How to be Successful without a University Degree

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Are you among the group that does not understand how to be successful without a university degree? Do you think it is not possible to make it in life without your university degree?

Somehow, the majority of people have fallen for the condition that you cannot succeed without a university degree. Just a few years ago, my dad asked me when I was to get a job. The truth is, he found it hard to believe that after spending five years studying petroleum engineering, I’d let all that go to waste. He’d even be more disappointed if he found out that I am yet to collect my Bachelor of Engineering certificate from the university after over a decade and a half.

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But that’s the society we live in. Even when you are doing well in business, people tend to expect that, somehow, things will go bad and you’ll have to default to getting a job or going back to school. The good news is that things have changed a whole lot from the times of our parents. For instance, one of my team members working on our YouTube channel is 18 years old. He’s already making money doing what he enjoys doing and learning as well. This was nearly impossible 15 years ago in most parts of the world.

So, whether you did not attend the university or you are unable to get a job with your university degree, I am going to share with you how you can be successful without a degree. Not to forget, this is not to say you cannot look for a job with your degree. However, it is to encourage those who wish to pursue their dream outside their study focus and become successful entrepreneurs. 

Besides, this article is not about theories or idealistic advice. Everything I will be sharing with you is what I have done. Thus, be sure to read to the end.

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1. Take full responsibility for your education

Generally speaking, many people who go to school come out literate, but not educated. Both are two different things. Education means to train and to mold. If we are to take it a step further, it is the process of knowing yourself and your environment. So, if everyone who went to school was educated, then we would have fewer people who do not understand how to navigate opportunities around them.

If you agree with me that education is about getting to know yourself and your environment, in that case, you will understand why your education is your responsibility; not that of an accredited higher institution. Besides, the first step to succeeding in our world without the standard academic qualification is to take responsibility for getting to know yourself and how to navigate the world around you.

For me, the simple questions I asked myself were, “What am I good at?” “What would I love to do with my life?” “What do I need to improve about myself?” And then, “Where are the opportunities today around the things I can do?”

At first, I had to try many things from working in the film industry to buying and selling, working in building construction, learning web development, writing, and a few other things. Significantly, this experimenting period was the most educative period of my life. Thus, I learned a lot about myself and the opportunities around me. Therefore, I urge you to stop waiting for life to happen to you. Your education is your responsibility, you know.

2. Look for a career that does not require a degree

If all you want to do with your life is to become a medical doctor, I implore you to go back to school. This is because some careers have custodians at the gate. As a result, you cannot get in without your gate pass and that is a high academic qualification. Engineering, medicine, law, and professional accounting fall into this category. What is more, there is no need to waste your time in these fields without a degree.

I work with a team of people; some are graduates, some have yet to get into university. Interestingly, none of them was employed based on academic qualifications. Most of them learned on the job. And they are all doing fantastic jobs. Consequently, there are many careers you can pursue that do not need a university degree. I mentioned that I worked in the movie industry, construction companies, and some other ventures. None of these required a university degree. But they all have the potential to build a successful life through consistent effort. It could be your writing, or teaching skill. Also, it could be software development or some IT skills. It could be interior decoration. You have options, remember.

3. Leverage the power of the internet

I don’t know how best to tell you this, but the internet has everything you need to build a successful career or business with or without a university degree. You have the tools to learn anything and to build, almost anything. It’s just unbelievable. The problem is that familiarity breeds contempt. Because it’s so easy to connect a smartphone to the internet, the majority of people sit on a goldmine and piss on it. Our ancestors will be looking upon this time with so much envy for us. Yet we don’t even understand the value of what we have.

I will need an entire video to help you understand this. But here is how to look at it; with the power of the internet, you are either mostly a producer or a consumer. As a producer, you also have to consume what other people produce. The difference is in what you consume. Do you consume what will help you be a better producer? The internet is simply our world translated into digital format. Whether in the outside world or the internet, people want to be served. They want easier-to-digest information, convenience, and recognition. Also, they want their lives to be better. They want to feel important. You have to find how you want to serve people and use the internet to amplify your reach and impact.

