What ‘Shark Tank’s’ Barbara Corcoran Says About Getting A College Degree

Barbara Corcoran of ABC’s Shark Tank is no stranger to adversity. Coming from a family of 10 kids with working-class parents, the real estate mogul struggled during her school years due to dyslexia.

While she doesn’t place a premium on grades, Corcoran does have some thoughts on whether or not getting a college degree is worth the expense.

“Shark Tank’s” Barbara Corcoran | Tony Rivetti via Getty Images

Double diagnosis

The Shark Tank star has been open about her educational obstacles, such as not being able to read or write until she was in third grade. “I’ve wrestled with letters and numbers my whole life… My biggest fear all day long was that I would be called on to read out loud,” Corcoran said in an episode of her podcast “Business Unusual.”

When her son Tom was diagnosed with dyslexia in second grade, Corcoran realized she also had the learning disability, Entrepreneur reported

The real estate icon revealed that she was a “lousy” student high school and college, earning D’s most of the time. Not wanting to pass on the insecurities she dealt with in school to her son Tom, Corcoran decided not to put pressure on her son when it came to his studies.

“I told him, ‘You don’t have to be a good student. Take your time. What the hell? Try this. Try that. Move around,’” Corcoran shared, adding the result of that approach. “A well-rounded creative kid that’s always going to be himself.”

Doesn’t go by grades

Corcoran believes that those who struggle academically end up making the best entrepreneurs due to their resilience, where those who excelled in school may not have as much tenacity.  

“The kids that are so good at school, that don’t have to fight for it, very often they don’t do as well in life and business because they’re not flexible,” she told Entrepreneur. “There’s no system dictated to them out there like it is in school and they certainly tend not to make good entrepreneurs.”

Looking back, Corcoran wishes she would’ve known of the many success stories of those who, like herself, didn’t do well in school. “It would have been helpful for me to see that there were a lot of people successful in life that couldn’t read, couldn’t write… and yet, many of them were billionaires,” she told Inc. in 2017. “I had to discover that little by little as I built my own world successfully. It would have been useful to see that you don’t define someone’s intelligence as we do in a school system. It’s a cruel thing that sadly makes so many kids feel like they’ll never be successful.”

To degree or not degree

Though Corcoran does not place tremendous emphasis on academic performance, she does recognize the value of a college degree, especially when it comes to getting hired. According to Inc., the Shark Tank star recommends taking English courses to capitalize on communication skills.

As for obtaining an advanced degree, such as an MBA, Corcoran thinks getting experience on the job is more important. “If you’re going to start a business, my own practical experience says it gets in the way,” she said, according to Business Insider. “It gets in the way because you study the theory of how to do a business. You understand all the language, the fancy talk, and in the end what you don’t get is street smarts because you’re busy in the classroom.”

The millionaire investor referred to the entrepreneurs she’s invested in as an example of having the “street smarts” she seeks out. “Most of my very successful entrepreneurs, myself included, cannot read a financial statement. We don’t know a thing about numbers,” Corcoran said. “But what we’re very good at is thinking on our feet and sizing up people. And what do you build a business on in the end? It’s people.”

Watch ABC’s Shark Tank on Sunday nights!