I'm looking for a word that would describe the class of people who either went to college and dropped out, and did something more timely with their skills (starting a business, programming, etc) and never achieved a degree.

This word should be used for established professionals, but I suppose I can also use a word for a driven intellectual who doesn't have the typical earmarkings of success as popular society defines it.

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    That's the difference between wisdom and education. To paraphrase a saying attributed to Einstein: "Wisdom is what is left after you forget everything you learned in school." Oct 9, 2013 at 1:31
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    The question doesn't make sense because starting a successful business, and getting a university degree, are simply different choices in life. It is not the case that one is achieved in spite of not having done the other. Not all university degrees are relevant to running a business. Not everyone who graduates with some business management type degree has the aptitude for running a business. The purpose of the degree is not to endow someone with entrepreneurial attributes.
    – Kaz
    Oct 9, 2013 at 2:14
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    The world is full of businesses run by people who didn't go to university. We would never say to someone, "Hey Joe, your booming auto repair shop proves you never needed that sociology degree. You're clearly an 'auto' didact, man! Get it? No? Ah well ..."
    – Kaz
    Oct 9, 2013 at 2:17

6 Answers 6


The noun might be autodidact.

a self-taught person

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    It is possible the well-learned person is not actually self-taught, but learned on-the-job and taught by other experienced people. That's what usually happens in apprenticeships. College may not be part of that experience. Plenty of tradespeople without tertiary education form successful businesses. Oct 9, 2013 at 5:45

Consider self-taught

having acquired knowledge or skill on one’s own initiative rather than through formal instruction or training: a self-taught artist

There is also a phrase in US usage that suggests learning from experience, and especially adversity, rather than formal schooling. Such a person is said to have attended the School of Hard Knocks.

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    A great synonym for self-taught is autodidact.
    – MrHen
    Oct 8, 2013 at 21:42
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    @MrHen And I think too slow. I went back to edit my answer when a saw you had already commented with the word I just remembered.
    – bib
    Oct 8, 2013 at 21:48
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    @RyeBread Surely that should be "too slowly"?
    – TrevorD
    Oct 8, 2013 at 22:31
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    @TrevorD You guys are so fun!
    – bib
    Oct 8, 2013 at 22:43
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    @TrevorD - You must type too fastly. Oct 9, 2013 at 1:39

My grandfather, who never went to college but spent a lot of his professional time explaining physics and engineering to those who had gone to college, would, when asked, say that he was a graduate of the College of Hard Knocks. Sometimes he would be asked where Hard Knocks was located, geographically.

  • "The University of Life" is another version of this.
    – Stuart F
    Jun 13, 2023 at 15:32

Automath may be useful also.

from: http://webster-dictionary.net/definition/automath

See also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autodidacticism - a history of the idea of being self-taught.

My personal theory, is the the goal of home-schooling is autodidactic children. That is, the educating of children who go on to being adults that continue to learn through teaching themselves. However, the goal of institutional schooling is diametrically opposite. That is, institutions manifest a culture of mass-production and limited innovation, encouraging or even mandating it's students to concede to dictatorial erudition. Thereby keeping most of them simple.


I would also offer the word independent.

But an even better term is self-made, which may not sound as fancy as autodidact but I feel it is easily understood by the masses and used more in casual conversation.

having become successful or rich by one's own efforts.


You might consider:

resourceful adjective : able to meet situations : capable of devising ways and means

in the sense that education (and its underlying funds, typically) are a resource, thus a person who does without this resource is resourceful.

from m-w.com

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