Is a College Degree Necessary for Success as an Adult?

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This paper will analyze ten different sources found regarding whether a college degree is necessary for success. There will be three sources utilized from the internet and there will be seven book sources. Every source is deferent there were many ways to explore this issue. For example, in the book by Bruni, Frank. (2015) Where You Go is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania. In this Book, the Author Frank Bruni talks about how the college application and admission process can be devastating and some young people can determine their worth through what school they get into.

Then, there is a video called, “Do You Need a Degree to Succeed? | 5 Reasons College Does NOT Equal Success | University Myths”. (Jul 14, 2016). This video interviews people like Donald Trump and Bill Gates. It explores the ways they became successful and talks about how one can become successful without a college degree. It talks about the person being driven. According to this video, it is in the person to be successful if they are driven and determined. Regardless of the college degree. The sources cover all aspects of the college experience and whether it is needed to become a successful adult.

There is a popular opinion on whether a young adult should go to college straight out of high school. The most popular opinion being that yes, college is paramount in one’s life when building a career and creating an experience for a young adult to become more of who they are. It is a time for exploration and achievement without parents there to make decisions for the young adult. Currently there are many benefits to having a college degree. One might even say that a person without a college degree is considered “uneducated”. Having a college degree will help when searching for a job. If one applies for a job with a college degree and another applies for a job without a degree, the person who has the degree is more likely to get the job.

On the other hand, a college degree does not define success for many successful people and the definition of success varies in everyone. College does not need to define the young individual, whether they get into an ivy league college or they go to a community college. The liberal art majors may come out without a clear path to a career and may end up in the same job as someone who did not attend college. The price for a college education may be excessive in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. A newly graduated individual may come out with a large amount of debt. It is beneficial for an adult to have a college degree when in search of a career and a degree will help with a person’s success in their career but, being successful has a different definition for all individuals regardless of the college degree.

There can be so much pressure built up on teens to get into a good college, (get great SAT scores, get into AP, or honors classes) that when and if a teen does not get into the school they wanted or a school they feel is the best then they may be left feeling inadequate or not good enough. Many young adults determine their worth-based on the type of college they get into. Young adults who are applying for colleges go through so much anxiety after applying for typically 13-20 schools. They then, very often in fact, get rejected for their top choices and then might even get rejected from their safety schools. These young people often are told they are an ideal student to get into any college they want by counselors and teachers.

The reality is that there are so many kids applying to these schools with similar backgrounds and so many applicants that they are more often getting rejected. If every student applies for 13-20 different schools, there are a lot of applications to choose from. These students have a belief that a more selective school means more success later in life. (Bruni, F. 2015) It can be very hard for some of these young people to get over the rejection from not getting into their top choice school. This is a very unrealistic way to think and there are so many ways to earn a degree. According to many entrepreneurs, even Donald Trump, a person does not need an expensive price tag on their education. Often these educations do not give people the skills they need to be successful in the real world. (Motivation Madness 2017)

In the book, “Never Pay Retail for College”, Beth Walker talks a lot about how a student should really think of the best place to go to college and that might not be their number one choice just because of the name associated with it. She says that even though a student may want to go to an Ivy league that sometimes the better choice is a lessor than college due to fees location etc. An Ivy league education does not guarantee that a student will be able to get a return on investment. The education and degree received is the same whether way.

The stigma that kids need to get into these elite colleges is what creates this depression and disappointment when a student does not get in. this stigma also makes it possible for these colleges to continue to raise their prices. According to, A League of their Own”, 23% of the people on the Forbes 400 list went to an Ivy League School and 0.8% of the American population (not on Forbes list) went to an Ivy league school. So, does an Ivy league school equal success as an adult? Well if you base your opinion in this article then you would say yes. The reality is though that most of the Forbes 400 list members are already rich. Many of these successes of the Forbes 400 are due to nepotism, cronyism, and privilege. (Angerame, L. 2018)

There is a popular way of thinking that whatever you go to college for, meaning, whatever your major is, is going to determine what you will do with your career after you graduate. This the old-fashioned way of thinking according to (Brooks, K ED.D. (2017). Her book talks about ways to map out a career for those who have the not so straight forward major. But what about those people who do not read this book or do not find any direction as to where to take their career after they graduate? Are those the ever-growing population of college graduates working at a coffee shop or as a waiter? Would these students have been better off if they had not gone to college? These students have college debt and are working often at a minimum wage job.

