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32 Future Accomplishments that will give you more Status and Influence than a College Degree


How many famous artists or musicians do you know that have a PhD in art or music?

There are indeed many well-educated artists and musicians, but virtually none were academically trained for the career path they chose.

The same holds true for those who have become famous on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Reddit, or Twitter.

One common fallacy is that people who don’t do well in school are not bright or talented. Not true!

A few years ago I came across a study that examined the lives of 755 famous people who either dropped out of grade school or high school. The list included 25 billionaires, 8 U.S. Presidents, 10 Nobel Prize winners, 8 Olympic medal winners, 63 Oscar winners, 55 best-selling authors, and 31 who had been knighted.

Today, one out of every eight people on the Forbes 400 list, which includes the 400 richest billionaires in the US, are college dropouts.

This is nothing new as many famous people in history were also academic failures and dropouts. This includes names like Thomas Edison, Andrew Carnegie, Richard Branson, Henry Ford, Walt Disney, Will Rogers, Joseph Pulitzer, Steve Jobs, Frank Lloyd Wright, Bill Gates, Buckminster Fuller, Larry Ellison, Howard Hughes, Michael Dell, Ted Turner, Paul Allen, Mark Zuckerberg, and virtually every famous actor, actress, and director in Hollywood. Suddenly the dropout list becomes a venerable Who’s Who of American Culture.

So what are we missing here? On one hand we are being told that the path to success is through academia. Yet, we have literally thousands of examples of wealthy, successful, business leaders, industry icons, and some of our greatest heroes that took a far different route.


Ignoring College – Why does it matter?

For years, college degrees have been the world’s most recognizable status symbol for smart people. Every degree requires years of study, offering some validity to the notion that people who graduate from college are indeed bright and talented.

Colleges have made it relatively easy to enter the system. “Just sign here and all your dreams will come true!”

However, that image has begun to erode.

A new report from Third Way, a think tank based in Washington, D.C. found that more than half of American colleges had over 70% of their students earning less than $28,000 per year six years after enrollment.

More importantly, the report showed over 70% of their students earned even less than the average high school graduate within six, eight, and 10 years after enrollment.

As colleges continue to tap into the easy-to-get student loan programs, total student loan indebtedness now exceeds $1.6 trillion.

According to Noam Chomsky, “Students who acquire large debts putting themselves through school are unlikely to think about changing society. When you trap people in a system of debt, they can’t afford time to think!”

Indeed, some of the world’s most successful people took a far different path and never bothered finishing college. In these situations, few people know, or care, that the sheepskin is missing from their walls.

Logically then, if you are a talented person and haven’t had the time, money, or opportunity to go to college, are there legitimate substitutes for this type of status?

Yes, many options do exist. If we think of our accomplishments as the stepping-stones to achieve status, we begin to understand many of these options.


Status as an Alternative Form of Credentialing

Until recently, colleges have primarily faced competition from other colleges. Even though they will debate the value of one college degree over another, they remain unified in their support of higher education.

Today, there are many status symbols that compete with college degrees, and in the future there will be many more.

Royalty, such as the King and Queen of a country, is a great status symbol that comes with tremendous privilege, but it is not an accomplishment. People are born into it.

A Nobel Prize is also a remarkable status symbol, but it generally requires one or many college degrees somewhere in the person’s background.

So what kind of accomplishments are accessible to most people that could be construed by a potential employer, business colleague, or acquaintance as being the equivalent to a college degree, or for that matter, even better?

To answer this, I will break this discussion into four categories:

1. Components of Equivalency (equal to a course or multiple courses)
2. Equivalent to a College Degree
3. Better than a College Degree
4. Future Status Symbols

Even though we are discussing alternatives to going to college it doesn’t mean that there is no learning involved. Quite the contrary. Learning becomes an essential ingredient in virtually every path to success, but different kinds of learning and far less formalized.

The following examples are simply intended to expand your awareness of literally thousands of options that currently exist.


Components of Equivalency

Much like taking a series of courses that stack up and form the basis for a college degree, a series of smaller achievements can easily be used to form an equivalent status.


1. Certificate Programs

Most certificate programs are intended to either replace or supplement existing degree programs. The weight of these accomplishments vary tremendously with the institution that is granting it.


2. Become a Credible Volunteer

Volunteers often have tremendous latitude to color outside the lines and work on projects far beyond the original scope of work.


3. Apprenticeships

The age old process of working for years under the tutelage of a master craftsman is still alive and well in certain industries.


4. Foreign Travel

Foreign travel is becoming increasingly common. The true value in foreign travel lies in your ability to describe the experience.


5. File a Patent

Becoming a patent holder is also less rare in today’s world than in the past, but is still regarded as a noteworthy accomplishment.


6. Produce an Event

Events range from small to huge. But a successful event, no matter the size, has the ability to position you in a way that will cause others to take notice.


7. Write a Series of Published Columns

Never underestimate the power of a well-drafted document. Whether it’s printed in a respected publication or hosted on your own blog, every article carries with it a certain degree of influence. Over time you will learn how to leverage this influence.


8. Start a Business

Launching a business is a significant learning experience regardless of how successful it becomes. It also adds a new dimension to the identity of every founder.


