Do You Really Need To Go To College To Be Successful?

Dear Heather,

My school recently asked us juniors about our plans after high school. I said I wanted to go to college, but deep down I know that isn’t what I want. Everyone says that to have a good future with a good income, I have to go to college, but I don’t think it’s for me. I’m really scared I’m going to fail at life and let down the people who are counting on me. Do you really need to go to college to be successful?


Although I certainly see where people are coming from when they push college on young adults, I have to disagree with the idea that college is the only way to make something of yourself. There are many great things about going to college, and while it can definitely help give you direction, further your academic experience, and advance your career, it is not the only option for success and it is not for everyone. Deciding not to go to college does not mean you’re a failure at life, I promise.

Here’s the deal: there are some careers out there that require a college education and degree. There are some careers out there where you have to go to graduate school and get a Master’s degree in order to get the job you want. But there are also plenty of job options for high school graduates with no college degree. If your ultimate goal is to get a job that requires a college degree, then yeah, you need to go to college. But if your ultimate goal doesn’t require that, then who says you’re a failure if you opt out?

Maybe you’re sitting there thinking, “Well, I don’t know what I want to do. I just know that college doesn’t seem like the best fit for me right now.” That’s okay too! The great thing about college is that it’s always going to be there. If you choose to skip it after high school and decide 10 years later that you want to go, you can do that. You can go 20 or 50 years later – there is no age limit. And, honestly, if you have no idea what you want to do, taking a break (or taking an indefinite break) is a good idea. College is really expensive and student loans need to be paid back starting right after graduation. If you don’t know what you want to do, then wait until you have a better idea – there’s no reason to waste your time and money until you’re ready.

Okay, so maybe you’re sitting there thinking, “Uh, I don’t think I’ll ever be ready. I never want to go to college!” Guys, that’s okay too. Like I said before, there are plenty of job options out there that don’t require a college degree. Do some research and look into them. And, hey, a typical nine-to-five career isn’t for everyone. There are tons of jobs out there that are usually seen as only part-time options but that can easily lead to more permanent deals: waitressing, working retail, babysitting, house cleaning, and bartending, just to name a few. These jobs may seem like “bad options,” but they’re not! These jobs all require hard work and there is the potential to make a lot of money (especially waitressing and bartending) and to grow in the field. I worked in the restaurant business for seven years and watched many serves move up to management positions even without going to school. That’s a good job!

If none of that sounds appealing to you, think about this: there are also trade schools out there that can give you the career you want without the full expense of college loans or all of the extra classes. You can go to beauty school to do makeup or hair for a living, you can choose a union position in your field of choice, you can take real estate classes to become a real estate agent… these are, again, just a few options out of many. Trade schools are typically cheaper and shorter, and they are more flexible.

Furthermore, going to college does not guarantee you success OR a job. You could go to the best school in the country and get all the degrees necessary: there is still a chance that you won’t get hired for the job you want. There’s still a chance that you’ll get a job and then get let go. There are tons of people out there who put themselves through college because they think it’s the only way, then change what they want to do (rendering their degree useless) or struggle to get by.

At the end of the day, remember this: success is not just one thing, it’s something that is defined differently by everyone. Some people in our society may say that success is achieved when you have a powerful job, all the degrees, and a lot of money. Others might say that it’s when you’re happy, regardless of your income or your position in life. Your success should be defined by you and what makes you feel good. So, yes, choosing not to go to college might disappoint some people in your life, but honestly? This is your life, not theirs. You have to do what is right for you, no one else. They’ll get over it, and if they don’t, that’s their problem.

So honestly, I don’t want you to feel pressured to go to college. Give yourself time to think about it, and don’t go if it doesn’t feel right for you. You have more than enough options if you choose to avoid college forever. There is also always the idea of taking a year or a few years off of school so that you can work, save money, and/or travel before you have a better idea of your future goals. Good luck!

take care,

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