We all know people who have become very successful in work/business and finances without a formal education pat High School. My first job out of school was at a company that had been founded by a man without even a High School diploma. He was doing very well for himself in that business as well as other ventures he had going (a real gonif!). And the story of how Bill Gates left Harvard to start Microsoft is legendary.
Stories like theses are the main ammunition for the nay sayers of the value of a college degree. But I wouldn't take bets on it. People like above are what statisticians call "out layer". They fall out of the normal curve of things.
When you examine all of human history those with an education are clearly better off then those without. They are the leaders, the heads of business and enterprise, the top rankings of government, the ones the rest of the population admired and looked up to (and even hated for being more successful than they – as happens today too, some things never change).
More specifically, if you correlate the relationship of education to earnings over the last 100 years there is a clear and an unquestionable positive relationship: The more education a person has more they are likely to earn over their life time.
Obviously that's not a blanket statement. I'm sure you also know people with MBA's who are working in Best Buy or Wendy's. The individual person has to still try to become successful and gainfully employed. No one is going to give you a great job for just having a piece of paper in your hand (not even a Harvard MBA these days). But clearly having a 4-year degree and even a Masters degree does make a significant improvement in your chances.
I have friend who didn't go to college. Went right to trade work after High School. He was making very good money for a young guy with only a High School diploma. Union jobs help in that regard and he was in a very generous union. But he eventually reached a plateau. Although he made more starting out that I did years later I more than double what he is making.
A clear factor here is what you choose to study. If you spend 4 or 5 years to get a Bachelors degree in Medieval Art History with a minor in Neoclassic Folklore what the hell do you expect to do with that?? How do you think you're going to sell that to an employer?!
Some people have told me "I can just learn whatever I need to for the job." Maybe so. But prove it! Prove it to the employer. Sure you may be able to answer some questions but having a degree in the subject or at least had course work in the subject that is documented in your degree program is much more solid evidence of skill and knowledge. And, quite simply, some subjects you just can't read a book on and learn it sufficiently in a week or two. For example, you can read a book on Financial Accounting. But unless you have an instructor showing it to you and requiring you to do the problems and make the financial statements it won't do you any good.
Further, like it or not (and I suspect many don't like it) a 4-year degree, and in many cases a Masters degree, is a defacto requirement for jobs these days. In fact, a few very high end companies will only accept PhD's as employment candidates! Don't get too full of yourself either. Having a degree may not guarantee you the job. But not having the degree will definitely shut the door to your chances! At a former employer I was able to apply for a number of posted positions because I have a Masters degree. None of my co-workers did (few even had a Bachelors degree). Having that Masters didn't give me so much any better knowledge for the job but it did give me the chance to apply that my other shlep co-workers couldn't - and it pissed them off to no end! (which I thoroughly enjoyed!)
If you pick your classes well you will have a good basis for just about anything you want to do or need to do. For example, in undergraduate school I was required to take 6 credits Accounting (two 3 credit courses). I tried to get out of it but couldn't. It was a requirement. I took it over summer session. My professor for the first class was a true masochist! People were dropping the class left and right. He had students crying. But you know what? Those of us who made it through learned! Many years later I am sooooooo glad I took accounting. That subject has probably helped me more professionally and personally than anything else. Yet I wouldn't have taken it were it not for a requirement in college.
A college degree, be it a Bachelors or a Masters, isn't the kind of thing you can get in a few weeks. It's preparation for your future. That is a final point often made for the value of an education. It shows employers that you know what you have to do to get in and you have commitment to start and finish the years it takes to get a degree.
It is sometimes said that an education is a gift that can never be repaid. Don't look your gift horse in the mouth.
Go to school and finish!
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