7 Tips From Successful Men Who Didn't Graduate From Top Universities

"Later in life, you will understand you are more than just your grades and the university you came from."
IMAGE FHM Philippines

So you happened to study in one of the country’s top universities. What now?

Recently, the Webometrics Ranking of World Universities released the list of the best PH Universities in 2016. The results were based on the overall performance of each school as gleaned from their “web presence, visibility, and impact” in the country. The “Big 4”—University of the Philippines, De La Salle University, Ateneo de Manila University, and University of Santo Tomas—secured the top spots, along with other established institutions outside of Luzon, such as Silliman University and University of San Carlos.

Interestingly, those universities were also recognized as one of the top Asian universities for 2016 released by British firm Quacquarelli Symonds (QS). One of the weighty areas of assessment in the QS study was employer reputation, where employers “are asked to identify the universities they perceive as producing the highest-quality graduates.”

Moreover, three universities—ADMU, UST, and UP—snagged a spot in the QS Graduate Employability Rankings list for 2017, owing to the each school’s general employer reputation, number of highly successful alumni, and relations with industry partners.

So what about the schools that didn’t make the cut? Does that mean they don’t produce graduates who are capable of eventually succeeding in their chosen field? 

These men will surely say, "hell, no." Some of the biggest or most influential names in the country come from schools with low profiles, men who will surely say, “Hell, no.”Retired Supreme Court Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban and business magnate and philanthropist Henry Sy, Sr., for instance, graduated from Far Eastern University. Businessman-politician Chavit Singson is a Colegio de San Juan de Letran graduate. The 16th President of the Republic, Rodrigo Duterte, is an alumnus of Lyceum of the Philippines.


And there are other men like them who may not have their names on the marquee, but are successful in their chosen paths. They may have experienced career snags on their way there, but they'll be the first to tell you that nothing prepares you for the grind and sets you up for satisfying returns more than life itself. Here, they share the lessons they picked up and continue to live by to this day.

1. Fight the good fight. 

CPA and Colegio de San Juan de Letran-Calamba graduate Jennuel C. Belizon currently runs his own firm. He once worked at one of the top four auditing firms in the country, an organization known for hiring graduates from top schools. Belizon credits his school for allowing its students "to experience both doing thesis and attending on-the-job training, which are not mostly offered by other universities to B.S. Accountancy students." These challenges, he says, fortified his resolve and prepared him for more pressure-packed times ahead. "I trusted the system and endured the difficulty of studying while finishing my required OJT hours. That, for me, was my training for the real battleground: the audit-busy season. I've been enduring many seasons like that."

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“To be successful, these are the things I have in mind: 1) Just keep on improving every day. 2) Listen and learn from smart people. 3) Don’t be afraid to take risks, and 4) Learn from your mistakes.”

2. Keep learning.

Studying doesn't stop at school. The good news is, the lessons and skills you learn as you progress in your career will be valuable to you in the long run. Amiel Cruz, a University of the East alum, recalls the time when he was asked to shift roles from a being software engineer to web administrator at Emerson Electronic (Asia). “What I did to overcome the challenge was to learn all the web scripting languages needed for my new role.”

"If there is something you don’t know, find ways to understand it, especially now that we are in the digital age where every information is available elsewhere."

Jose Mari Garcia, a graduate of Bulacan State University who now works at the Presidential Communications Office, gives another perspective. “What helped me get an edge is a potpourri of skills I acquired through trainings, experience, and reading. It's not enough that you're good in one thing. I honed my skill set (writing, public speaking, capability development, social media marketing, video editing, layouting, teaching, etc.), so when one challenge comes up, I know what blade to unsheathe.”


"Do not shy away from a task given to you. What I learned: Accept it, learn it, surprise them." 

3. Take it easy. 

Although you do need to put in the work and learn every day, you can’t let all of it overwhelm you. “The transition from school to actual work is really hard at first, since you are now being paid to work instead of you paying to learn. The expectation is huge, and there is little to no room for mistakes. One of the hardest part is information overload. What I do is that I take notes on everything and automate some manual work if possible to reduce the burden of work and prevent human error,” says Ronald Laurence Abenir, a Colegio San Agustin-Biñan graduate who now works as a Senior Software Engineer.