Equivalent to a College Degree

College degrees are viewed as a significant personal accomplishment sustained over a longer period of time. Similarly any accomplishment competing for that kind of status needs to convey a similar sustained effort. Here are a few examples:


1. Receive a Certification

Certifications have a way of shining a spotlight on urgently needed skills that universities never saw coming. Some of the best paying Certifications include Google Certified Professional Cloud Architect, PMP Project Management Certification, ScrumMaster Certification, AWS Certified Solutions Architect, and Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert.


2. Produce Your Own Podcast Series

Creating a podcast will allow you to extend your influence and develop your own unique audience. People who listen to podcasts are comprised of individuals who might never find you through other forms of content because they prefer the audio format.


3. Become a YouTube Star

There are over a billion users on YouTube with one out of every two people visiting YouTube every month. Start by creating a channel that reflects who you are, and in a genre you love making videos. Once you create your own formula, your own credibility will grow just as fast as your subscriber base.


4. Published a Book

Whether you realize it or not, your life experiences, personality, and view of the world give you a voice that is entirely unique. When you share that voice with the world, you will be surprised by the power of the written word and status that comes with being a published author.


5. Produce a Documentary

There is something noble and noteworthy about producing a documentary that puts documentarians into a class of their own.


6. Serve on a City Council

Local elections have a way of validating your status in the community and serves as an amazing learning experience.


7. Commissioned Artwork

Artwork is only as important as the artist who tells the story. Commissioned art brings with it a rare position of honor.


8. Become an Expert

Brendon Burchard, Founder of the Experts Academy, has defined 10 key elements that qualify someone as being an expert. Most people can achieve the ranks of “expert” once they understand this process.


Better than College

There is a fine line between status symbols that are equivalent to college and those that are far better than college. Here are a few that fall into the better-than-college category. Interestingly enough, there are YouTube videos that will tell you how to accomplish each one of these:


1. Become Famous

Whether you become famous as an actor or actress, writer, cartoonist, artist, columnist, movie director, or fashion designer, fame is a rare privilege bestowed on the limited few. At the same time, the channels of fame are always expanding and you may also want to consider becoming famous on Kickstarter, Vine, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Pinterest, or Reddit.


2. Win a Video Game Tournament

If you’re good at esports, join a team and start competing. Prize money is now higher than what most professional athletes are making.


3. Elected to a Higher Office

When people vote someone into office, it’s a unique and powerful way of telling the world they are important.


4. Build a Financial Empire

There are many ways to build a personal fortune, but only a limited few who actually figure it out. People who have amassed a financial empire command tremendous respect.


5. Launch a Successful Business

Launching a successful business is like playing a game of chess without unwritten rules. It is a game of skill, timing, determination, and chance that only the exceptional few have mastered.


6. Game Designer

Much like movie producers, game designers are relegated to lofty ranks of royalty in the emerging kingdom of pixel elite.


7. Successful Inventor

Becoming successful as an inventor is far different than what Hollywood would have you believe. It requires mastering many complicated skills. Successful inventors are part business people, part visionaries, part opportunists, and a big part lucky.


8. Create/Manage a Fund

Those who are placed in a position of “trust” and granted the role of gatekeeper to the money, tend to command special respect among the general public.


Future Status Symbols

When systems and technologies evolve, so do the opportunities. Each change in these areas comes with a need for next-generation rockstars. Here are a few possibilities.


1. Professional Gamifiers

People who can add gamification techniques to traditional jobs will be in huge demand in the future.


2. Global System Architects

We are transitioning from national systems to global systems and one of the coolest monikers in the future will be that of a Global System Architect.


3. Professional Ethicists

Hundreds of new professions will need this. There will be an ever-growing demand for people who can ask the tough questions and apply moral decency to some of our increasingly complex situations.


4. Clone Designers

“I need a clone.” As time constraints begin to overwhelm much of the world’s population, the pent-up demand for clones can be felt almost everywhere. Uniquely positioned at the apex of this soon-to-be emerging industry will be the people who are designing clones.


5. Operational Contextualists

In between the application and the big picture is a contextual layer that is often overlooked. People who can visualize and understand the context for introducing new technologies will be in hot demand in the future.


6. Pro-Level Freelancers

The world’s top experts are always in demand. As a freelancer, you get to pick and choose which gigs you want to work on. More importantly, you will have the ability to control your own destiny.


7. Founder of a Movement

Find a cause and take the lead. With every movement comes a certain nobility and distinction that helps circumvent the traditional path to success.


8. Master Legacy Builders

For people who are passionate about helping others leave a legacy. The tools for legacy building are growing every day, and the best of the best will be in hot demand in the future.


Final Thoughts

I work as a professional speaker. Some speakers have college degrees but many do not. For those who don’t, the message transcends the credentials.

Successful people don’t have jobs, they have a calling. Each accomplishment stems from a passion and drive that is uniquely their own, not from a requirement that someone else dictates. Competing experiences will be designed to nurture the budding talents in people and give them ownership of the path they choose to take.

While the experience of going to college can be quite valuable, so can other experiences.

We are entering the age of hyper-individuality, and the path to each person’s most significant accomplishments will demand a hyper-individualized approach.

Each of these accomplishments will be based on our own wants, needs, and desires at that specific moment in time.

In the end, it will be far less about the path we’ve chosen and far more about the results.


By Futurist Thomas Frey

Author of “Epiphany Z – 8 Radical Visions for Transforming Your Future


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