Why ‘Shark Tank’s’ Kevin O’Leary Says College Isn’t For Everyone

Kevin O’Leary of ABC’s Shark Tank is one of today’s most successful business men. Earning his M.B.A. in 1980, O’Leary – aka ‘Mr. Wonderful‘ – acknowledges the value of education, yet maintains that going to college isn’t necessarily a path for all.

“Shark Tank’s” Kevin O’Leary | Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images

Not a business major

Though he is now a titan of industry, O’Leary initially started out hoping to launch a career in photography or film-making. Obtaining an undergraduate degree from University of Waterloo in Canada in 1977, the Shark Tank star wasn’t having luck getting a job.

“When I graduated from college, I came out with psychology and … environmental studies as my other degree,” O’Leary said, according to CNBC. He went on to reveal that his stepfather wasn’t thrilled with his choice of majors.

“My dad said to me, ‘You’re going to starve to death! You never thought about getting a job. What are you going to do with these degrees?’” O’Leary recalled. “I’m not saying people who study psychology or environmental studies never get jobs, it’s just that I was having a hard time getting one… It was the first time I realized making an investment in a college is not just about where you go. It’s what you take.”

Count the cost

Mr. Wonderful recognizes that while college is certainly a productive road to a career, there are also other alternatives for those who don’t gravitate toward the collegiate structure.

“I don’t recommend college for everybody,” O’Leary said. “The fact is, there’s a lot of trade schools that would help you make a lot more money.”

With student debt at an all-time high, O’Leary cautions potential college attendees of digging themselves into a financial hole. He encourages people to count the cost of a college education, especially since finding a job after graduation can be a challenge. “You have to think about education as an investment because it’s going to cost you money and it’s going to create debt for you in many cases,” O’Leary explained.

Trades equal cash

O’Leary suggests pursuing professions that can be learned through a trade school and will always be in demand. “Be a plumber, they get rich. Everybody has to have a plumber, even in a recession,” O’Leary said. “Think about all the trades — roofers, construction, home building. There’s so much demand for this that people often overlook them saying ‘I’m going to poo poo that career.’ Why? You can get rich there a lot faster than getting a history major.”

Listing the practical services that are necessary in daily living, the millionaire investor believes that training in these skills can lead to a steady client roster and financial security.

“Every single building on earth wants to have electricity and plumbing working. Think about it that way. I don’t care where you are, people are going to want your services,” O’Leary explained. “Find something where people spend on it every single day… These are careers that actually can help you provide for your family forever.”

Words of wisdom from O’Leary should be heeded. Launching the company Softkey Software Products from his basement in 1983, he turned a hefty profit when he sold it in 1999 to Mattel Toy Company for $3.7 billion, according to Inc. Now with a portfolio of other successful businesses including O’Leary Funds, O’Leary Fine Wines and the O’Leary Financial Group, the reality star has a reported net worth of $400 million. So clearly, Mr. Wonderful knows how to be successful.

Watch ABC’s Shark Tank on Sunday nights!