It is not only the liberal art majors who end up this way. There are many graduates who end up having a very difficult time finding a career after graduation. Why does this happen? Is it because of the stigma that college education equals success? Should high schools be teaching their students about all of this instead of only focusing on SAT, ACT, honors classes, and AP classes? Should students be learning about all aspects of college before join into a debt the size of a house mortgage at 17/18 years old. As I mentioned above, people without a college degree are sometimes considered to be uneducated. Is the college education and debt that is taken on worth it?

It seems that it is important to talk to high school students about this before they make any decisions about college. The famous liberal arts degree can get someone a career but how any of these degrees really do become successful? Is it worth the bill just to say that one is “educated”? Maybe colleges should think about helping teenagers find their passion. Help them to explore what they might want to do as an adult. There is a major focus instead on SAT prep, English, math, and other things that only help them get into college. But then what? in the past years getting a college degree almost always guaranteed a successful career path once a student graduated. It is just not this was any more.

There are many unemployed and under employed college graduates today and the number is rising. These days though a degree has a lot more noise than in the past. (Selingo, J. 2013). The challenges and ways of getting into college are becoming so overly complicated and its teaching the youth to get into college but they are not always equipped once they get there to handle the college experience. Or they are so good at getting into things that they produce sub-par work. According to Selingo, J. (2013), 400,000 students drop out of college each year. That number is astounding, and the college system is broken with only a small portion of it is actually working. (Selingo, J. 2013). We standardize the tests for kids in elementary and this is where they are thought to pass tests. This continues throughout high school and those obedient, high scoring kids get praised as smart or above average. They then get into good colleges. Some get into their top choices and some do not. Some graduate and become successful but many do not.

There is not a guarantee any more for the college graduate as there was in previous generations. why do schools not teach kids to think for themselves, think critically, learn to know themselves, teach emotional intelligence, creativity, self-awareness? It would also be nice for the kids who decide that college is not for them to not feel inadequate or less than because they do not fit the mold. Teachers, principals, counselors and other faculty tend to be more involved with students who fit this mold and the other kids get left behind. It would be beneficial if the kids who are maybe considered ADD or talk too much were not made to sit in class all day but instead there was a class built for them. Or the artistic child, or the explorer who loves science.

One size does not fit all, and the system is broke. In the book College(un)bound, talks about how people view higher education as a “ticket to a better life”, it gets real about the reality of the college experience and how the student loan rates in America are at 1 trillion dollars and the rate of unemployment among college graduates is at an all-time high. The author of this book argues that the college education system is “broken and is fostered toward big business. It covers the issue of technology and how it will change the college experience drastically in the future. The author also talks about how middle tier colleges are charging rates comparable to higher level universities while concealing the low rates of graduation and lack of skills to be successful once o student does graduate.

Sara Goldrick-Rab has a very popular book that covers many issues regarding the cost of college and financial aid. In the book she talks about how financial aid is supposed to be able to help all students pay for college, but as more and more students began to attend college the financial aid system was not able to keep up. There are many students who must find a way to make up those costs by working, some are homeless, some are hungry. It is very difficult to make up the costs and so they end up not finishing and still having to pay for all the school. There is the middle-class issue where families make too much money for financial aid, but they cannot really afford college for their child. Some parents und up working longer and must put off retirement to pay for their child college.

There are so many thigs a student and their family need to know before choosing a college, EFC (expected family contribution), is a term that all student and parents should know. The EFC is a number that determines students’ eligibility for federal student aid. The EFC formulas use the financial information students provide on their Free Application for Federal Student Aid to calculate the EFC. Financial aid administrators (FAAs) subtract the EFC from students’ cost of attendance (COA) to determine their need for the following federal student financial assistance offered by the U.S. Department of Education (the Department): Federal Pell Grants, Subsidized Stafford Loans through the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program, Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOG), Federal Perkins Loans, and Federal Work-Study (FWS).

Sometimes there is just not enough money given or loaned and the student ends up paying the price. A solution for this might be for a young person to wait on college and go in a couple of years after high school graduation. After completion of a study of 3,000 students who entered public colleges and universities in Wisconsin in 2008 with the support of federal aid and Pell Grants, Goldrick-Rab exposes the upsetting outcome of these deficits. ½ of the students in the study left college without a degree, whereas less than twenty percent finished within five years.

The cause of their problems, time and again, was lack of money. Unable to afford tuition, books, and living expenses, they worked too many hours at outside jobs, dropped classes, took time off to save money, even went without adequate food or housing. In a heartbreaking number of cases, they simply left school—not with a degree, but with crippling debt. (Goldrick-Rab, S. 2016) Some say that college is an investment and you should have a guarantee of a return on your investment and college does to guarantee this. According to Georgetown University Having some postsecondary education, even without earning a degree, adds nearly onequarter of a million dollars to lifetime earnings. Annual earnings rise to $38,700 ($18.69 per hour).

