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Richard Branson says the key to success isn't a university degree

Sir Richard Branson.
Cameron Costa | CNBC
Sir Richard Branson.

College is viewed as the gateway to more money and opportunities. But according to billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson, it's not the only path to success.

"It's a shame that people shut down ideas because they're worried about being crushed by people who are supposedly better educated than them," he writes in a recent blog post. "This is all about fear of failure. In my opinion, entrepreneurial drive beats a fancy degree anytime."

He wrote the post in response to a reader asking whether he had ever been intimidated by someone else's credentials and if so, how he overcame that feeling of inferiority.

Sir Richard Branson speaking at the Innovation Summit in Brooklyn, New York on July 14, 2017.
Adam Jeffery | CNBC
Sir Richard Branson speaking at the Innovation Summit in Brooklyn, New York on July 14, 2017.

"I didn't go to a prestigious university; in fact, I didn't even finish secondary school," he added. "I suffer from dyslexia and couldn't keep up with my studies as a teenager. I didn't fit in at all."

Rather than allowing his challenges to make him feel inferior, Branson said the key to finding success was to focus on the things he was passionate about. He produced "Student" magazine, which provided a platform and a voice for young people.

"And a wonderful thing happened: Following my passion gave me drive and purpose," he writes. "My mind opened up and so did my world. The headmaster gave me an ultimatum, forcing me to choose between staying in school or pursuing the magazine. I chose to leave, and I've never looked back."

Quitting school to pursue your passion is a path many other business leaders followed to find success. Branson points out that Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs all reached unprecedented professional heights without advanced degrees.

"The point is that university isn't the be-all and end-all, and it's certainly not a prerequisite for business success," writes Branson. "I'm not saying that people shouldn't go to university if they want to, but simply calling attention to the benefits of learning from the school of life."

In his Harvard University commencement speech earlier this year, Zuckerberg expressed similar sentiments.

"Let's face it: There is something wrong with our system when I can leave [Harvard] and make billions of dollars in 10 years, while millions of students can't afford to pay off their loans, let alone start a business," said Zuckerberg.

Branson says it was understanding the benefits of following your passion versus earning a degree that shifted his thinking about success.

"So to answer your question, no, I've never been intimidated by someone's credentials," he writes. "If I had, I never would have tried to achieve anything. Sure, my school grades got me down sometimes, but as soon as I discovered my passion, all of my preconceived notions about what it takes to succeed flew out the window."

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