"Just put in effort to learn new things, always ask if you are not sure, and soon enough, you'll get the hang of it."

Relaxing, adds Jojo Cunanan, Master Data Administrator for World Vision International and a Bulacan State graduate, will eventually lead you to achieving your goals. “Success is measured by how happy you are with what you do and [when you] never, ever stop learning new skills. It's okay to feel lost at times. Just pause, reevaluate things, and move on. As long as you are happy with what you do, things will definitely fall into place.”

"Surround yourself with successful peers and learn from them."

4. Explore your options. 

Don’t limit yourself to what your school is known for or the traditional jobs that you can get with your educational background. Take it from Ronaldo De Guzman, who took up engineering in UE but now earns a six-figure salary as a Chief Steward for Solstad Offshore Philippines. “My school was neither an advantage nor disadvantage in the field of work that I chose, but my personal attitude and professionalism towards my work gave me an advantage. Being successful is not about the degree in your college diploma. Being determined and using common sense can also be the key to success.”


"My formula for success is the combination of my dedication to and honesty at work."

That also means going outside your comfort zone or even relocating for a stable job. Wanjuven C. Orteza is a University of Saint Louis Tugegarao alum who's now the Structural Engineering Department Head of RBSanchez Consulting Engineers based in Ortigas. “I was a young engineer from the province, in search of a greater future in Manila. I didn't believe that I could make it in such a big city. I still tried despite my self-doubt, and everything turned out okay. I think companies know that engineers who come from the province don't expect or feel entitled to have a high salary. I was contented with the salary offered to me. I was there for the experience; I was determined to build myself first before demanding a high price.”

5. Have a definite goal in mind. 

Wanjuven believes setting one's goal is key to having a fruitful career. "You must know what you want. Always have a vision of who you want to be. Everything you do should have purpose. Once you have that vision, it is easier to overcome whatever challenge the years will throw at you.”


"Be confident about your abilities. That will ignite the fire you need to fuel your drive."

6. Go beyond your abilities.

Find yourself stuck or intimidated? Here’s what Ateneo de Naga University grad Mark London Guiling (a.k.a. Papa Marky of Barangay LS 97.1) thinks: “Employers hire you not just because you are a graduate of a popular university, but because of the potential that they can see in you and what you can contribute for the company. So for me, it does not really matter what school you came from. If you are determined enough, you can make it in the real world.”


"If you want to be effective and make a lasting impact, stick with your objectives, reach your goals, be different, stay positive, be passionate and put your heart in everything you do."

He adds: “Remember as you go on in life, you will understand you are more than just your grades and the university you came from. They are just letters and numbers, and don’t define who you are as person.”

PUP alum Justiniano V. Candado II (a.k.a. Papa Buboy of Barangay LS 97.1) agrees. “If you want to be great, you won't be able to reach it by doing the same thing. You have to do something more. If you want to be great, you have to do great things. There are no shortcuts to success."

"If you want to be great, you won't be able to reach it by doing the same thing. You have to do something more."


7. Always remember your roots. 

All these men credit their alma mater for shaping their character and helping them weather any challenge or negative impression thrown their way. Their humble beginnings have always kept them grounded and inspired them to work hard and be a success.

Don’t forget to appreciate the people who help you, too. Take it from Mark, who will forever pay tribute to a man who moved the nation: “[Before he gave me a full scholarship in college, he told me], ‘Mark, don’t stop dreaming. Live and inspire other people. Be a living example to them.’ I will be forever thankful to [the late] Sec. Jesse Robredo for helping me to my dreams, and I honor him by continuing to live with a purpose in life. ‘Never stop dreaming’—that, in essence, became my mantra.”

And it should be yours, too.

This story originally appeared on

* Minor edits have been made by the editors.

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