is college necessary for success in life

Do I Need a College Degree to Be Successful?

For decades, we’ve been told that the key to success is a great education. And while there is truth to this sentiment, it is not as straightforward as it might seem. Education can (and will) look different for everyone. There is not one, singular pathway to becoming successful, despite what it may seem.

As tradition will have it, a “great education” tends to infer a college education and, specifically, a bachelor’s degree. It’s no wonder why an astounding 86 percent of high school students report feeling pressured to pursue a four-year college degree. The pressure comes from parents, family members, and society as a whole—to go to a good school, complete their bachelor’s program, land a 9-to-5, and earn a lucrative salary.

Although intentions are positive, the pressure to attend college prematurely can cause a person’s career path to pivot significantly later in life. An estimated 75 percent of college graduates end up working outside of their major, and many end up working in careers that never required a degree at all.

So, is a college degree necessary for success?

Not quite. There are plenty of wonderful jobs out there that do not require a bachelor’s, or even an associate degree. If you are wondering if you need a college degree to be successful in life, the answer will largely depend on your professional goals. Some career paths require (or heavily prefer) candidates with a college degree, while others require much less time in school.

Of course, it’s worth noting that there are many perks to earning a college degree. On top of gaining the college experience, where you learn important skills and build valuable connections, attending a college or university can translate to more career opportunities, higher compensation, economic stability, and marketability when applying for jobs. Let’s explore some of the perks of a college degree today.

The Undeniable Upside of a College Education

Salary Increases with Education Level

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, education translates to higher pay. In their recent 2022 report, weekly earnings improved with every level of education completed:

  • High school diploma: $853 per week
  • Some college, no degree: $935 weekly
  • Associate degree: $1,005 weekly
  • Bachelor’s degree: $1,432 per week
  • Master’s degree: $1,661 per week

Another survey, cited by Forbes, echoed very similar results, with bachelor’s degree holders earning 63% more income than those with only their high school diploma or GED.

Unemployment Rates Decline with a College Degree

Additionally, the BLS reports that unemployment rates were less among graduates with a college education. In their latest 2022 data, the unemployment rate for high school graduates (with no college) was 4%. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate dropped to 2.7% for associate degree holders, and 2.2% for bachelor’s degree graduates.

The Pew Research Center reports that people without a college degree are three times more likely to be living in a state of poverty. According to their research, only 6% of bachelor’s degree holders live in poverty, while 22% of people without a college degree live below the poverty line.

Professional Opportunities Improve with a College Degree

It’s no secret that a long list of careers require a college education. Some require an associate degree, like registered nursing jobs, that takes only two years to complete. Others might require a bachelor’s degree, like public health positions, taking about four years to earn. Then, there are upper-level careers that require graduate and professional level degrees, like many medical and leadership roles.

However, it’s also important to recognize that, even if your profession does not require a college degree to enter, this higher level of education can position you for upward mobility in the field. With a bachelor’s degree, for example, you can often qualify for promotions and positions in management that are not otherwise available without a college education.

Not to mention, marketability improves with a college degree in hand. With over 17 million students enrolled in college in 2022, getting a college degree is now considered the norm in the United States. For many careers, therefore, you need it to capture employers’ attention. And even if your job does not require a college education, it can make you stand out amongst other applicants.

College Provides the Opportunity to Build Connections and Skills

Even if you do not earn a college degree, there are benefits of postsecondary education that can position you for success.

Let’s say you want to start your own business. You don’t necessarily need a college degree to become an entrepreneur. However, picture yourself at college, prior to starting your venture. Looking across the classroom, you might see other students with incredible business ideas, hoping to launch their own start-ups, too. Their ideas might even be complementary to your own! Looking ahead, your professor might also be an industry expert in all things marketing, accounting, advertising, talent development, general management – a valuable resource for you to tap into during your time in school. Now, think about the practical experiences you might pursue during your time in school. You could gain the opportunity to network with other like-minded professionals and business leaders.

There is something to say about the networking opportunities, and the skill-building, gained within a postsecondary program. College will offer you the ability to tap into professional resources, career development support, job fair opportunities, and a community of like-minded peers and faculty. These assets can position you for success.

In a Pew Research Center 2021 survey, the majority of college graduates said their college education was extremely or very useful when it came to helping them grow personally and intellectually (79%), opening doors to job opportunities (70%) and developing specific skills and knowledge that could be used in the workplace (65%).

However, a degree does not have to be the end-goal, if you feel like it’s not in the cards for you.

You Do Not Need a College Degree to Be Successful

So many people find success in life without a college degree. Many are actively pursuing careers they love and are passionate about, with other types of education under their belts. Although you may feel pressure to get a college degree, it’s important to remember that it is not necessary for success.

For some, getting a college degree—without clear direction on their career goals or personal aspirations—can actually be hindering. It’s no secret that college can be expensive, and going to college without clear sight on your end-goal can cost more than necessary. Research shows that roughly 1 in 12 students now at community colleges previously earned a bachelor’s degree—but later decided to change career paths and go back to school for a different job. This is because they felt pressure to pursue a bachelor’s degree right after high school, only to find that the degree they earned did not align with their ultimate career goals.

If you know that college is important to you, but you are unsure what you want to do in life, a general studies program can be a great option to explore your interests, gain important skills, and complete prerequisite courses while deciding on a major or career path. However, if you have a strong feeling that a bachelor’s degree is not in your best interest, rest assured that there are other options for you.

For example, technical and career-focused programs are available at the postsecondary level, to get you into amazing, high-paying trade careers. With just several months spent in these types of schools, you can be well on your way to earning a lucrative salary in a hands-on career you love. Some great examples of high-paying trades jobs that do not require a college degree include an industrial mechanic, who earns over $60,000 annually, and a millwright, who earns close to $62,000 per year in the United States.

An associate degree is also a great option for those who value the college experience, but who are not ready to commit to a four-year degree program. So many successful professionals have earned an associate degree and gone on to pursue careers in nursing, dental hygiene, respiratory therapy, manufacturing, human services, and more. An associate degree can make you well over $60,000 annually, on average, with great room to grow in your field of choice.

Is a College Degree Right for You?

While today’s population is the most educated it’s ever been in American history, this does not mean that a college education is right for everyone. Ultimately, before committing to a college experience, we recommend asking yourself:

  • Why do I want to go to college?
  • What do I want to study?
  • What are my career goals?
  • What does my dream job require for education?
  • What does success mean to me?

Asking yourself these questions will help you decide whether or not a college degree is right for you, and whether it aligns with your definition of success.

If you are interested in learning about more flexible, fast-paced, or short-term college programs, contact Goodwin University today. Goodwin is recognized for our career-focused certificate and degree programs, with part-time, online, accelerated, and convenient scheduling options available. Call 800-889-3282 to learn more.