Self-Education vs. Traditional College: Which Path to Choose?

Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, and Bill Gates are some of the most prominent figures in the tech industry, and they all happen to be college dropouts. Their success stories have fueled a narrative on the Internet suggesting that it’s possible to achieve immense success and amass billions, even without a college degree.

So, how crucial is a degree in the tech world?

Years ago, it came to light that Yahoo! CEO Scott Thompson had falsified his degree on his resume. Contrary to his claims of holding a degree in computer science and accounting, he had not actually studied computer science in college. His previous roles as CTO and President for PayPal did not mitigate the situation. He resigned just 10 days after the revelation, attributing his departure to “health issues”.

From this, we can infer that indeed, a degree is important, especially if you aspire to lead a company that you do not own.

Intelligence Gathering

Setting humor aside, I decided to delve deeper and focus my attention on web designers and developers. The internet is a vast repository of knowledge, if you know where to look for answers. I took the traditional approach: I emailed a few of our authors at to ask for their opinions.

If you’re at a crossroads in your life, contemplating whether you need a degree to have a successful career in web design and development, keep reading.

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The baseline

Generally, to have a successful career in web design and development, you must commit to lifelong learning. After four grueling years at university, you might think, “I’ve learned all there is to learn.” However, once you step into the real world, you might realize, I’ve been learning outdated technology!”

college classroom

Jake writes, “Many of the languages (PHP, MySQL, jQuery, MongoDB, etc.) can be learned without a college degree.” Anything related to building for the web in terms of practical use cannot be confined to a syllabus or taught by a teacher.

Unlike fields such as medicine or law where human anatomy doesn’t change overnight and lawyers (or senators) make their own laws, the field of web development is vast and evolves rapidly. “Almost all universities get left behind due to the rapid growth of this field,” writes Victor.

The Curriculum

Web design and trends evolve quickly due to immense online competition. However, when it comes to universities, you might find that they don’t “offer what you want to learn about, just a combination of a few computer-related topics,” writes Thoriq.

“When you take charge of your own education, you get to choose the niche and specializations you see a future in,” he adds. Nancy writes, “The internet provides a wealth of information on any topic you need, so you can learn everything from home.” Essentially, you learn at your own pace and on your own terms.

self learning

Note: You have the web development industry to thank for this, so please support your altruistic web designers/developers who share their codes and ideas with you free of charge.

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Should I Skip University?

Well, it’s not that simple. To begin with, you would be missing out on a multitude of experiences. While not all universities are the same, they all foster multitasking, enhance social skills, offer vast networking opportunities for future prospects, and essentially help you become a more organized individual.

Moreover, as Alvaris points out, “A university is primarily a place to hone your self-learning skills. If you’re considering the self-taught path, it’s crucial to know your goal."

Traditional Companies Value Degrees

If you’re not satisfied with merely working remotely from home and prefer an office environment with colleagues and watercooler chats, then pursuing a degree is a wise choice.

All the respondents mentioned this, but Alvaris encapsulates it best by saying, “even though web design is a progressive field, most companies hiring in-house web designers are still traditional and will likely ask for your academic credentials.”

college degree
Learning is Challenging!

Another argument for obtaining a degree is that not everyone possesses the self-motivation to learn independently. “Some people simply lack the internal drive to educate themselves because it’s incredibly challenging,” Jake notes. In a structured education system, we learn the basics, then intermediate and advanced materials, current trends, and future prospects, even if it may be somewhat outdated.

In contrast, self-learning doesn’t have a clear beginning or end. It’s a beautiful, chaotic mix of everything and nothing, and it’s our responsibility to make sense of it. In short, “It’s not for everyone.” (Jake)

Should I Pursue a Degree or Not?

The decision to pursue a degree largely depends on your career aspirations. If you’re interested in venturing into the corporate world of design and development, a degree is often necessary, along with a substantial amount of creativity. However, if you’re more inclined towards entrepreneurship and prefer being your own boss, a degree may not be as beneficial.

If the idea of traditional studying doesn’t appeal to you, it’s important to remember that self-learning is also a form of studying. As Arfa suggests, it’s “a skill almost every professional should develop.” Moreover, self-learning can be more cost-efficient and allows you to focus on relevant topics that directly contribute to your advancement in web design and development, rather than spending time on less applicable subjects.

Of Debts and Degrees

While it’s true that some universities continue to produce high-achieving graduates who make significant changes in the world, the cost of a good education can be prohibitively expensive. To put this into perspective, consider that student debt in the US has surpassed $1 trillion.

student debts

Addison, a recent graduate, shares that many of her peers are burdened with substantial student loan debt, a burden they’re likely to carry for the rest of their lives. She believes that the only viable solution is to adopt an entrepreneurial mindset and take control of their own futures, a skill that surprisingly few schools effectively teach. She suggests that entrepreneurship should be a mandatory subject in schools, with a focus on tech entrepreneurs, if possible.


Possessing a degree is not a guaranteed path to success. In fact, there are no shortcuts to success, despite what diploma mills might suggest. However, a degree can serve as a measure of your capabilities.

Even high-profile figures like Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates didn’t drop out from just any university, they left Harvard, one of the most prestigious institutions in the world. Steve Jobs, while he did drop out due to financial constraints, continued to attend classes that intrigued him, such as a course in calligraphy. If you appreciate the beautiful fonts you see on your computer today, you have Jobs’ passion for elegant typography to thank.

Note: Singyin thanks Nancy, Alvaris, Arfa, Kay, Thoriq, Victor, Jake, Addison for their feedback and insights on the topic at hand.