours a week behind a 7-11 counter.

  • Daniel Scocco

    @Will, so summing up do you think the answer is yes or no? 🙂

    @Bilingual Blogger, well the question we discussed before was if going to the university was necessary, in general. This time I want to focus on having success online and its correlation to having a degree.

    Sorry for the billions typo, just fixed it.

    @Jacob, I agree, though blogging is only a small part of all the things one could go online. But I guess your example would hold for most of them anyway.

    @Keith, I don’t think there is such a thing as the Internet thing not working. Just like you can get fired from a job, your online projects can fail. That does not mean you would be out of luck though. Once you know the ropes around the web it would be pretty difficult NOT to be able to earn at least an amount to eat and pay the rent.

  • SEO Genius

    Ha sorry i realise i did not really come to a conclusion i just think there are too many facts which would influence each person.

    Overall i think its not whether or not you have a degree or any grades at either GCSE, Alevels, Masters, degrees or anything else its whether or not you have the motivation, perserverance and attitude to stick with it or not.

    However in this case i feel that going down the same path myself the degree graduate has the higher chance of success.

    Will.

  • Todd Andrews

    It does not directly improve your chances, but it does indirectly. Having a degree likely means you are more capable of writing good sentences and articles. You are somewhat more capable of networking with others, working in a group or adhering to a schedule. There are a lot of minor issues you are more able to handle, in other words.

    It does not have a direct relationship, though.

  • Andrew Vazzano

    Right now, I’m using my blog to perfect my skill. I’m a journalism major in college, so keeping a blog helps me write.

    The best way to learn is to do, so while I am going to school, I also maintain my blog. It’s a great experience and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

    Plus, college is more than just classes. It helps you live on your own and socialize with other people. I’d reccomend it.

  • Dean

    It probably boils down to whether you want to work solely for yourself, or for someone else. The “successful” guys who don’t have degrees all (with maybe an exception, I dunno) make it big on their own terms, with their own names. Things from affiliate marketing to blogging to Facebook & Micro$oft are led by the guys who don’t have degrees, but the guys that work FOR them and make loads of dough are almost always very educated.

  • David Hobson

    I dont believe a degree makes any difference to your chances of success online if you are to go it alone.

    I think the only time a degree might help is if you want to go and work for a big company.

  • DJ @ Fermentarium

    Having a degree means you can start something difficult and can see it to conclusion, especially if you have a higher degree.

    I’ve been hired for several internet jobs because I had a degree. After the bubble burst, many places would not hire someone unless they had a degree. One employer said “if you can’t finish a degree, how do I know you can finish the work here?”

    Many people in my field (software development) without degrees can be successful, but many times they know how to do something but not why because they do not have the foundations from a undergrad degree. They just were taught “that’s how you do it” from a programming book.

    This does not mean you can’t be successful, but without a degree I think you are making the playing field much more difficult for yourself.

  • Hungama

    In my onion, having a degree DOES NOT make any difference on your online earnings. For example, I know one of my friends who is just a graduate and earns almost $1000 per month from various things online. However I, being a MBA, earn just over $200 per month!!! Now where does the necessity of having a degree comes! What it takes, I think, is perseverance, knowledge, and simply the will to make it big online. These are the only prerequisites to be successful online. Everything else is just an excuse.

  • Peter

    I’ll be brief.

    A good university – a great generator of ideas and experiences, if sufficient attention is paid to practice and work. The fact is that the University (college) provides great opportunities for communication, and communion – one of the components of success, as well as personal or collective. Recall least Brin and Page.

    I think the combination of university and work is immediately for success.
    Besides, university friends – good friends, I tell you 🙂 And such good friends may well help in any endeavour – so the success’ll be achieved 🙂

  • Medical Transcriptionist

    The answer is a firm no.

    Education is just like the birds teaching their babies to fly but who teaches the baby fish to swim? Often, the college degrees are like teaching swimming on paper!

    In my opinion, the first one is a baby bird and the second one a baby fish.

  • Dave

    Your argument is based upon the structure of the internet remaining in its current form in the future. As a technology, it is still in its infancy.

  • AC

    I believe that work experience beats time spent in classrooms. My earliest full time jobs were in libraries, both public and academic, where I saw college students as well as graduates with degrees whose writing/language skills were stunningly lacking. I worked on a college campus for nearly a decade, and had many student employees. Even the English majors and education majors were sorely lacking in their ability to construct decent sentences. I had more than a few of them come to me complaining about their “grammar Nazi” teachers, as if these teachers were making irrational demands by requiring them to write coherently and correctly. I frequently receive e-mails from teachers that are laden with just plain terrible grammar. Not a week goes by now when I do not see a professional Web site or receive a corporate e-mail that contains silly errors such as “sneak peak” (what is this – a mobile mountain?) or (my personal favorite) “Our acceptional customer services standard make us excellent.” I see mistakes that a simple spell-check could remedy, yet it’s clear that no one bothered to run one.

