The new season of reality television's popular The Apprentice series has ivy-lined towers and street-hustling corners locked in the mother of all stare-downs. With Donald Trump splitting the pool of job applicants by educational backgrounds in the show's third season, the battle of book smarts against street smarts promises to be more than just a stimulating premise.

After all, whom would you rather hire? Someone who has extensive moneymaking experience in the real world or someone who has excelled as a scholar and is familiar with how successful companies have thrived and vanquished firms have failed in the past? It's not an easy answer.

The viewing audience appears to have sided with those lacking in the academia pedigree. On a poll at NBC's site, 72% of the voters indicated that they would be rooting for the street smarts team to produce Trump's next apprentice.

Whether it's the inclination to cheer on the underdog or the fact that the average net worth of the nine members of the street smarts team was three times greater than the book smarts crew, does this mean that if you have a college degree mounted on the wall in your den that it is fit for tossing into the next bonfire? Of course not.

The real business world doesn't necessarily discriminate, as corporate billionaires have come from both camps. Drive. Ambition. Luck. It's all part of the recipe for success at knowledge's potluck dinner. Let's take a closer look at some of the richest names in business and the different paths they took to get to the top.

Street-smart success stories
If you were pressed to name the two most popular billionaire executives in technology, it would be hard to beat Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. Gates became the country's wealthiest person by guiding Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) to its mastery of operating system software, while Jobs co-founded Apple Computer (NASDAQ:AAPL) before staging a prodigal return to guide his company's spectacular turnaround. Sharp cookies? Absolutely. Yet both dropped out of college.

Others didn't even get that far. VirginAtlantic Airways chieftain and "rebel billionaire" Richard Branson didn't even make it through high school, while Wendy's founder Dave Thomas also cut his education short by immersing himself in various restaurant jobs when he was just 12 years old.

Ray Kroc, who turned a popular fast-food chain run by two brothers into the McDonald's (NYSE:MCD) empire that today reigns as the world's largest restaurant chain, also dropped out of high school. With Kroc and Thomas achieving such great heights in fast food with limited schooling, perhaps it shouldn't have come as much of a surprise to see the street smarts team win Trump's first challenge of the season when it took to marketing new sandwiches for Burger King.

Book-smart success stories
Naturally, the CEO ranks are also ripe with college alums. General Electric's (NYSE:GE) Jack Welch, who led the conglomerate through a growth spurt that eventually made GE the world's most valuable company before he retired three years ago, had earned a Masters and a Ph.D. in chemical engineering from the University of Illinois.

Another chemical engineering graduate done good was Coca-Cola's (NYSE:KO) Roberto Goizueta. He put his Yale degree to good use as his brand-championing ways led to Coke's market cap growing from $4 billion to more than $150 billion in his tenure, which was unfortunately cut short in 1997 after he fell victim to lung cancer.

Harvard graduate Sumner Redstone, who managed to fly through his undergraduate Ivy League tenure in just 2 1/2 years, runs the powerful Viacom (NYSE:VIA) entertainment empire that includes CBS, Paramount, and various cable and radio properties like MTV and Nickelodeon.

Some successful CEOs are even rambling scholars. (NASDAQ:OSTK) chieftain Patrick Byrne, who has seen the company's shares climb by more than 30% since they were singled out in November's issue of the Rule Breakers newsletter service, got around in a good way. He earned his bachelor's degree from Dartmouth College, a master's degree from Cambridge University as a Marshall Scholar, and a doctorate in philosophy from Stanford University.

Yes, higher learning clearly has its higher benefits.

Both would be better
Naturally, one could argue that having a fair share of well-read book smarts to go along with street smarts field experience is the ideal background for an aspiring job applicant. A balanced resume certainly can't hurt. Yet there are often many other factors that come into play when one is graduating from high school and pondering whether or not to go to college. For starters, it's certainly not cheap.

It's even a vexing decision in the Parker Brothers board game Life when a player has to decide if their blue or pink playing piece should go the long way around the board to earn the university degree or jump right into the workforce. Having the degree increases the likelihood of a higher salary upon graduation, yet -- above and beyond the board game -- that often entails the need to pay off student loans in the future as well as devoting time to the classroom that could have been spent padding a resume with real working experience.

So what would you do if you were The Donald? Would you hire the person who has been trained in breaking down financial data and is well-versed in case studies and their corporate implications, or do you take the graduate from the school of hard knocks who may be rough around the educational edges but has shown a knack for turning a buck in the real world?

No, it still isn't an easy answer. It's a pressing dilemma that almost -- almost -- makes one feel sorry for Trump.

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Even if you despise reality television, there are still some interesting business lessons worth heeding in Trump's popular show. Will you be watching? Which camp are you siding with? All this and more -- in the Trump's Apprentice discussion board. Only on

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz won't be tossing his MBA into the bonfire anytime soon, though he has always respected the street cred crowd. He does not own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this story and is a member of the Rule Breakers analytical team, seeking out the next great growth stock early in its defiance. The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.