Getting an Associate’s degree adds another bump of nearly $200,000 in lifetime earnings. At $43,200 a year ($20.77 per hour), those with Associate’s degrees earn nearly one-third more than those with just a high school diploma. These numbers demonstrate convincingly the advantage of non-baccalaureate postsecondary education. Getting a Bachelor’s degree adds another large increase in lifetime earnings. With median earnings of $56,700 ($27.26 per hour), or $2.3 million over a lifetime, Bachelor’s degree holders earn 31 percent more than workers with an Associate’s degree and 74 percent more than those with just a high school diploma. Further, obtaining a Bachelor’s is also the gateway to entering and completing graduate education.

About one-third of Bachelor’s degree holders obtain a graduate degree. All graduate degree holders can expect lifetime earnings at least double that of those with only a high school diploma. For those with a Master’s degree (which includes those with Master’s degrees in elementary teaching and in business administration), typical lifetime earnings are $2.7 million ($66,800 a year or $32 per hour).4 Moreover, earnings rise substantially for those with Doctoral and Professional degrees: Doctoral degree holders have lifetime earnings of $3.3 million ($81,300 per year; $39 per hour) while those with Professional degrees (mainly doctors and lawyers) have the highest earnings, making over $3.6 million over the course of a lifetime ($91,200 per year; $44 per hour). This is a 61 percent increase (nearly 1.4 million) over Bachelor’s degree holders. Lifetime (Carnevale, Anthony P., Rose, Stephen J., and Cheah, Ban, 2018).

There are two videos that I watched courtesy of my 17-year-old son who insists that college is not for him. He is at an age where he is starting to have his own beliefs and core values and he is becoming an adult with his own individual outlook on life. It is hard for me as a parent to understand why he doesn’t want to go to college but thanks to his strong will I have opened my mind and learned many reasons why college may not always be the best idea. In the video The Most successful People Explain Why a College Degree is Useless. Motivation Madness (2017) The Most successful People Explain Why a College Degree is Useless. Motivation Madness (2017), many successful people were interviewed and asked about college for example; Mark Zuckerberg, Jay Z., Donald Trump, and Elon Musk. Elon musk said in the video that a person does not need a college degree for success and that it is in the individual to have the drive and commitment he then used Bill Gates and Steve Jobs as examples of not having a degree but would be happy to hire them.

The video also mention education and that it should not be a chore. “Many kids are puzzled as to why they are there”, (Motivation Madness 2017). The video had a small part that was interesting it said that A students work for the B students, C students run the business, and the D students dedicate the building. One famous person in the video said, followers are not entrepreneurs,” 50 cent. And the famous Donald Trump said that there is no need for an ivy league education because people from these schools come out unable to handle real situations and you get the same education for less money at non-Ivy schools. (Motivation Madness 2017)

The other video “Do you Need a Degree to Succeed,” Antonio Centeno who has an MBA, talks about how he questions whether he would be as successful without his college degree. He believes he would have been as successful as intellect is not based on a college degree. He gives five reasons why one does not need a college degree.

  1. College doesn’t teach you how to think. Just because a person has a degree does not mean they are smarter. It only means they can regurgitate information.
  2. Student loan costs.
  3. There are no guarantees anymore other than a large bill.
  4.  All the same information can be obtained in a much less expensive way through libraries, internet, etc.
  5. Claims to be a place to find yourself but he says it’s just a place to go party.

In a second book written by Jeffrey Selingo that involves life after college instead of the college system. It talks about the instability that a college degree now has when it was once a guarantee to financial stability. Now, after college so many college graduates start their job search only to find out that there is a certain amount of experience needed for the job, they got a degree in. As a result, many college students come out of college with a huge amount of debt in an uncertain job market. A college graduate does have a high chance of finding employment after college but instead of starting at the top of the career path they chose they often take lessor jobs or even internships where the ay is not much.

Becoming successful after college or with no college experience lies in the hands of each individual. A person is not defined as successful or unsuccessful after we look to see whether they went to college or not. In fact, each person has an individual point of view on the meaning of success. To some, success means being rich and famous. To others, it means being happy with one’s self and their path in life. The article is titled, “There are Only Two Types of Success… and One of Them can Ruin You.” Explains that one type of success is in “what you do,” meaning what you attain by working for or you might get lucky or be born into it. This is the fame and fortune kind of success and it is hard to hold onto because there is always someone better coming to take your spot.