    For the record, I did not complete college; I had to go to work to support myself. I had an excellent English teacher during my senior year of high school, and a couple more when I was in college, but the bulk of what I have learned has been self-taught through my own studies – and my own mistakes. I have been writing for a local newspaper for the past six years, and am in the process of branching out to Web writing and magazine articles. A good writer is a good writer, with or without a college degree.

  • Moxie

    I think a degree is about security. Merely based on statistic or probability a person with higher degree has a better chance make a good living by finding or doing a full time job. I don’t think anybody can argue with that.

    For online business, there is no exception. Regardless with or without degree, the chance to make enough money for a good living blogging is not that high. All the examples listed in the post are the ones who made it. There are, I’m sure, hundreds of thousands of bloggers can’t or never will be making living out of blogging, doesn’t matter they started at 10 or 30. Therefore, if you made it, then a degree doesn’t count. If you can’t as most of them would, then without a degree you have to go delivering pizza for living.

    Thus, the matter is on a fall-back plan. A degree gives you a safe net regardless what you are trying. I’m sure by now every parent knows what need to tell the son what to do for a degree.

  • lady coveted

    no, but it’s good for character building.

  • Blog Marketing Journal

    It is not necessary (coming from someone who paid a whopping 37K a year for a four year degree) but it works better for some people!

  • Rajaie AlKorani

    I think a degree can help you out, but it will never play an important part in your success or failure.

  • Blackhat Boot Camp Blog

    You’re asking about the degree itself, or the education that comes from earning that degree?

    A degree online means shit.

    Four years of learning about people, society, learning to write well, math, the sciences, learning tech stuff. Four years of face to face interaction with other students of various backgrounds and working in a team atmosphere at times. Learning to get assignments and projects done on time.

    All that will improve your chances immensely imo.

    Bompa

  • Suzie Cheel

    Interesting point you make. it has often been said that having a degree doesn’t guarantee that you will make $.
    Interesting though that people set up universities online:) Got asked to be an affiliate for a new one launching soon.

    Has having a degree helped me? I have a masters degree that I got as a mature student- at the time it helped me change direction, from safe secure employment to setting up my art business. This was in social ecology and very experiental.

    it also helped me develop writing skills and has given me a product I am about to promote online. Has it helped me make $ online no!

    Think better – yes, understand more yes.

    I recently wrote a guest post on this too- so was food for an article.

  • Rick Vaughn

    I think most people that went to school know it was a learning experience but was not very practical. My thought is that the person with the experience certainly has the upper-hand in this line of work.

    The fatal flaw with going to school is you spend 4 years learning why business fail. This leads to paralysis in some people and they just take the first job that comes down the line.

    Where as the experienced people already made all the mistakes and know how to avoid them.

    The question should be how many people now work in a field that required their major? I would assume not many.

  • Freelance Web Cartoonist

    YES, of course.

  • Melvin

    Of course you still have to go with the one having a degree.. The chances that the one who does not have a degree will succeed is very very small… In fact guys like them wouldn’t even encourage people not to get a degree…

  • Gerard

    Personally, I think it depends on your ‘street’ smarts on the internet. Even if you have a billion degrees, but you don’t know what to do, your lost.

  • Learning Webmasters

    you should have a degree… it increases your self confidence and makes you an expert in some field..

  • BillinDetroit

    I would think that the degreed person would have more orderly thinking patterns. Sometimes this additional discipline is advantageous. But the guy who was down in the trenches would have the advantage of experience in the narrower field of endeavor. Frankly, if I were investing, I would look for a startup with a good selection of both. If that 4 years were spent studying business.

  • Fern

    I think your hypothetical is very unlikely. The chances of having two equally well read, intelligent people who are both excellent writers and only one of them goes to college is highly improbable. Nowadays most (read: not all; don’t jump down my throat without reading what I am, and am not, saying) smart people who are good writers have some sort of post-high school education under their belt.

