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Should You Drop Out of School or Get an MBA to Succeed in Business?

Posted: 11/11/2013 5:03 pm

By Leah Eichler, founder of r/ally, the mobile collaboration platform for professionals and enterprises.

When a young celebrity goes off on a tirade on social media, I normally brush it off as comical nonsense but a recent rant caught my attention. No, I'm not talking about Miley Cyrus but rather Jaden Smith, the son of celebrity parents Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith.

In case you missed it, the After Earth and Karate Kid star decided to wax philosophically about the value of education, tweeting "School is the tool to brainwash the youth" and "If everybody in the world dropped out of school we would have a much more intelligent society." Sure, many 15 year olds believe they are too smart for school and would prefer to be spending their time starring in blockbuster films. On the other hand, perhaps this tirade hints at something deeper, a cultural shift that recognizes that there are limits to the blanket value of formal, academic post-secondary education. It is not a carte blanche for career and financial success. Many have gone into debt to finance this educational fantasy.

Another popular story line is the exceptionally successful dropout. Which parent hasn't heard the names Steve Jobs and Bill Gates thrown back at them as they urge their offspring to stay in school? Add to that list Richard Branson, Michael Dell and Larry Ellison. Taking this argument to the extreme is Peter Thiel, a co-founder of PayPal, whose foundation pays students to drop out of school to launch companies. But this is yet another pipedream; for every Bill Gates there are countless dropouts struggling to make ends meet.

So what is the right approach, considering the increasing need for technical skills and a challenging job market? Perhaps it's delaying drastic educational decisions, especially if those coveted pieces of paper don't land you a job. Keep in mind that 65 per cent of children entering grade school will end up working in careers that haven't even been invented yet, according to Cathy Davidson, a Duke University professor and author of Now You See It: How Technology and Brain Science Will Transform Schools and Businesses for the 21st Century.

Arguably, some of the most valuable aspects of an post-secondary education are not the academic courses themselves. Take Ryan Murphy, a 24-year old currently in his 7th year at Memorial University working on a Bachelor of Science degree in psychology and computer science. During his time at university, Mr. Murphy became heavily involved with community activities, such as Engineers Without Borders and Memorial's Student Union among other student-run clubs and societies. He estimates that he has spent one hour working in either a paid or unpaid role for every hour he's formally spent studying.

"I have rarely found my formal education to offer classes or courses that relate directly to the skills or knowledge that I want to have, or the things that I want to do ... but by diving head first into student life, and by making some opportunities for myself, I've been able to use my formal education to inform my personal development, and to give me the literacies and research ability I needed to undertake self-directed study," said Mr. Murphy.

Although Mr. Murphy will be happy to one day get his hard-earned degree, he's certain that formal education alone is not enough to launch a great career.

"I think my generation recognizes that focusing only on school won't be enough; that each person needs to diversify and find their niche through meaningful work or volunteering. I feel immensely more secure about my career path because of my extracurricular involvement, and I think that's true of most of my classmates, too," he added.

Cathy Bennett would agree that there is more to success than an academic career. "When I was 17 in university, I didn't have enough information about what I was passionate about," said Ms. Bennett, CEO of the Bennett Group of Companies, which employs hundreds, and who is running for the leadership of the Liberal party in Newfoundland.

Ms. Bennett dropped out of university after a semester and a half of a physics degree to work at McDonalds, where she said "I fell in love with the business of business."

Although working at McDonald's doesn't appear to be a precursor to financial success it worked for Ms. Bennett, who by the age of 18 was managing 50 employees. The experience instilled the importance of getting her hands dirty; she recounts how she insisted on accompanying a service crew installing fiber optic cable in people's homes when she joined the board of Bell Aliant.

Although she recognizes the value of post-secondary education, Ms. Bennett believes that one needs to be open to opportunities.

"If you have had to ask me when I was 16 if I'd be sitting here, in my mid 40s running for the leadership of the Liberal party, I'm not sure if the 16-year old Cathy would say yes. You never know where your path is going to take you," she mused.


