With the cost of tuition, career uncertainty, and inflation rising, more young people are wondering if college is right for them. Is it worth your time and money? Do you have to go to college to be successful?
Decades ago, getting a college degree was perceived to be the only route to a successful career. With tuition that was only a few thousand per year, you could further your education and increase your chances of landing high-paying jobs. However, that is no longer true.
The average cost of college in the United States is around $35,551 per year(opens new window), including books, fees, and living expenses. To put that into perspective, the average cost of a public four-year school from 1989 to 1990(opens new window) was $4,975. Even adjusted for inflation, the growth rate for tuition costs is so astronomical that it has outpaced what most can afford. It also outpaces the rate of inflation by 171.5%(opens new window).
Cost is a major factor that is giving young people pause, but it’s not the only one. They are also considering if the burden of student debt and losing time out of the workforce is worth it.
If you’re wondering if you have to go to college to be successful, you aren’t alone. Is a college education necessary for your future success?
In this article, we’ll share factors to help you decide if college is right for you and alternatives to consider.
Do you have to go to college to be successful?
If you're wondering if college is necessary to have a successful career, it depends on what you want to pursue. You don't need a Bachelor’s degree to succeed in most careers.
Instead of four-year degrees, more companies are looking at a candidate’s skills and potential. When a traditional college takes you out of the workforce for three to four years, is it the best option to gain the skills you need to land a job? In many cases, no. If you’re wondering if college is right for you, explore other options first.
6 reasons why you don't need college to be successful
Some people will tell you that the only way to succeed after high school is to go to college and get a Bachelor's degree. In reality, college is not for everyone and doesn't guarantee success. Here are some reasons why it might not be the right fit.
1. College is expensive
As mentioned, college is expensive, and tuition costs are rising. At its high cost, it's no longer the investment it was decades ago. People can't afford it.
A U.S. News report(opens new window) shows that college tuition costs have been on an upward trend for the last 20 years. In-state tuition and fees have grown the most, at a rate of 175%. Out-of-state costs have increased to 141%, and private tuition and fees to 134%.
However, the yearly costs are only part of a larger problem—the student debt crisis. Currently, student debt amounts to over $1.6 trillion(opens new window). For most middle to lower-class students to go to college in the US, they must get a loan. At one time, government Pell Grants could cover about 80% of tuition. Now, they barely cover 30%.
Harvard statistics(opens new window) show that 42% of college students between 18 and 29 years have loan debts. In the same Harvard study, seven out of 10 millennials said that financial circumstances play a significant role in whether or not they attend college.
2. You miss out on work experience and income
On top of tuition, you also need to consider lost time and income. As a college student, you spend two to four years not working in your chosen field. You're not making money or gaining valuable work experience that even entry-level positions seem to require.
According to the Education Data Initiative(opens new window), the price of a Bachelor’s degree is much higher when you factor in the years of lost income. When you consider lost income and loan interest, it is as much as $509,434. Starting out your career already hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt is daunting.
3. A degree doesn't guarantee a job
College graduates hope to chip away at their student debt by landing a high-salary position. Yet, going to college doesn't guarantee you'll land a job, let alone a high-paying one. There was a time when earning a four-year degree could give you a competitive edge. Again, times have changed.
Many recent college graduates struggle to get a job. In a 2022 study(opens new window), recent graduates submitted more than 300 job applications for entry-level positions. Over 90% got zero responses. Only 2% had interviews and none led to a job offer. For every unemployed person, there are two job openings(opens new window). Why are college graduates struggling to get hired?
One reason may be that the in-demand skills companies need are not what students study. Another reason is that graduates don’t have work experience.
It is becoming more common for entry-level jobs to require two to three years of professional work experience. But, how can you have on-the-job experience at a traditional college?
Internships may help, but many are unpaid and some employers don’t consider them work experience. This is why Multiverse apprenticeship programs combine learning with paid, on-the-job placements. Companies pay apprentices to work during the program, so they gain experience in their field while learning.
3. Most jobs don't require college degrees
Some professions–like doctors, lawyers, nurses, and teachers–require strict education requirements to enter the workforce. However, many other fields don't require college degrees. It's largely up to employers to determine what education their employees need for a role.
Many companies, especially those in tech, are easing up on or eliminating degree requirements(opens new window). The federal government has also removed degree requirements from technical IT roles(opens new window). Fields like software engineering and data science have a talent gap. The demand for skilled candidates is larger than the supply.
To widen the talent pool, companies are considering candidates that can demonstrate their experience and skills—regardless of degree.
Some roles that don't require college degrees include:
- Data Scientist
- Software Engineer
- Mobile and Web Developer
- Graphic Designer
- Product Manager
- Entrepreneur or Business Owner
4. Many successful people don't have degrees
You don’t need a Bachelor’s degree to be successful. Many successful people don’t have a college degree, including:
- Bill Gates - Microsoft founder
- Steve Wozniak - Apple co-founder
- Evan Williams and Jack Dorsey - founders of Twitter
Despite not adhering to the traditional career path, they built their own companies. Entrepreneurship is another path you can pursue without a degree.
6. You can gain the skills you need without a college degree
Although college isn’t necessary for success, you still need to further your education and build skills. Luckily, there are many alternatives out there.
Here are a few ways you can gain the skills you need for a career without a traditional college experience.
- Community college - Community colleges offer training programs that you can usually complete in two years or less. The average cost of an in-state community college(opens new window) is around $5,155 per year. That is $30,396 less than you’d pay to attend a university for a year.
- Apprenticeship programs - As an apprentice, you acquire real work experience from people in your field. You’re also getting paid while learning. In the US, apprenticeships are often associated with trades like electricians and plumbers. However, there are also tech apprenticeships, which is what Multiverse programs offer. You can learn data science, software engineering, digital marketing, and more.
- Online certifications - Online learning has existed for decades, but the pandemic catapulted its growth. There are plenty of free and affordable online courses you can take to learn new skills.
- Technical colleges, trade, and vocational schools - There are many careers that you can pursue by attending trade or vocational schools. Vocational schools take around two years to complete. They usually include practical, hands-on training in your chosen field. Examples of careers you can pursue include paralegals, pharmacy technicians, nurses, vet assistants, and chefs.
How to be successful without a college degree
Furthering your education and gaining new skills contribute to your success. However, college isn’t the only way to learn skills or land a job. In many cases, it may not even be the best option for you.
So, do you have to go to college to be successful? Ultimately, no. You can be successful without a degree.
For most positions, companies want to hire candidates with the right skills. You don't need to go to college to acquire those. One way to develop your skills and land a job is by applying for a Multiverse apprenticeship program.
Multiverse's programs don't charge a tuition fee. You get paid while earning your degree. We call our students apprentices because they receive on-the-job training at real companies that pay them for their time. You can easily apply for a paid apprenticeship here(opens new window).