Why You Still Need a College Degree

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Once upon a time, earning a college degree was the ultimate aspiration. It was a sign of intellect and leadership. Indeed, the degree meant you were going to do something worthwhile with your life.

Many pursued higher education to climb in salary, class, and prestige. Parents proudly shared news of their child, the college graduate. Having a framed degree on your wall really meant something. Most importantly, it indicated you would earn the big paychecks, or go into the public sector and provide service that would bring with it a certain cachet. Regardless of which post-degree path you took, you would have some financial security and the admiration of others. 

The college degree is more ubiquitous now, with all sorts of higher education institutions are popping up. Tuition continues to rise and students pile on more debt. The result has been that people are questioning whether a college education is really necessary.

Well-known, successful entrepreneurs, such as Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, who never earned a college degree, have served as poster boys for the cause against going to college. Recently, Inc. magazine blogger Sujan Patel, co-founder of Web Profits, wrote “7 Reasons You Don’t Need a College Degree to Earn Big.” 

While I can understand the appeal of the argument, I beg to differ. Yes, there are challenges to earning a degree that might make it more worthwhile to some than others, but a college degree can still differentiate job applicants and provide graduates with a mindset that makes them more employable than others. Discover why an undergraduate education is still worth it:

College grads still earn more

Take one look at the US Bureau of Labor Statistics’ chart, “Unemployment rates and earnings by educational attainment, 2016,” and you’ll see that a degree still holds weight. The more education you attain, the less likely you will be unemployed, and the less education you have, the less money you earn.

The unemployment rate for those with a bachelor’s degree is 2.7 percent, and median usual weekly earnings are $1,156. Those with only a high school diploma have an unemployment rate of 5.2 percent, and earn just $692 per week. That’s a difference of $464 per week or $1,856 per month. This means high school grads earn $22,272 less than their college degree holding counterparts per year. Those who go on to earn higher degrees, such as a PhD, fare even better.

A degree opens doors

Some employers will not even consider hiring you without a college degree. While it’s true that some people have received training on the job even in positions traditionally held by college grads, their stories are rare.

Nurses, software developers, and marketing executives are among the most in-demand hires and all of them require a college degree. To earn promotions in certain fields, you’ll need a college degree or higher. At a certain point in the career of those on Wall Street, they have to earn an MBA to continue to progress.

Not only does the piece of paper itself matter, but your alma mater might make a difference too. Graduating from top schools, such as Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University, and Harvard University, the top three institutions in the QS World University Rankings 2018, will give grads an edge in the job hunt.


Recruiters more regularly go to these top campuses, and their networks are well established and far-reaching. In addition, they provide students and alumni with a wealth of resources. For example, if you want to start your own business, you may find professors and administrators who support your efforts by providing advice or even access to office space or funding. On-campus think tanks in a wealth of subjects also help connect students with the outside business world.

School can help you gain experience

Some people have argued that going to school means sitting in a classroom rather than gaining valuable experience to put on your resume, but that argument is getting old. The best colleges and universities all help students find both paid and unpaid internships.

Even within the classroom, students have the chance to take on projects with outside organizations and businesses or simulations. These activities provide hands-on learning opportunities that translate well on a resume. In addition, many schools are offering students the chance to travel and/or work abroad.

With globalization here to stay, employers expect to hire those with a global mindset and experience in foreign countries. In that way, higher education can open the doors to the world for students aspiring to global careers. Sometimes, going to school is the best way to gain both knowledge and experience.

Graduates get more than a piece of paper

Of course, not every college graduate is going to be a lifelong student. Some will be trudging through college to get that piece of paper and move on. That’s all right. But education broadens horizons and can give people the habit of studying and asking questions. Good professors help students nurture their curiosity and take it with them wherever they go. Once you’ve been educated, you take what you’ve learned with you. No one can take that away from you.

Knowledge is a valuable resource. Martin Luther King, Jr. suggested that education helped to build character. Actor John Lithgow, who went to Harvard, has said he created a habit of learning in his college years that has stayed with him his whole life, and Nelson Mandela famously said, “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.”

In other words, we need education and the educated. As a result, a college degree is never going to go out of style.


This article was originally published on LinkedIn.

Nunzio Quacquarelli

Nunzio is the founder and CEO of QS. Following completion of his own MBA from the Wharton School, he has gone on to become a leader in education management with over 25 years of experience in the industry. He is truly passionate about education and firmly believes in the QS mission to help young people to fulfill their potential through educational achievement, international mobility and career development. 

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