The other type of success is in the type of person you are. “This type of success might be best defined as how far you have mastered yourself (your cowardice, selfishness, and pride), how close you are to the kind of person you are meant to be, and how deeply you have impacted other’s lives for good. But not only is this type of success difficult to define, it is difficult to achieve” (S. Cy, 2017). An article online which spoke about three dimensions of self; the personal the ego and the essential self-mentions how our society views success which is mostly in obtaining material things and how we can view ourselves as failures due to societal influences. It also talks about how our view of success and our thoughts create our reality. “Where attention goes, energy flows” (J. Herriott, M.A, 2019).

After analyzing all of this information was curious to find out what the people around thought of success and college degrees. I covered a great amount of information here, but it is vital for me to understand success by questioning the people around me. I decided to ask everyone I could think of from all walks of life. I asked my kids, my parents, people from work older and younger, my kid’s friends (high school students), I asked my friends, my grandma, and husband. I asked them all the same question, “is a college degree necessary for success as an adult?” the answers were all very different and yet they had similar insight.

My mom, “depends on what success means to you…. I say no, not always.” A freshman that attends school with my son said, “I think it is because you’re not going to go very far without it.” Another one of his friends said,” you don’t need a college education as an adult, but it helps in my opinion.” A nurse friend of mine said that she thinks is 100% vital to have a college degree. My grandmother who is an RN said, “no its not.” A friend of mine who did not attend college said, “=there are many people that have been successful without going to college… and successful only being rich? If you come from a poor family or bad upbringing, just having a stable life like buying a home and being consistent with paying bills can be considered success.”

This woman at first answered the question plainly like everyone else. But once she thought about, it seems like she was trying to convey that success depends on the individual and it is viewed differently by all. My sister who has a college degree say that knowledge is power, so she thinks that a degree is important but not necessary. There were many other responses with the same back and forth answers. The lesson taken is that success as an adult is viewed differently by each person and one’s persons idea of success may not match another’s. a college degree may or may not help a person become successful as an adult. It is very important for a person to evaluate their situation and make an appropriate decision when deciding whether to attend college.


  1. Beth V. Walker (2017). Never Pay Retail for College: How Smart Parents Find the Right School for the Right Price.
  2. Brooks, Katherine ED.D. (2017) You Majored in What? Mapping Your Path from Chaos to Career.
  3. Bruni, Frank. (2015) Where You Go is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania.
  4. Carey, Kevin. (2015). The End of College: Creating the Future of Learning and the University of Everywhere.
  5. Do You Need a Degree to Succeed? | 5 Reasons College Does NOT Equal Success | University Myths. (Jul 14, 2016). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4RFX_rU8UC4.
  6. Goldrick-Rab, Sara. (2016) Paying the Price: College Costs, Financial Aid, and the Betrayal of the American Dream.
  7. Angerame, Lisa (2017) Meritocracy: Discovery Service for Fresno Pacific University. http://0-eds.b.ebscohost.com.librarycatalog.fresno.edu/eds/detail/detail?vid=1&sid=d9a3ed60-a41d-405a-b5af-9dc52e65fc30%40pdc-v-sessmgr05&bdata=JkF1dGhUeXBlPWlwLHVpZCx1cmwmc2l0ZT1lZHMtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#AN=89164315&db=ers.
  8. Selingo, Jeffrey J. (2013). College (Un)bound: The Future of Higher Education and What it Means for Students.
  9. Selingo, Jeffrey J. (2016). There is Life After College: What Parents and Students Should Know About Navigating School to Prepare for the Jobs of Tomorrow.
  10. There are only two types of success…and one of them can … (n.d.). Retrieved January 14, 2019, from https://medium.com/the-mission/there-are-only-two-types-of-success-and-one-of-them-can-ruin-you-4474b7fd54a1 Published on Oct 12, 2017.
  11. The True Meaning of Success | Unity. (n.d.). Retrieved January 14, 2019, from http://www.unity.org/resources/articles/true-meaning-success.
  12. Carnevale, Anthony P., Rose, Stephen J., and Cheah, Ban (2018, October 25). The College Payoff. Retrieved from https://cew.georgetown.edu/cew-reports/the-college-payoff/

Cite this paper

Is a College Degree Necessary for Success as an Adult?. (2021, Mar 27). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/is-a-college-degree-necessary-for-success-as-an-adult/

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