Getting Started

Why college is no longer the only path to a successful career

Written by Eric Titner

There’s no doubt about it, the world is changing fast—and at a pace that most of us have never experienced before. Everything from rapid advances in technology to seismic cultural, political, social, and economic shifts are altering the way we live on a deep and lasting level, forcing us to reevaluate many of the previously “tried and true” ways of doing things.

Like it or not, there’s a term for all of this—it’s called progress—and the world is divided between those who choose to keep up and those who fall behind.

Chief among these transformations is higher education. Decades ago, college was seen as an ideal way to prepare young adults for success in the working world, and a degree was practically mandatory in order to climb your way to the top of the professional ladder and into one of the big corner offices. These days, that old way of thinking—and those corner offices—are evaporating, and it’s forcing folks to reevaluate the value of college in this brave new world of rapidly evolving professional opportunities.

The cost is prohibitive for most

A big factor that’s upsetting the old college apple cart is cost. Simply put, the cost of earning a degree has skyrocketed in recent years, and finding the funds to finance higher education has become infinitely more challenging for most of us. On top of this, the notion of borrowing your way through college has become increasingly less desirable as the stigma against getting buried in student loan debt continues to grow and get attention.

A degree no longer signifies that you’re more qualified for a job

That said, there’s an even more elemental concern regarding the value of college that’s got folks talking and thinking long and hard before making the decision to commit to earning a degree: Does college even effectively give you a leg up in the work world?

It’s long been a cliché that college kids, equipped with their expensive diplomas, are ill-prepared for the pressures and demands of a job in the real world. And now, with rising education costs and an increasing focus on alternate paths to professional success (like embracing entrepreneurship and starting your own business), the very notion of whether or not that expensive diploma is worth going after anymore is being questioned by an increasing number of people.

Sure, the argument can still be made that having that degree on your resume is a crucial step in order to get your foot in the door at most jobs. Still, it’s also hard to argue against the notion that the value of a college degree becomes increasingly diluted when everyone else has one too, and those who find other and more unique ways to stand out from the job-hunting crowd just may have the upper hand.

College doesn’t teach the skills you need for success

It’s also important to question why so many employers are lamenting the ever-widening “skills gap” that’s making it harder for them to source qualified candidates for their open positions. Some argue that it’s the direct result of an outdated higher education system that bogs students down with coursework that’s not relevant to their chosen career paths … and instead keeps them on an extended academic treadmill to ramp-up costs and eat up valuable time that would be better spent gaining practical, work-focused experience and training.

On top of all this, the higher education system, with its exorbitant costs and sometimes questionable admissions selection processes, contains barriers to entry that many progressively-minded individuals are eager to leave behind and move past. Many of today’s forward-thinking business leaders today are recognizing a new truth: a driven, hard-working, curious, and naturally talented individual who demonstrates a little grit and a lot of hustle during the interview process can be just as effective as a candidate with a college education and perhaps little else (and maybe even more effective).

So, as this debate rages on, where does this leave those who want to make the right decision about whether or not to invest in college? Like most things in life, the answer isn’t a simple one. The truth is, not all colleges—or job candidates—are created equal, and some programs in some schools are more effective at preparing students for the work world than others. Therefore, it’s up to individuals to research their options, learn about their chosen fields and requirements to entry, explore their universe of options, and make an informed decision that’s right for them.

About the author

Eric Titner

Eric is a NYC-based editor and writer, with years of experience in career-focused content development across a wide range of industries.