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Do You Have to Go to College to Be Successful? The Answer: Yes and No.


Maybe you are steps away from graduating high school and looking for the answers for what to do next. Or perhaps you’ve been working for a few years and you are wondering if college is the next step for you. But first, you need to know if it’s worth your time and money. So honestly, do you have to go to college to be successful in life? The answer is yes…and no. Read on to find out why there’s no simple answer.

Is College Important for You to Be Successful?

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College is an important part of many people’s lifetime. It is an experience unlike any other one could have, but the important question is, is it important enough to spend all of that time and money?

There are many degrees that have a very high ROI. If the expected income you will make with your career choice is high, and the tuition for your program is affordable, then college will be well worth your while.

However, there are many careers that don’t pay well enough to make a degree worth it, and there are many career fields that you can enter without college. So you definitely need to make sure that your expected career is worth the investment.

Overall, college is important because it provides invaluable experiences, you gain important, life-long connections, and you can get further in your career and make a high income with most degrees.

Also, it is possible to graduate debt-free with University of the People, the world’s first accredited tuition-free university. So with University of the People, your degree will always be worthwhile no matter your path.

You Don’t Need a College Degree to Be Successful — Here’s Why

The truth is that a college degree is a required step of many careers, but not all. Decide what career you want first and check if a degree is needed. Even if a degree is not needed in the beginning, it may be required in order for you to move higher up within your company or field.

That being said, you can certainly be successful without a college degree — your skills and talents can get you hired. Find out exactly what skills are needed for your career path and work hard to excel in them. You will have to be determined, self-disciplined, and goal-oriented. In the end, both education and marketable skills are key. It’s up to you how you want to get that education and skills — through an institution, or on your own in the real world.

Finally, do employers really check degrees? They sure do, if it’s important for them. For companies that require degrees, they may check your resume to find out if you really completed the accomplishments you put down. They will likely ask you about it in your interview as well.

However, many new companies today do not look at resumes during the hiring process. Instead, they will ask for written answers and a preliminary skills test during the application,and a more thorough and in-person skills test during the interview process. Your skillset, personality, and recommendations will go a long way for companies such as these.

Do You Really Need To Go To College? That Depends

There are three important factors when determining if you should go to college: the hiring manager or hiring process, the industry you are entering, and finally, your own definition of success.

1. Hiring Manager

For better or worse, there is an algorithm to hiring nowadays. Some companies have software that will discard resumes submitted with no degrees or irrelevant experience.

Some hiring managers are under pressure to produce the best applicants possible and will therefore choose college as a way to filter out some of their applicant pool.

Today, many companies have third-party hiring agencies that make money from finding qualified applicants for a position. Hiring managers and HR coordinators within these agencies will often filter out applicants without degrees in order to increase their chances of matching an applicant to a job. To find out if this is the case, check with the HR department at some big companies you would be interested in applying to get an idea of what to expect during the application process.

2. Industry

Some industries are more likely to require degrees, such as fields of psychology or hard sciences, whereas some areas are more heavily dependent on relevant skills — such as some areas of technology and business. Those looking to get into marketing, design, programming or content creation may not need a degree, but a good portfolio showcasing past projects will be crucial.

3. How You Define Success

Ultimately, it is up to you to determine how you define success for yourself. If you are able to start your own business, continue a family business, or start small in a company and move your way up without a degree, do you consider that success? Or will you always feel the need to have graduated from college no matter your career path? Do some self-reflection on how much a degree matters in your own definition of success for yourself.

Benefits of Having A Degree

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There are countless reasons why you really should go to college. One of the most common reasons why students attend college these days is for the opportunity for an increased income and a boost to the resume.

College grads, on average, make much more than those working with only a high-school diploma.

Employers really do look at your education as an important aspect of your resume and many companies won’t consider an applicant without a minimum of a bachelor’s degree. In addition, many companies offer higher entry-level salaries for a college degree. And if you study while you are working, you may be eligible for a salary increase once you graduate.

Plus, we can’t discount the college experience. As cheesy as it may sound, college really is a life-changing experience. The people you meet throughout college, even though an online degree will change your life forever. There are so many research opportunities, and project experience you will gain — not to mention all of the soft skills you develop from attending colleges such as time management, work-life balance, networking skills, and presentation and writing skills.

In addition to all that experience, college gives you a depth in your field that short programs, certificates, and work experience can’t offer. The college includes courses on theory and research that give you the expertise and confidence to do what you do in the real world. All of these courses, projects, exams, and group work will give you the critical thinking experience you need to enter the workforce competitively.

The easiest reason to go to college: Your career choice. There are just some career paths that necessitate a college degree and there is no getting out of it. Do your homework on the job and career you dream of and check entry requirements, as well as what it takes to move ahead in the field so you know full well if a degree is required.

These are all great reasons to go to college — but is it worth it? The truth is that there are so many online, flexible and low-cost options these days that you are almost certain to find a program that will be within your budget and time constraints. Pursuing a specialized undergraduate certificate program can be a potentially beneficial option. In the end, you need to decide for yourself if the program is worth your time and money.

If you are worried about whether your degree will be worth the investment, do some research on which degrees, majors, and colleges have a strong record of a high return on investment. Common majors with high ROIs include engineering, computer science, economics, physics, and finance.

A College Degree is Beneficial, But Not Always Required

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You don’t necessarily need to go to college to earn big. There are plenty of high-income earners who did not go to college, and many high-paying industries that welcome non-college graduates.

Start-ups in technology, for example, may be more interested in your skillset and potential than a degree. You can also start your own business in something you excel at, such as consulting, marketing, design, or freelance programming — all of which can pay well without a degree.

