Some say you can be successful without it, others say it’s indispensable.

Requiring a college education, and inherently a college degree, in order to be successful is a topic with extreme opinions on both sides of the spectrum. Some will bring up Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, both whom are college drop outs, to justify that college isn’t necessary.¬† Others will give you just about any practicing professional in society to say that it is. But really, is a college degree really worth the four years of your life, accompanied by a massive debt once you’re done (or not), and is the wage gap considerable versus someone who just did four years of work experience instead?

The answer is not so easy and will vary depending on many factors.

Experience in Lieu of a College Degree

Lets first consider that most professions nowadays will allow you to be licensed and practice in its field by having related work experience in lieu of a college degree. For example, in California you can sit down for an engineering license exam with just six years of documented work experience. This means that if college is absolutely out of the question for you, there are other ways.

There are two positive reasons why going straight to work instead of pursuing a college education is valid. The first is the amount of money you could be saving from going to college. Instead of mounting up student loans, you’ll be making money by working straight in your chosen field. The second reason is that you’ll have real world experience. While college grads will come out with theoretical and limited experience in the field, you should have a portfolio of real projects that translates to opportunities and faster advancement.

In this day in age, there is another advantage that can help those not interested in the college route. There is the availability of acquiring new information and skills via the internet. There are sites like YouTube!, Lynda, Codecademy, etc. that will enable you to learn something new. So why go to college when you can learn the stuff on your own time and pace without spending a fortune?

A College Degree Opens Doors

Most lucrative job offers require a college degree. Depending on the field, they may even ask for a graduate or post graduate degree. While the profession may allow you to be licensed and practice with just work experience alone, some companies will require their new hires to be college graduates regardless. Why is that?

Having a college degree says two things about you. One, that you can play by the rules, follow orders, and respect the system in society. College is a part of that system in our society and obtaining a degree puts you in a prestigious and responsible image with potential employers. The second thing is that you’re more likely to conduct yourself in a professional and respectful manner in the workplace. For those that went to college, the curriculum isn’t just the area of study, but also of literature, culture, health and various concepts you wouldn’t be exposed to else where. It helps you understand the world as a whole and learn to respect its people, race and culture.

However, of all the positive benefits a college education can give you, the one with the most impact is its ability to help you network with peers. You get to meet new people just like you, hungry to learn and with the same passions as yours. You’re teamed up in groups to finish projects and those all-nighters and off-campus study sessions build relationships that lasts a lifetime. Whether you meet your best friend, significant other, or future business associate in college, in my opinion, that, by itself, is worth the staggering cost of the college tuition.

A College Degree Isn’t the Finish Line

Having a college degree isn’t going to guarantee that you’ll be rich and successful. It may not even help you land your dream job right away. What it will do, however, is equip you with the fundamental knowledge and tools needed to get there. You still have to work hard and persevere many obstacles throughout your professional career. You’ll just do it with more preparation and education.

In my opinion, having worked without a college degree for some time, and now at this point in my life finishing a Masters study, college is necessary. Of course you don’t need it, but you do want to open those doors that normally wouldn’t open without a degree. Do the time, finish college, then after that, work for the experience. You’ll be a well rounded professional in your field and nothing will limit you from getting the career that you want. Just keep in mind that finishing college doesn’t mean you’re done. It means you’re just starting.

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