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Ask Chuck: Is a college degree necessary anymore?

Ask Chuck your money question

Dear Chuck,

I’m 26 and single and would like to complete my business degree. I actually have a great job but keep thinking the degree would help me in the long run. Do you think it is worth it? (I would need a student loan for the entire amount of the degree if I decide to go full-time.)

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Degree or No Degree?

Dear Degree or No Degree?


I’ll break this down into “Maybe” and “No” regarding your two questions: 1) Should you get a college degree in business? and 2) Should you get a student loan to attend school full-time?

Do you need a degree in business?

Well, it depends. I don’t know what kind of field or role that you are currently in. If you are a specialist and need more education in business law or accounting expertise, I might respond differently than if you are in sales, marketing, or management or are a skilled tradesman.  

Undergraduate and graduate degrees are common among the world’s top CEOs. Many earn an MBA to strengthen management and leadership skills. However, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg are college dropouts. In fact, many CEOs don’t have any college degrees.

While David Kang was a professor at Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business, he began collecting data on where CEOs attended college. He told Fortune: “The results were stunning. Like everyone else, I thought Ivy Leagues would dominate. But the largest place they had gone to was no college at all.” Of the 500 CEOs on his list, those without an undergraduate degree exceeded any one institution. The Ivy League schools did not rank highest. In fact, he found that an elite degree is not as important as resilience, perseverance, and ability. Although 75% of the Fortune 500’s top 20 CEOs had a graduate degree, some did not attain it until after achieving some professional success.

The CEOs of five top-20 companies have no graduate degree, including Craig Jelinek at Costco and Mike Wirth of Chevron. Others go back to school after getting a start in business. In the right situation, some companies will pay for the education in exchange for a promise of loyalty to the company for a season after graduation.

On-the-job education 

An article in Harvard’s Business Review explains that CEOs without college degrees proved themselves by excelling in three ways:

  • Becoming a proven insider: Grow up in and gain specific knowledge of the industry because employers often prefer hiring insiders. Their understanding of the industry and relationships held within make up for a lack of formal education. They also stayed 25% longer in roles. If a strong track record is not held in a single company, try working in a small business or starting your own. CEOs without college degrees are twice as likely to be company founders than those with degrees.
  • Overindex on results: Reliability and exceeding company expectations will draw attention. Your results are worth more than a degree. 56% of CEOs surveyed, who did not have college degrees, came up through sales and marketing departments. They also had almost twice the rate of military experience, where important skills and leadership tools were learned.
  • Attracting talent: They built strong teams and trusted them to contribute their expertise. These CEOs were humble and open to ideas, regardless of someone’s status or rank. The CEOs who valued independence comparatively underperformed.

Consider alternative forms of education

Applying yourself in business is a great form of education and training. The Bible instructs us: “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” (Colossians 3:23–24)

Your unique talents, abilities, and willingness to work very hard will help you excel in careers where those are important. When a superior notices your accomplishments or praises your efforts, express your gratitude and the desire to take on more responsibility. Ask if they have any suggestions for you. Accept and pray through them with a humble, teachable heart.

It is important to keep a resume current. When there is no degree to reference, highlight certifications, skills, accomplishments, and volunteer positions held. Organize it according to strengths, with the most current/relevant data first.

Instead of going into debt to get a college degree, either go part-time and pay as you go or seek affordable alternatives. Here are at least 40 jobs that don't require a college degree. Also, check out optional routes to training you may need:

Additionally, Crown has many online courses available to help you find freedom in your finances and career. Each of our courses is Biblically based, practical, and empowering.

Chuck Bentley is CEO of Crown Financial Ministries, a global Christian ministry, founded by the late Larry Burkett. He is the host of a daily radio broadcast, My MoneyLife, featured on more than 1,000 Christian Music and Talk stations in the U.S., and author of his most recent book, Economic Evidence for God?. Be sure to follow Crown on Facebook.

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