Is a College Degree Required to be Successful?

The proverbial dropout success stories: Zuckerberg, Jobs, Branson, Karp (who didn’t even graduate high school). A quick Google search and you’ll be inundated with lists from 3 to 99 of the top dropout-turned-millionaire names. But simple mention of their anomalistic success isn’t reason enough to abandon the centuries old chase of academic excellence. Rather, it’s the nitty gritty reality of the times that has many people asking – is a college degree required to be successful in this day and age?

The Workplace (and Hiring Criteria) is Evolving: For decades, hiring managers have relied on generic job descriptions and qualifications when trying to fill vacancies. Details like “bachelors degree in x” or “advanced degree with 5 years experience in y” were included in every posting, no matter how meager the position. After all, it makes sense that someone with a degree is going to be way better at everything and anything than someone without a degree, right? Wrong.

Recent studies have identified blatant errors in such ambiguous criteria. In other words, for many positions, there’s little to no correlation between possessing a certain academic degree and being a top dog employee.

Rather, it’s one’s personality and competencies that determine whether they’re going to really amp up sales, improve workflow productivity or charm the pants off customer service ratings. Aspects like aggressiveness, introversion, critical thinking skills, and communication capabilities far outweigh GPA.

Trades are Dying, but Demand Isn’t: With the massive shift toward outsourced work and the low interest rates on student loans that occurred over the last decade, young people – including those who likely wouldn’t have gone to university under other circumstances – started moving in droves toward college education. The impact is that skilled trades, like carpentry, mechanics, electricians, and the like, are hurting for bodies, let alone top performers.

So, it becomes a simple case of supply and demand. There will always be a need for these types of service providers, but because there are currently so few in the market, they have the ability to set their own prices.

Education Isn’t What It Used to Be: Whether it be the government, capitalism or our education system itself, most academic institutions leave something to be desired in regard to preparing young people for tomorrow’s challenges. Unfortunately, many of today’s degrees either give students a lot of knowledge in a very narrow area or a little knowledge about a broad spectrum of topics. In both situations, there’s a disconnect between what universities are teaching, what students are digesting, and what is actually marketable out in the real world.

The consequence? Coupled with the Debbie Downer economic times, recent graduates are quite simply failing to launch. Living at home, working jobs they’re technically overqualified for and drowning in student debt, those shiny diplomas just don’t do much to keep them warm.

At the end of the day, we’re not advocating that you run around your college dorm shouting, “Run for the hills!” The University experience is still a valuable one both in regard to one’s career – college graduates earn up to 84% more than someone with only a high school diploma –  and for reasons beyond mere job-hunting. It’s key, too, to recognize that the names initially mentioned at the start of this article were unique in their tenacity, vision and innovate knack.

That said, before you (or mom and dad) fork out enough money to buy a three-bedroom in Malibu to the Bursar’s office, take some time to seriously consider how that piece of paper you get on graduation day will really effect the rest of your life. Is a degree itself critical for your aspirations and, if so, which one is really the right one for your goals?

Share with:


Career, job