It seems that every day tuition costs rise, and students have to go into more loan debt in order to complete their schooling. It’s no surprise that today’s generation is asking: do you need a college degree to be successful? Unfortunately, like most things in life, the answer isn’t a simple yes or no. There is no definitive proof that having a degree can ensure you get the job of your dreams or lead to ultimate “success” (especially when there are so many measurements of success that differ person to person). For the sake of this conversation, the assumption will be that success means that you have climbed to the top of your field and are a relatively high earning worker.


Is it a Career Prerequisite?


Before you can begin to even think about whether or not you want to attend college, you should reflect on what it is you want to do in life. There will always be things you have a passion for and things that you excel at. If you have an idea, you can start to think about if a degree is necessary in order to enter that industry. For many jobs, a degree is not a prerequisite for a starting position. You may feel that taking the time to earn a degree would only postpone any possible opportunities. However, you may feel that a degree is a must-have for your field – the obvious ones being any STEM industry.


It is important to have realistic expectations when making your decision. This doesn’t mean don’t aim high, but be honest about what it is you can achieve. If you have lofty ambitions, be sure to make a plan that you are capable of executing to make your dreams a reality. You may aspire to become a professional basketball player, but it is necessary to realize that this profession may be out of reach. Instead, becoming the best basketball coach in your region may be more achievable. You may find a suitable location alongside a gap in the market that allows you to open a basketball camp, which could end up scaling to the national level.


What’s it Worth?


There are multiple elements that contribute to the value of your college degree: the amount you will ultimately pay to attend, your desired career path, and your post-graduation living situation. One easy way to get a better understanding of how your college costs will stack up against your potential income is to use the Major ROI tool on the Discover Student Loans’ website. The tool covers the average salary for different subject majors. If you are wanting to enter an industry that averages six figure salaries, you can afford to pay for a more expensive institution (although that does not mean you have to). If the financial rewards of that industry are low, you may want to consider a more economic method for achieving your goals.


Don’t forget that financial aid exists in the form of scholarships and grants for those who need help offsetting the cost of a degree. Community colleges are another option that shouldn’t be immediately cast aside. They can provide a quality education for students with a subject or occupation in mind.


Pro College Degree


  • Shows passion and an already demonstrated dedication the field you are applying for
  • Develops independence, introduces important connections, and improves social skills to better prepare individuals for the workplace
  • Provides resources that allow students to gain an in-depth insight into various subjects – experienced lecturers are a fountain of knowledge and expertise
  • A college degree has become the standard for many positions – mainly due to the imbalance of jobs-to-candidates
  • According to Bureau of Labor Statistics, earning potential and educational attainment are directly related; lower earners had completed fewer levels of academia in every category


Pro No College Degree


  • Free from debt and tuition fees
  • Internships and apprenticeships can introduce young people into the workplace – these opportunities often don’t require a college degree to obtain
  • Making business connections is possible through communities like LinkedIn
  • More self-education tools than ever in the form of online courses and certifications for each specific industry
  • CNBC/SurveyMonkey Small Business survey reported that far more business owners had no degree versus having a bachelor’s degree or higher


What the Experts Say


Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs are just a few of the names thrown out when discussing highly successful individuals who do not have a college degree. The Small Business Survey found that entrepreneurs who did not finish or attend college outnumbered those with higher-level degrees across both genders and every age group apart from over 65s. However, all business owners who chose to forego a college degree in order to start a business instead shared common traits: each had a strong sense of independence, determination, a great idea, and the willingness to take risks.


Having no formal business education can seem like a disadvantage to many, but it is what the individual chooses to make of it. Many business owners speak to turning that weakness into a strength. Not being sure of the tried and true practices in your industry will force you to listen to your customer feedback in order to know how to adapt. While some are able to do something different and create their own career, they recognize the risks that come with it. In 2015, Bill Gates wrote in a blog post, “Although I dropped out of college and got lucky pursuing a career in software, getting a degree is a much sure path to success. While most successful entrepreneurs serve as proof that college degrees aren’t the only way to achieve success, none of them seem to show a disdain for higher education, either.


Whether you decide to continue your education through college or jump right into the workforce, it is clear that the key to success is to aim high, work hard, take risks, use your creativity, and continuously follow your dreams.