You also don’t need to go to college to become an expert in an area. Personal and professional experience, coupled with online resources can give you expertise in your field that a college degree cannot. In college, you don’t learn tenacity like you do from the fails and successes of real-life experiences.

In addition, your degree could be useless by the time you graduate. Take computer science, for example. The introductory programming course taken in freshman year of college will likely be irrelevant for a job four to five years later. Industries such as technology and science are always changing — a better way to learn and become successful in your field is to keep yourself updated on industry news.

Finally, the biggest reason people talk about not going to college: Student debt. Student debt is a real problem for almost all graduates. Many grads take many years to pay off student loans — if you leave college with large amounts of student loans, going to college might hurt you in the long term.

Education Comes in Many Forms

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You don’t have to attend college in order to get an education and preparation for a career. There are other options as well. But take note, some aren’t cheaper than college.

1. Trade Schools

Trade schools are schools for specific careers. There are applied-skills trade schools for automotive, plumbing, electrician, and aviation, for example. There are also healthcare trade schools for careers in medical technology, billing, and nursing. Other options include culinary schools, art schools, tech schools, and beauty schools.

2. Certifications

There are plenty of fields today that offer certificates in place of, or in addition to college degrees. Common certificates include project management, digital marketing, programming, teaching, information systems, and forensics examiner.

3. Real-Life Experiences

If you can start a good job and work your way up, or learn the skills you need and move on to your dream career, by all means, go for it! You will earn real experience and get paid while doing so. Just make sure you are doing a job that leads to what you ultimately want. Other opportunities that are not jobs but are real-life experiences include self-directed projects, volunteer work, and being on an executive board.

4. Apprenticeships

Apprenticeships are ways for you to get real work experience while learning with the best in the business. You can get an apprenticeship in law, nursing, IT, and more. In a way, an apprenticeship is similar to a paid internship, but not associated with the school.

5. Military Experience

Military experience is another non-college route to go. The military can give you plenty of relevant experience to enter the workforce. Plus, if you decide to go to college later, you may be reimbursed for tuition. However, joining the military is a very serious decision and you will want to talk it over with loved ones, as well as take plenty of time to weigh the pros and cons.

How to Invest in Your Education

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Your education is an investment, so invest wisely. Do your homework when it comes to the school you plan to attend, and the major or degree you plan to graduate with. Some degrees and majors have higher or lower ROI, so make sure yours has a high ROI to make it worth your money.

Knowing your financing options is an important part of paying for your college degree. Do as much research into relevant scholarships that you can, and apply for them, no matter if the reward amount is large or small. The small scholarship amounts can really add up!

Make sure to fill out a yearly FAFSA to determine your eligibility for federal student aid. If you can, try to pay off some of the tuition while you are in school. Check out options for work-study, where you get paid and earn college credit while you work. See if you can also work for college credit, or TA for a class to offset tuition costs.

Finding financial success while you are in college is possible. Try starting a side business, either with yourself or with colleagues. If it goes well, you can pursue it further after graduation. There are plenty of student-friendly jobs available that are either part-time, flexible, online, or a combination of all three. Saving wherever you can will help you out big time in the long run. Try to eat in, stick to your budget, and use all the student discounts you can while you are in college.

Making tough decisions is a part of financial success in college. You might have to forgo a dream school if the price is too high, or you might opt to live at home during college to save money. These are tough decisions to make, but ultimately will help you financially in the long run.

You don’t have to be a part of the student debt crisis. If you attend a low-cost university, it is possible to work part-time throughout the school to pay off the tuition as you go. If you attend the University of the People, your classes will be tuition-free, almost guaranteeing that you graduate from college debt-free with a useful and in-demand degree.

Many Successful Leaders Don’t Have College Degrees

You don’t need a college degree to be successful — these leaders don’t have one!

  1. Steve Jobs: Steve Jobs went to Reed College for computing but dropped out after just one semester. After spending some time in India, he went on to build one of the most powerful and influential companies today: Apple.
  2. Richard Branson: As a dyslexic student, Branson didn’t have much success in school and dropped out of high school. He is now a billionaire, and the founder and CEO of Virgin Group.
  3. Dave Thomas: Founder and former CEO of Wendy’s, Thomas left high school to work for a restaurant in Indiana. He opened the first Wendy’s in 1969 and the rest is history!
  4. Michael Dell: Dell went to college because his parents wanted him to become a doctor. But during school, he started a side gig refurbishing computers that became so successful, he dropped out after one year.
  5. Rachael Ray: Believe it or not, Rachael Ray has no culinary training or any degree for that matter. She used her skills, personality, and tenacity to become the amazing food star that she is today.
  6. Henry Ford: Ford left his family’s farm at the age of 16 to move to Detroit and work as an apprentice in a machine shop. He has no formal schooling in engineering or business but went on to revolutionize the automotive and business world.
  7. John D. Rockefeller Sr.: Rockefeller, like many of his time, started working at the age of 16 with only some knowledge of bookkeeping. He is known as one of the richest Americans to ever live and founded one of the most successful companies in America, Standard Oil.
  8. Steven Spielberg: Spielberg was actually denied acceptance to film school twice. While attending another school, he started as an intern at Universal Studios and began his career that way. He eventually received an honorary degree, 35 years after first attending college.
  9. Mary Kay Ash: Mary Kay Ash, the founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics, started her company in 1963 at the age of 45 after decades of watching men get promoted instead of her. Before she started Mary Kay Cosmetics, she was a successful businesswoman much ahead of her time.


There are many factors that come into play when answering the question, “Do you have to go to college to be successful?”

In life, you create the opportunities to sharpen your skills and improve your talents, learn and explore different disciplines, and cultivate experiences. It is up to you to choose which path you will take to obtain those. Ultimately, you need to define your own success, and believe in yourself and your ability to succeed.