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

By Daniel Scocco - 2 minute read

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?”

  • 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!

  • 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!

  • 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.

  • 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?”

  • 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.

  • 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!

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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).

  • 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.


  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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 ….

  • 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!

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