4. Start with what you have

After School Africa has been around for more than 10 years as a website. Millions upon millions of people have used the website and hundreds of thousands have benefited from winning scholarships, competition, business funding, and other opportunities we publish. But, what most people do not know is that I started After School Africa with a mobile phone; a Nokia 3230 to be precise. It is not even a QWERTY phone, so you know. Without money to buy a laptop, I had to start with what I had – my research and writing skills, together with my Symbian OS Nokia phone. That time, I wrote articles and even a book from my phone.

Today, according to Samsung Insights, your Smartphone is now more powerful than your PC; at least most PCs, I believe. Nowadays, people go to extra lengths to buy an iPhone, only to use it to take selfies and post on Instagram.

Aside from that, the common response from people listening to advice like this is to talk about lack of capital, lack of equal opportunity, and other kinds of excuses. The fact that you can read this article shows that you have something to start with. Also, we may not all have started with equal opportunities, but where you are and what you have, is all you need to start. Hence, milk every tool and resource you have at your disposal to your advantage. Turn that phone into a money-making machine. Let me add if you do not have anything at all to your name, start with your hunger to succeed. Look deeply inward, find what you are interested in, and start developing your skills and knowledge around it. Without a doubt, you can be successful without a degree.

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5. Get out of your comfort zone

Everything you want from life is just outside your comfort zone. And comfort is the enemy of success. Listen, the world revolves around one currency. Sorry to say, that currency is not money; the currency upon which the world revolves is courage. That’s why there is no place in the world for the timid.

The other day, I listened to the founder of Coscharis Group share his story of attending the University of the Street. His English was laced with his native tongue so much that you may wonder whether he was speaking English or the Igbo language. Yet, he has built a 500 million-dollar business empire, majoring in Automobile, petrochemical, ICT, agri-business, and real estate. His companies employ thousands of graduates and MBA holders. Besides, it takes courage to ignore your limitations and demand your place in the world.

One of the most discomforting things I ever did was moving from office to office, selling female jewelry while waiting for my national youth service. People would often marvel at this fine young man hawking jewelry for women. But for me, it was more about the challenge to push myself out of comfort than a venture to make money. Today, it is paying off.

Love him or hate him, President Donald Trump is a classical example of how far courage can get you. It takes courage to start, to be consistent, and to demand what you believe you deserve from life. The world makes way for the man (or woman) who knows where he is going. Financial success, career success, business success, political success, and even spiritual success, are all the rewards for courageous actions. Likewise, you must have the courage to not be intimidated by people with higher academic qualifications; you must have the courage to step out of your comfort zone.

6. Find mentors

In life, if you want to know what lies ahead, ask those coming back. I think that’s a Chinese proverb. But it is very true. You do not have to go through situations alone. Not because you won’t be able to figure it out; it is because you don’t have much time. Would you rather spend five years, learning from your mistakes, or learning from someone with 15 years of experience in 2 months? It’s pretty simple! People have gone through what you are currently going through victoriously. It is only smart to shorten your learning curve by learning from these people. It will be silly to want to figure it all out by yourself.

Notice I said find mentors and not find a mentor? That’s the point! Learn from different people; sieve out the ones that resonate with you. So to say, you don’t want to be a replica of anyone. Again, when you learn from different sources, you can come out with original ideas. Thankfully, you don’t have to meet your mentors one-on-one. These days, you can find people online and learn from the knowledge they share. Learn from successful entrepreneurs in the world and apply that which you have learned to your life and business.

It’s possible to be successful in life without a university degree. You can even end up creating jobs for degree holders. But you have to start with what you have, look at the areas that do not require a degree for entry, leverage the power of the internet, get out of your comfort zone, and find mentors to learn from. Look for successful entrepreneurs and read their success stories.

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  • Ikenna Odinaka C. is a Writer, Career Development Professional, Entrepreneur, Educator and Investor. He is the founder of, and He has also co-founded other businesses in Education, technology and media industry. He is passionate about the future of work, entrepreneurship and helping young people explore opportunities to develop their financial capability. You can read his best content on and watch his insightful videos on YouTube