Forget What the Adults Say: College Isn’t Necessary for Success


Rebecca Lim

More stories from Rebecca Lim


Graphic by Mariana Riano

   Every high school student has been confronted with the constant college chatter; whether their counselor is advising them, parents pressuring them, and/or their friends are discussing the topic over lunch. The notion that everyone absolutely must go to college in order to succeed in the future has been drilled into our heads. 

    While in the past couple of years, talk about education has become more accepting towards taking alternative routes after high school, such as trade school or joining the military, most people are still encouraged to take the traditional post-secondary route and attend college. 

    When I visit my school counselor, I’m asked about which classes I want to take, what colleges I want to attend, and what I want to study in college. I’ve never been asked about my passions outside of an academic setting, nor if I’ve ever thought about starting my own business. Alternative options to college are just that. Alternative. Options like finding a job immediately after graduation or going to vocational school are rarely discussed as equally fulfilling paths to take as attending college can be, and therefore are implied to be unpopular, unproductive options. 

   In fact, almost 70% of people who complete high school head on to college immediately after, reflecting the extent to which high schoolers are pushed to attend a college or university after graduating.

    Generally, we’re told that attending college will help us be successful, as in finding a well-paying, stable job in the future. However, more jobs in the future actually will not require a college education. According to Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, 35% will require a bachelor’s degree, while 36% will not require any education beyond high school. 

    Additionally, employers are already starting to place more emphasis on experience over education when choosing candidates for a job. According to a study by Harvard Business School, out of multiple different factors, 37% of employers rated the experience as the most important, not education. Not to mention, even though college graduation is no easy feat, it definitely can not guarantee success, nor is it the only path to success. 40% of college graduates work at a job where having a college degree isn’t even required. Of course, this doesn’t mean that having a bachelor’s degree can’t be beneficial when searching for a job. In a pool of high school graduates where everyone has the same amount and type of experience, having a college education could be a differentiating factor, and ultimately the reason why someone is chosen for the job out of numerous applicants.   

    But by no means does this mean that you need a bachelor’s degree to be considered a competitive job candidate. Even without a college degree, if you have the right skill set, which can be gained through certification programs, training, and hands-on experience, companies will look favorably upon your resumé. 

   Not to mention, so many pathways to success that don’t require college exist. For example, vocational schools provide specialized training which can lead to an easier job search process. An added perk of vocational school is its price; on average, four years of vocational school costs the same as one year of college, which can be helpful for long term savings. Many high-paying jobs that don’t require a college degree are available, including law enforcement ($55,010) and dental hygienists ($68,250). You can also find success in the armed forces without a college degree; entry-level soldiers in the Army are only required to have a high school diploma, and can make a base salary starting from age 17.

    Something else that often gets overlooked when discussing college and its supposed correlation with future success is the fact that success is subjective. The definition of success differs for every person. A five-figure, 9-5 job may be the definition of success for one person, but for another, a job that allows them to travel and pays them just enough to live comfortably is the definition of success.  So, don’t resort to either extreme. Don’t immediately rule out college as an option for you because your grades or your college application isn’t picture perfect. But don’t rule out trade school or other options after high school just because your peers aren’t taking the same route, or simply because your parents or educators want you to go to college. 

   The pressure on students to get into and attend college only gets worse as they get older and closer to graduating, but remember that education, success, and life itself is not a linear journey. Some people barely graduate high school and go on to own multiple businesses that are worth millions. Others obtain a Ph.D. and end up working at a minimum wage job. Some people spend their 20s and 30s building a reputable career and then start college in their 40s. 

   So if you think something is wrong with you because you don’t think college is the right option…don’t. Attending college may very well not be necessary for you to achieve your definition of a successful life, nor may it guarantee it.