    That being said, even if your scenario were possible, I still think the college education person is likely to be better off. First, in all other areas of business, every study ever done has found college-educated people to be better off ten years out than people with only a high school education. Second, if the blogger is writing about an academic or “intellectual” topic, he or she is probably more likely to be taken seriously if the blogger has a degree in a related field. Third, it’s hard to get good, non-internet jobs without a college degree. Without that “real life” experience, it would be hard for a hypothetical blogger to become knowledgeable enough in their niche to be taken seriously. Fourth, college is good for you. You read a lot. Are exposed to the ideas of the brightest people in their respective fields. And you get a lot of opportunities to become a better writer because you write, write, and then write some more in college. Not to mention the research and critical thinking skills you gain in college.

    Does this mean that someone without a college degree is doomed to a pathetic career as a problogger? Obviously not. There are too many examples of people with no post-secondary education who are successful in the internet world for such a statement to possibly be true. But would college help an otherwise smart person be a better problogger? Yeah, I think it’s pretty hard to say otherwise. Especially since it’s not as if people in college can’t (and don’t) blog while they are in college, killing two birds with one stone (experience and education).

  • Destination Infinity

    Degree not required. Infact, it is dangerous. It takes some timeto unlearn what you learnt in college and learn what u req for business.

    Destination Infinity

  • German Romance

    Bill Gates dropped out of University, Thomas Edison was considered to be a moron.. and yet they acomplish great things in life. A degree can be a hinder to creativity, learn to think and be brave to succeed!

  • Moise

    I guess a degree helps if you publish a blog on a specific niche.
    I publish mainly financial charts on trading ; having a degree in economics helps you define what readers are looking for in investment related themes …..

    Bu since I love reading investment books, I cannot tell you what helped me out the most ………the degree or the books ….

  • Tejvan Pettinger

    It is almost essential for an academic niche like Economics. But, for another niche I blog about – cycling, I don’t see any real benefit apart from maybe better writing skills.

    Also some highly educated people struggle to blog effectively because they become perfectionists and take too long to write. Then what they write is too narrowly focused and not appealing to mass market.

  • L-Jay

    Firstly, success is relative. Some people would say success is money, some say it is fame and others say you’re successful when people remember you after your gone.

    Well, I tend to measure success with the amount of value you give to the world. Therefore, for this discussion, I’m gonna stick with ‘Content is King’. So- which person will have the better chance of producing better content? The person with ‘inter-textual’ experience.

    University is about developing your ‘thinking’. I have never been so mentally challenged in any other venture. It is also about widening your understanding and knowledge of the world. It (is supposed to) help you develop problem solving and analytical stills as well as the presenting of ideas, – it also develops a high standard of self learning and study. The importance of university is the ‘mental’ journey.

    The more you know how to harness your thinking, how to develop ideas and arguments and communicate them the better content you can write.

    I’d like to point out that a lot of ‘successful’ internet people started while at university.

  • Voice Of Dingchao

    i think a college degree doesn’t mean many things, it depends on what you have learned from college. For me, what I learned from university can make my life colorful, but I don’t think they will help me doing my business.

    I’m lucky to finish my college life, and I started my internet business after graduation, I learned everything by myself, my major can’t give me any help.

    By the way, my major is Chinese Literature, although it can’t give me any help on my business, I don’t think it is useless for me, I believe it will help me think my life further, it will make my life be more meaningful.

    Money is not everything we need, we need much more beyond money, money is just one element in our lives.

    This is my honest opinion, hope it will be helpful.

  • New York University Space

    Needless to say, a college degree will give you some better methods to prove your business and achieve your success if you did learn some useful things by yourself in college, if you did everything following your teachers’ steps, I don’t think what you learned would benefit your online success.

    The good news is that I always see many students study by themselves in our university, they are not just following their teachers, they know what they need, so they learn them, I believe this will help them success if they want to achieve online success.

    For me, I believe what I learned from New York University will improve my business greatly, because I did learn many useful things by myself, other than learning rubbish from my teachers.

  • Janeth

    A degree hurts you.

    I had some problems last year finding people graduating collage that had a clue of the correct way to do things. I did a little research and found that someone had done a study and had found that people who were about to graduate from Collage scored lower on test that were taken before they started collage.

    The study went on and found that people that had been in the work place out performed people who had graduated from Collage and entered the work place.

  • Michele

    I dont think that a degree is helpful; I would have to agree with you about the second guy being the more successful one. In this day and age, its usually what you know about the industry rather than what the 4 year college says.

    Michele
    http://www.bocanetworks.com

  • Arthur

    This would depend on where you live. in some countries, education fuels improved writing skills, especially english.

    “Succeeding online” is a broad term, as there are many activities on the web that can make you successful, one of which is selling (which doesn’t require good english skills, as long as you know how to describe the product you are promoting to begin with).

