Growing up I was told that if I worked hard enough and studied as hard as I could that I could go to any college I wanted. I remember being told this as young as maybe 8 years old, and the theme continued throughout my life. And I believed it. And I did go on to college, though I certainly did not have the option of “any college I wanted.”
I hear many people share similar stories about the things they were told about progressing onto a higher level of education after high school. Many parents consider the value of hiring an S.A.T tutor for the children to help raise their chances of gaining admission to an esteemed university.
But is this the only route to success? I’m not saying that it is or isn’t. But as student loan debt seems to be burying many Americans well into adulthood, is it time to open our minds to other possibilities?
Student Loan Debt
Currently, Americans have more than $1.5 trillion in total student loan debt. That’s a lot of money. Reports state that it takes individuals an average of more than twenty years to pay off a bachelor’s degree. Many people make payments of several hundred dollars a month. These amounts often equate to more than phone and electric bills combined, and sometimes more than a car payment.
Student loan debt can be so crippling that it causes individuals to put off buying homes and having children. They simply can’t afford it.
Does College Equal Success?
The question of whether or not college equals success is highly nuanced. An individual may go to college, complete their degree, and enter a field with a high pay rate. Or, they may graduate and not go into their field at all. Perhaps they graduate, go into their field, and realize that it just isn’t for them.
Similarly, individuals may forgo college and go on to start their own companies, work in a skilled trade, and have significant financial security. There are jobs that require college degrees that are known for having fairly low compensation rates, such as teaching, and trades that have excellent pay rates, such as underwater welding.
How does one judge success? And more importantly, is it defined by a degree or annual salary?
According to the Oxford Dictionary, the definition of success is “the accomplishment of an aim or purpose.” It does not note whether that purpose is academic, professional, or otherwise. One person’s purpose will certainly be different than another’s, and each person strives toward different goals.
To some, college is not part of that route. A person may want to be a painter, an author, or work in construction. These are all things that you do not need a college degree for. But if they attain these goals, by definition, they have achieved success.
For others, they may wish to be engineers, nurses, or environmental scientists. For these professions, college is a must. Others want to be parents, to achieve spiritual fulfillment, or travel the world.
The real question of how success is achieved is whether or not you find what gives you purpose or meaning in life and how you take actionable steps to get there. It’s a process of self-development and you can measure your self-development progress as you go.
Essentially, if you are happy and fulfilled, you have reached a level of success.
Do We Continue to Promote College?
Whether or not we continue to promote college as the route to success varies greatly on the individual to which we are promoting it. If a child, teenager, or young adult voices strongly that they want to go into a skilled trade, promoting college as the only route to success may be detrimental to them in the long-run. It can cost years that they could spend developing their skill.
However, if an individual states that they want to be a doctor, or an architect, promoting college is a good idea. Without a degree, these jobs are unattainable, therefore college is in fact the route to success.
As long as the individual ends up happy in the end.
Does College Equal Security?
It’s easy to get caught up in the mentality that college is the route for success. It has been ingrained in many of us for so long that it seems natural. However, many of us have also lived through recessions and industry bubbles. During these times we have seen significant amounts of layoffs in jobs we once thought were “safe.”
When times are good, it can be easy to forget about those events. I am guilty of this myself. But then, when we are faced with another economic downturn it comes back to mind.
During these times, it is those in skilled trades that often have the most security. Mechanics, electricians, those that have specialized skills for which there will always be a need. This formula isn’t a certain, but in the past has shown to be fairly reliable.
The Bottom Line
So, is it time to stop promoting college as the route to success? Perhaps. College certainly is not the only way to achieve success, and true happiness is something that can only be found within yourself. Each person takes a different path to reach the destination, and that’s okay.
College will always be there. If an individual chooses not to go right now, it doesn’t mean that they can never go back. Many of us tend to shy away from this suggestion, but if a young adult wants to explore life without pursuing a degree, ultimately the choice is up to them.
There are cases to be made for and against promoting college as the route to success. In some instances it’s appropriate. In others, less so. One thing is certain. College can be the route to success for many. But not for everyone.
The best way to achieve success is to work on your inner self before deciding what to do externally, or how to spend your time in the outside world. When you spend time reflecting, figuring out your dreams and passions, that’s when you will be able to identify the things that make you happy.
They say that if you love what you do you will never work a day in your life. Each person should take the time to figure out what it is that they love to achieve that sense of purpose and aim that is, by definition, success.
If college gets you there, that’s GR8. But if it doesn’t, that’s GR8 too.