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College Not For Everyone

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    American culture pressures high school students into doing everything they can to get a college degree. From AP and honors classes and extracurriculars to Key Club drawing a path to Harvard, students and parents go out of their way to live out this dream. However not every student benefits from a college degree. Though there are many students who find college beneficial in furthering their careers and their lives, college isn’t for everyone, and there are other ladders to success. Many people think that college is the only way into America’s declining middle class, but that’s just not the case anymore. There are many alternatives to college that can provide for a comfortable life, such as vocational schools, apprenticeships, or joining the military.

    While college is a valid option for most students, it is not necessarily the best option for all. Many students often feel pressured to go to college, even if they know that college may not be the best option for them. Due to the stigma of not getting a four-year college degree, students who otherwise would not go to college and would rather spend their time doing other things, work tirelessly to get a degree they don’t even want or need, sometimes without being able to complete them (Lynch). Students who’s needs would be better met in technical programs or other college alternatives often find themselves falling behind and failing in college programs that are not suited for them (Reich). Other students simply aren’t adequately prepared for college level curricula.

    David Leonhardt, of the New York Times, explains that most students are ill-prepared of the rigor of college coursework and often need to do remedial work just to keep up and receive their degrees (Thorne). One professor of a state university commented to Leonhardt that even though most students are ill-prepared for college, some students don’t belong in college at all. He explains that these students “lack essential academic skills and either do not have the necessary desire to acquire them in college, or lack the mental ability” (Thorne). This may seem like a slap in the face to many students who find themselves in this position, but it brings to light the harsh reality of a secondary school system that has failed to realistically assess its students academic abilities. Many school systems do try to push all of their students onto the same path to a four-year college degree, as if they were uniform products on a conveyor belt. Failure to understand that these individuals need individualized options to better the chances of their success, will leave behind an under-qualified workforce of former students who were forced into their cookie-cutter graduate roles. Knowing that they have other options besides college available to them will help students fulfill their full potential. With the overwhelming pressure of going to college to get a four-year degree, many students are left uninformed about other post-high-school education options. Such options include tradesman and vocational schools, getting an entry-level job, joining the military, or even starting their own businesses. Vocational and trade schools offer a large variety of career paths to choose from, such as electricians, plumbers, phlebotomists, or even radiology technicians.

    America’s emerging economy will see a rise in the need for technicians and engineers in the next few years (OECD). This means that there will be plenty of jobs available to those with technical degrees from trade schools. Many of these technicians also make a pretty good salary, some well over $70,000 per year (Farrington). Those who prefer to start earning money right away have the option of getting an entry-level job. Many entry-level jobs only require a high school diploma. Those with entry-level jobs have the opportunity to rise through the ranks within a company, while also making money and gaining on-the-job experience. The military is also an option for some people. Although the wages are low initially, all basic living expenses are covered by the government (Farrington, Thorne). Joining the military provides an education, job security, and many promotional opportunities.

    For those who want to try creating their own path in life, there is entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship is the activity of setting up a business in the hope of profit (Merriam-Webster). Young entrepreneurs have the chance to pursue any business ideas they have, after high school, before they can no longer take financial risks due to financial obligations, such as family or a mortgage. Succeeding in business ventures may be a gamble, but those who work hard at it succeed. Some famous entrepreneurs without college degrees include Bill Gates, Richard Branson, Tai Lopez, and Steve Jobs. Even for those who don’t succeed in their entrepreneurial ventures still learn a lot from their experiences. The education received from starting your own business is priceless (Farrington).

    Starting businesses or pursuing any other alternative paths to college are all valid options. Some even say they are better suited for them than a traditional college experience. For one college student, his biggest regret was wasting five years of his life, in addition to hundreds of thousands of dollars, on getting a college degree. Neil Patel has wanted to be an entrepreneur his whole life. He ended up going to college, because he thought that a university experience would sharpen his critical thinking skills. He found that it was just a routine of memorizing information from a book and regurgitating it back onto a test weeks later. Going to college also cost him profits in his business. Patel was earning approximately twenty thousand dollars per month from his business while going to school 21 hours a week. While he was gaining tons of practical knowledge through operating his marketing business, he felt he wasn’t learning anything new or useful in school. He calculated that the financial cost of going to school added up to just over two million dollars in lost revenue over the five years it took him to receive his degree. Additionally, the opportunity cost of getting a worthless degree was networking, investing, and getting more clients for his business— essentially not being able to expand his business to its fullest.

    Overall Patel believes that while college did have some benefits, for him specifically it was a waste of time (Patel). College still proves valuable for a majority of people. Aside from the social stigma associated with not going to college, there are many reasons to still pursue a college degree. One of the most common reasons people ultimately go to college is to make more money in the long run, ensuring a better quality of life. Statistically, there are huge earning gaps between high school graduates and college graduates. College graduates with a Bachelor’s degree make an average of about $60,000 per year, while high school graduates with a diploma make an average of about $35,000 per year (Josephson). However, this wage gap is only prevalent among college graduates and those who have not pursued any form of higher education. When factoring in the earnings of those who pursued other options, such as technical schools or the military, the wage gap decreases dramatically. In addition to the educational wage gap, many argue that not getting a college degree limits one’s career options. This is true, especially considering educational inflation. However, there are still many high-paying jobs that don’t necessarily require a degree. These can include anything from software engineers to mechanics, entrepreneurs to electrical technicians (OECD). Some job fields require degrees. In that case, it is necessary to pursue a college education. But unless one is looking to be a doctor or lawyer, there is no need to obtain a professional degree, as there is more than one path for higher education.

    The idea that a four-year college degree is necessary for success in modern society is outdated. Students have more opportunities to succeed with alternate routes than ever before. People who don’t believe college is the right fit for them have infinite opportunities nowadays to pave their own paths to success. Getting a college degree before you live your life is no longer synonymous with the American dream. The American dream is doing what works best for yourself in order to attain the life you want. Despite the pressure in our society to only follow one path to success, through college, not everyone needs to do so. With all the options available to Americans today, people can pick and choose what caters to their individual learning needs in order to become successful in today’s America.

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    College Not For Everyone. (2022, Jan 12). Retrieved from

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