  • Elizabeth

    I blog for a hobby, but work as a public relations specialist and fiction writer. My current client is an online entrepreneur. We both have degrees. I do have children, both of whom did attend college.

    In the scenario you outlined, I would encourage a child to pursue a degree. Here’s my thinking:

    1) Working on the Internet can expand your horizons, but it can also narrow them. You might find yourself working in a specific niche and also without much personal interaction in your business day. College is a great way to obtain a broader perspective on life, as well as to develop lasting social relationships and skills.
    2) Whenever a new economic sphere is created, people without higher education can jump in on the ground floor and do quite well. However, as that sphere becomes more established and more competitive, higher education is often one element that determines success or failure. It remains to be seen if this will be true in the blog-o-sphere and online entrepreneurial worlds. It’s nice to be prepared if this does become an essential.
    3) The right kind of higher education improves your thinking and language skills. That’s always a good thing.

    It will be interesting to watch how things continue to evolve over the next ten years. Perhaps, students who go on to work online will benefit from an old-fashioned liberal education. Perhaps, students who intend to work online will value more technical skills and courses. Perhaps, a new type of degree will emerge.

    Of course, college isn’t for everyone. There will always be some people whose skill set is better suited to learning by working, and, often, they develop a sharper sense of self and work than do people who attend college for the wrong reasons.

    You can obtain some of the benefits of higher education even if you don’t complete your degree. Some of the people who say they succeeded probably got some good things from the university environment, even if they did not complete their education.

  • Stanium

    A degree makes (or supposed to make) you a better specialist in a given field. So I think a degrre does improve your chances of success, but does not guarantee it.

  • Erica DeWolf

    I have very strong feelings about this- as I have openly discussed my frustrations that I am a self-taught internet entrepreneur. Most of what I do today is a result of me getting online, attending webinars, reading blog posts and articles, and watching online tutorials.

    However, having a degree is important in your credibility today- I think in 20 years it will even be worse, today’s undergrad degree (the norm) becoming equivalent to a Masters Degree. We live in a world where if you don’t go to college, and you’re just starting out with your own business, you may get less respect and less business from clients. However if you had a degree on your resume…those 10 or so little worlds can give you a world of opportunity.

    I do think that the whole college experience and curriculum needs to be drastically revamped in order to prepare students more for life after graduation. I agree with the concept that experience is much more helpful and beneficial than a college education. However, both would be ideal!

  • Pablo Matamoros

    I am from Argentina, but have lived in New Zealand for 5 years. In third world countries, many people study and work at the same time.

    I think it is not about one or the other. At some point of your life, having a degree will make a difference. However, it will depend to grand extent on the field you work. As far as I am aware there isn’t a Degree in Internet Marketing (there are Bachelors in Marketing), or any other new discipline. Universities tend to catch up later with knowledge that is not coming from their own institutions.

    I think there is nothing like a well balance diet: a good degree and real experience. To probe my idea that degrees are important in the online world, take as example Google’s founders. They created the engine as part of their PhD.

    I teach at university. I think the problem is that students tend to just “attend” classes and do the bare minimum to enjoy the “student life”. For example, if you teach PHP, they will limit to solve the problems/assignments that you gave them instead of trying to build the new Facebook, Digg, or whatever. Then, it is fault of the University that they haven’t got “enough exposure” to technologies.

    Again, there are examples of people who didn’t have a degree and succeeded in life. However, there are far more who succeeded in part thanks to a degree.

  • medyum

    Having a degree means you can start something difficult and can see it to conclusion, especially if you have a higher degree.

    I’ve been hired for several internet jobs because I had a degree. After the bubble burst, many places would not hire someone unless they had a degree. One employer said “if you can’t finish a degree, how do I know you can finish the work here?”

  • Dallas Web Design

    A degree means more than you went ot school and learned a few things it also speaks about hte type of person you are. You follow through, you commit to your goals, and you finish what you start. These are the real key factors when hiring someone with a degree.

  • JSA

    For me, having degree means having the edge in life even if your just virtual. Having dignity and give a fuller meaning of my life. You’ve got knowledge through your degree for real or online. By the way, I’ve got online degree!

  • Website Design

    All depends on the individual… some are born Entrepreneurs and some need the guidance and a framework of higher education to build knowledge off of.

    First off, not everyone has the street smarts, dedication or ability to succeed online no matter if they have a degree or not.

    I did both and started up online while in University and found this highly beneficial. It allowed me to work on websites on the side and tailor the uni courses towards my business. Also teachers were a great source of assistance when coming up against business obstacles.

    If you think yo can do it and have the motivation then go for it!

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