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  • Drake

    Drake, a.k.a. Aubrey Graham, <a href="http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/the-hot-button/rapper-drake-finally-graduates-from-high-school-11-years-later/article4623117/" target="_blank">dropped out of Toronto’s Forest Hill Collegiate Institute at 15</a> to play Jimmy Brooks on ‘Degrassi: The Next Generation.’ After rising to international fame as a rapper, he finally graduated last October at the age of 25. “<a href="https://twitter.com/Drake/status/258731694687920130" target="_blank">One of the greatest feelings in my entire life. As of tonight, I have graduated high school</a>!” Drizzy tweeted after nailing his final exam

  • Avril Lavigne

    In her teens, <a href="http://www.people.com/people/avril_lavigne/" target="_blank">Avril signed a record deal and took off for New York to record an album</a>. How did she feel leaving school during her junior year? “Awesome!” she said. “<a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vqUayZ78j-U" target="_blank">I was supposed to do homeschooling, I had books, but I didn’t do it. So basically I’m a high school dropout</a>.”

  • Seth Rogen

    Seth Rogen ditched classes to play a high school student on the cult TV comedy 'Freaks and Geeks.' "<a href="http://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2013/01/freaks-and-geeks-oral-history" target="_blank">I dropped out of high school when I started doing the show</a>. I told them I was doing correspondence school from Canada and just wrote 'Superbad' all day," he told Vanity Fair.

  • Jim Carrey

    The funnyman’s family fell on hard times when Carrey was in his teens, and he had to work to help support them. The Newmarket, Ont. native <a href="http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-1346063/I-wanted-bash-someones-head-Jim-Carrey-gets-emotional-reveals-familys-poverty-heartache.html" target="_blank">described working as a janitor and as a security guard</a> in an Inside The Actors Studio interview, and said he eventually left school at 16. “<a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cpEfiRUu64Q" target="_blank">I left school on my birthday</a>,” he said. “And I went immediately to a comedy club.”

  • Ryan Gosling

    Ryan Gosling: Oscar-nominated actor, Canadian heartthrob… high school dropout? After his stint as a Mouseketeer, The Goz <a href="http://www.wetpaint.com/network/gallery/celebrity-high-school-dropouts-whove-made-millions#7" target="_blank">left school at 17 and headed for L.A. to make it big</a>.

  • Michael J. Fox

    The ‘Back To The Future’ star dropped out of high school in grade 11 to pursue acting, but he still got <a href="http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/Books/funny-thing-happened-future-michael-fox/story?id=10373267" target="_blank">what he calls “amazingly comprehensive education.”</a> “<a href="http://www.people.com/people/archive/article/0,,20361652,00.html" target="_blank">I learned economics from being a struggling actor, physics from trying to do two things at once</a>,” he said to People Magazine. “I'm a firm believer that you can learn in a structured or an unstructured way.” He eventually earned his GED in his early 30s.

  • Keanu Reeves

    In high school, Keanu Reeves was more interested in hockey and drama than his classes. "<a href="http://www.people.com/people/archive/article/0,,20100791,00.html" target="_blank">Even when he was tending goal… he would start reciting Shakespeare</a>,” his former coach, Scott Barber, recalled. Reeves <a href="http://voices.yahoo.com/keanu-reeves-interesting-facts-star-the-2310091.html?cat=40" target="_blank">attended four different high schools</a>, but never earned his diploma.

  • Celine Dion

    Although Celine Dion never finished high school, she believes “<a href="http://www.cbc.ca/news/arts/music/story/2008/08/22/dion-doctorate-qc.html" target="_blank">the school of life is also very important</a>.” She received an honorary doctorate from Université Laval in 2008.

  • Neil Young

    During his time at Winnipeg’s Kelvin High School, <a href="http://www2.macleans.ca/2013/07/06/6-dropouts-who-went-on-to-do-great-things/" target="_blank">the Canadian singer-songwriter played in several bands</a>. But <a href="http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/story/2012/05/25/mb-kelvin-neil-young-reunion-winnipeg.html" target="_blank">attendance wasn’t Young’s “strong suit,”</a> according to CBC, and he dropped out.

  • MORE: Celebrity High School Photos

  • Gwyneth Paltrow

    She's just like the rest of us! Back in 1997, Gwyneth went through a bit of an awkward phase.

  • Gwyneth Paltrow

    Paltrow the rebel? In 1999, Gwynnie chanelled her inner greaser. We can't imagine Paltrow would ever wear a biker jacket nowadays.

