There are numerous reasons why people might drop out of college or never even go to begin with: family obligations, economic hardship, personal reasons such as pregnancy, no guarantee of job placement, career paths that don’t require a degree… But of all the women interviewed for this article, not one left school because they didn’t want to learn.
An education doesn’t have to be obtained in a traditional classroom. All it takes is motivation and a learning mindset. With access to library textbooks; the internet’s free seminars, courses, and databases; and the learning experiences that come on the job, many women have found that success doesn’t require a degree. And though some of these women say they want to return to college someday, most of them don’t feel they need to.
For many, school isn’t a practical option.
Bethanie Nonami is the chief innovation officer at Marley Nonami, a consulting agency. She started working at a technology firm as a senior in high school when her mother got sick. Bethanie said, “I knew as soon as my mom could no longer work that my job had to pay me enough to live, and enough for her to live a better life… It was my honor and privilege to be able to care for her in the latter part of her life.”
When she graduated from high school, Bethanie took a full-time job with the firm. She was often the youngest in the office and was the only woman of color, but she worked long hours, took on additional work, and got promoted again and again until she hit the executive level.
“When I reached the top, the only place to go was to branch out and start my own business,” she said. So she did.
At one point in her twenties, at a time when she could afford to go, Bethanie did enroll at a community college. That semester, she made the Dean’s List, but she ultimately decided that school wasn’t for her. The “real world” that her professors talked about didn’t match the real world she had already experienced, so she left it for a successful career and never looked back.
Educational resources are everywhere
“I enjoyed doing things at my own speed. I taught and continue to teach myself everything I need to run my businesses,” says Julia Kravets, founder of Little Choc Apothecary, the first fully vegan and gluten-free creperie in New York City.
Before opening the restaurant, Kravets went to college excited to learn about physics but quickly turned to art. Then, she received an unbeatable offer: to become a model and travel the world.
She never returned to college. Instead, she pursued a self-taught education through books, tutorials, documentaries, online courses, and in-person classes at the Natural Gourmet Institute. To this day, Julia is still learning, and not once did she let her lack of formal education stand in the way of her career aspirations.
A different path doesn’t change the destination
One in four Americans have student loan debt, so it isn’t surprising that many drop out for financial reasons. Katarina Minich, a UX designer, dropped out because she couldn’t stand paying so much. She went ahead and started her own business instead, and even though it failed (which Katarina acknowledges was a great learning experience), she wanted to “direct her own learning path”. And that’s exactly what she did. She has since worked on brands like Avon and Android.
Shea Drake, a content strategist at Business.org, says, “I was more focused on making ends meet than going into debt… Despite not having a degree, I have always been interested in learning new skills, and I’ve proven that in my work time and time again.”
Eileen Scully, founder of The Rising Tides, a global consulting and advisory firm, dropped out when she became pregnant during her freshman year of college.
“[Not finishing college] was definitely a hurdle earlier in my career… and I always felt like I was in places I didn’t belong,” she says. But that didn’t stop her from attaining more than 20 years of experience in the research and advisory field and starting her own company.
She wants younger women to know that “there are alternate paths to success,” but she also strongly encourages them to get an education, especially women in developing countries. Eileen made education a priority for her daughter and even admits, “I would love to [go back and] finish somehow, someday.”
Megan Nicola, a personal stylist and wellness coach, never even enrolled in college. “What I have learned is that it doesn’t matter what path you take… Do what resonates with you.”
By Sarah Sheppard
Sarah Sheppard is a professional writer and editor. She worked as a senior manager at an independent publisher in Boston for five years, earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Lesley University, and currently resides in the Midwest. She is working on her first novel. You can find her at @sarahsheppardwriter on Instagram.