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October 09, 2003

No degree, no worries....

This stupid article from The New York Times is about high achievers who do not have college degrees. I'll let readers pile on-but one thought, I think at many companies it is harder for managers to justify the firing of incompetent employees who have college degrees than those who don't. Ergo, those workers without degrees are subject to stronger selection pressures during periods of layoffs and only the strongest remain.

Posted by razib at 11:15 PM




It is not so far fetched than one could suceed w/o a college degree. Truthfully, some college degrees are just four years of wasted time, so if one (given he/she has enough cognitive ability) chooses to spend one's early 20's getting a jump start on creating wealth, then business success is not too improbable. Business is one of the few fields where a college degree is not absolutely necessary for sucessful ocupational outcomes.

Notice that the article did not touch on physicists w/o college degrees, or psychometricians without them, et cetera....areas where it is terribly hard to self-teach all the theory involved.

Posted by: Alex B. at October 9, 2003 11:48 PM


well, some of my best friends haven't completed college...but-there are two types who drop out, those who couldn't hack it, and those who really don't need the degree. the latter is the group being highlighted to show some contrarian piece that i find rather as original as a perpetual motion machine.

the story is almost tautological-people who are profiled in the new york times without college degrees as successes by definition didn't need those degrees. for those of us who are destined for more pedestrian lives-a degree is a pretty good meal ticket.

Posted by: razib at October 10, 2003 12:59 AM


It's also been shown that many degrees are not worth the cost. Especially for undergraduate liberal arts degrees, you would be better off working those four years and investing what you would have spent, rather than get the degree and the small increase in expected salary that comes with it.
Of course their examples are a different matter. They suggest that if you have extraordinary skills in management or sales that will not be further enhanced by staying in school, staying on to complete the degree is just a waste of time.
One other thing I found entertaining is the story about David Geffen lying on his resume, and then intercepting the mail that would have exposed him. A nice counterexample for those who say lying on your resume is never worth it.

Posted by: bbartlog at October 10, 2003 06:56 AM


I've known people who did their job well but could not be promoted because of no degree. And I've had idiot fellow students who did the minimum work required to get their credential. And I've known people with masters degrees who had trouble holding an ordinary job, much less a high-level job. I've known many people who rose high within their own organization, but couldn't apply elsewhere because they weren't credentialed.

On the other hand, on the average graduates do better. Degrees are used as an index of intelligence and also of ambition and "finishing what you start". And some degrees actually lead to real jobs. Except for entrepreneurs, though, I think that getting that credential is almost a must.

But not in English and History, though, where even a PhD doesn't get you a job. I think that in those fields (plus art, art history, anthropology) you'll have to rely on your "people skills" to get work. For example, waiting tables.

Some high-tech people got into it before it was taught in school, but then many years later found that their lack of a degree is held against them.

Posted by: Zizka at October 10, 2003 07:22 AM


>there are two types who drop out, those who couldn't hack it, and those who really don't need the degree

Agree, and it's not limited to education. Many patterns turn out to be trinomials, where the top and the bottom superficially seem like each other, but for completely different reasons.

e.e. cummings broke grammatical rules to innovate, not for lack of grammatical understanding. Africans and Park Slope residents both value handmade goods, but the former have less experience with mass-produced items while the latter are ironic and post-industrial.

It's partly why the the innovative have a huge chip on their shoulder: they're recognized by societal antibodies as troublemakers, rule-breakers, and censured. Anybody with a unique product or business model has spent years defending his world-view in the face of conventional wisdom. Michael Dell to this day sounds slightly resentful when he defends going direct vs. retail.

Posted by: Gumnaam at October 12, 2003 11:55 AM