  • Avril Lavigne

    Avril Lavigne wasn't always a punk rock princess. She looked downright suburban in her high school yearbook photo, sporting a bob, glasses, and (gasp!) no racoon eye makeup.

  • Kelly Osbourne

    Kelly <a href="https://twitter.com/MissKellyO/status/337640887788126208" target="_blank">tweeted</a> this high school photo of herself with the caption, "#ThrowbackThursday Me in high school! I was such a dork!" We think she was adorable.

  • Beyoncé

    This is Queen Bey, age 15, in 1996. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/17/beyonce-pregnant-baby_n_3294124.html#slide=2436377" target="_blank">She looks</a>. <a href="http://i.huffpost.com/gadgets/slideshows/296863/slide_296863_2436408_free.jpg?1368221027249" target="_blank">Exactly. </a><a href="http://i.huffpost.com/gadgets/slideshows/296863/slide_296863_2436361_free.jpg?1368220728057" target="_blank">The Same. </a>

  • Blake Lively

    Blake Lively has come a long way since her high school days! We barely recognized the <em>Gossip Girl</em> star.

  • Brad Pitt

    His hair may have been questionable, but Brad Pitt was always dreamy, as evidenced by his high school yearbook photo.

  • Britney Spears

    So cute! Britney's innocent yearbook pic has us nostalgic for the '90s.

  • Cameron Diaz

    Cameron Diaz's feathered hair is too '80s to handle.

  • Chace Crawford

    Chace Crawford took the california-surfer look a bit too far with his beaded choker necklace, perfectly groomed eyebrows and blond highlights.

  • Courteney Cox

    Fresh-faced Courteney Cox has hardly changed since her yearbook photo was taken.

  • Eminem

    Eminem, aka. Marshall Mathers, was <a href="http://www.salon.com/2000/07/25/eminem_secrets/" target="_blank">ruthlessly bullied as a kid. </a>

  • Fergie

    Fergie looked like she belonged in a beauty pageant in her high school photo.

  • Jon Hamm

    Decidedly more nerdy, but still with a sultry gaze, Jon Hamm was a hunk-in-the-making in his high school yearbook.

  • Kathy Griffin

    Kathy Griffin always loved the stage --<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/09/kathy-griffin-in-high-sch_n_955794.html" target="_blank"> she was an avid theatre geek in high school </a>-- though her look has changed quite a lot since then.

  • Katy Perry

    Katy Perry grew up in a very conservative family (both her parents were pastors.) <a href="http://www.biography.com/people/katy-perry-562678" target="_blank">She moved to Los Angeles when she was just 17 to pursue her singing career.</a>

  • Kurt Cobain

    Kurt Cobain was described as <a href="http://www.biography.com/people/kurt-cobain-9542179?page=1" target="_blank">an artistically gifted, though somewhat strange pupil in high school.</a> He would go on to form the multi-platinum grunge band Nirvana.

  • Lindsay Lohan

    Lindsay in high school was just as cute as her Mean Girls alter-ego Cady. We miss Lindsay circa 2002.

  • Louis C.K.

    Funnyman Louis C.K. looks dramatically different from his high school days.

  • Martha Stewart

    Not a strand was out of place for Martha Stewart's yearbook photo. Are you surprised?

  • Megan Fox

    Megan Fox was quite the looker even in her high school days.

  • Michelle Williams

    Cute-as-a-button Michelle Williams (<a href="http://www.instyle.com/instyle/package/transformations/photos/0,,20290122_20235094_20796225,00.html" target="_blank">pictured in her sophomore yearbook photo</a>) has blossomed into one of our favourite style stars.

  • Minka Kelly

    We're glad Minka ditched the lip-liner, massive bangs and scrunchie ponytail.

  • Barack Obama

    Obama rocks an afro like nobody's business in this high school snap.

  • Stephen Colbert

    Colbert was quite the cutie during his high school days!

  • MORE: Celebrities You May Not Know Are Canadian

  • Rachel McAdams

  • Justin Bieber

  • Shenae Grimes

  • Emily VanCamp

  • Sandra Oh

  • Eric McCormack

  • Neve Campbell

  • Kristin Kreuk

  • Nia Vardalos

  • Martin Short

  • Elisha Cuthbert

  • Ellen Page

  • Malin Ackerman

  • William Shatner

  • Emmanuelle Chriqui


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