Warren Buffett: Here's how much college and grad school matter

Warren Buffett, Chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway.
Lacy O'Toole | CNBC

When Warren Buffett is looking at hiring a new employee or finding a new company to invest in, he has a lot of criteria. But, one thing he isn't looking for are fancy university degrees.

"I don't care where someone went to school, and that never caused me to hire anyone or buy a business," Buffett says in a 2006 interview with the Wall Street Journal.

In fact, he didn't even want to attend college himself. "I didn't want to go to college," Buffett tells Bloomberg in a 2016 interview. He only applied because his dad, Howard H. Buffett, suggested an undergraduate program at The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.

"After the first year [at Wharton] I wanted to quit and go into business," Buffett explains. "My dad said, 'Well, give it one more year.' So I went the second year, and I said 'I still want to quit.'"

Buffett transferred to the University of Nebraska so he could graduate in three years. And, higher education turned out to be a valuable experience for him.

"[T]here wasn't a class that disappointed me," he says of his time at Nebraska, where he earned an undergraduate degree in business administration. And his experiences during graduate school studying economics at Columbia University changed his life.

Still, Buffett doesn't believe success always requires a degree.

"I don't think college is for everyone," Buffett tells students of Ivey Business School at Western University in 2012, adding that none of his three children graduated from college. "The best education you can get is investing in yourself. But this doesn't always mean college or university."

Investing in yourself means tackling areas you aren't good at, and learning new skills. His advice: "Address whatever you feel your weaknesses are, and do it now." Buffett, for example, took a Dale Carnegie course to overcome his fear of public speaking.

He also suggests reading, thinking and learning.

"Read 500 pages like this every day," Buffett once reportedly told students, pointing toward a pile of reports and papers. "That's how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will do it."

Then, he takes time to understand what he learned.

"I insist on a lot of time being spent, almost every day, to just sit and think," he says. "That is very uncommon in American business. I read and think."

That is an investment that "supersedes all others," according to Buffett. Because when it comes down to it, skills and experience matter more than a piece of paper, says Buffett.

"If you are interested in business, or likely to be in business, an MBA is very useful," Buffett says in a 2001 article in Nebraska Business magazine "But, what is really important is what you bring to a class in terms of being interested in the subject. If you view a course like accounting as a drudge and a requirement, you are missing the whole game. Any course can be exciting. Mastering accounting is like mastering a new language, it can be so much fun."

As for his own two degrees, he isn't sure where he would find the diplomas if he looked for them. According to Buffett: "I don't have them on my wall, in fact I don't even know where they are."

Don't miss: Here's how much grad school cost when Warren Buffett graduated in 1951, compared to today

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