The Career

Is a Formal University or College Education Even Necessary Anymore?

Discipline is required no matter which path you choose - but what makes you intelligent isn't a piece of paper: it's your desire to learn.

Growing up as a first-generation Canadian, my immigrant parents did the most to ensure my future would be secure. Education has always been extremely important in my family, with every member in my direct and extended family having done a post-secondary degree (or two…or even three).

All this to say that getting a formal education was always a no-brainer for me. When I graduated high school, 95% of my graduating class was going to pursue a post-secondary degree of some sort. According to Statistics Canada, the number of student enrolments in universities and colleges have been increasing every year for almost two decades.

However, there has always been a lot of buzz around skipping university or college entirely. Some use the ‘Mark Zuckerberg dropped out of Harvard’ line, some will point out a successful person they know personally who makes six figures working in the trades, or some get an awesome opportunity straight out of high school they don’t want to pass up to simply accumulate debt. It’s 2019, and technology and social media is still growing at a rapidly increasing rate – with new, sometimes low-cost ways to make big money such as e-commerce stores, drop-shipping, sites like Upwork and the ability to market your freelancing services to make money, many argue that you don’t need a post-secondary education in order to make a lot of money. While that is definitely true for some, it isn’t always the case. Let’s compare some pros and cons to going to university or college versus not going:

The Pros of Going to University/College

The truth of the matter is that most jobs require a formal post-secondary education. Only 34% of jobs in the U.S. require a high school diploma or less in 2017, compared to 72% in the 1970s [1]. So unless you have a plan for what you want to do and it doesn’t require a degree, you’re better off with one than without. Extremely wealthy people without college degrees tend to be the exception, and not the rule – the average university/college graduate makes $570,000 more than a high school graduate over a lifetime [2]. In 2016, the average income in the U.S. for people 25 years old and older with a high school diploma was $35,615, while that of those with a bachelor’s degree was $65,482, and $92,525 for those with advanced degrees [3]. Additionally, 85% of Forbes’ America’s 400 Richest People list had post-secondary degrees – so if money is your motivator, getting a degree may be the more favourable option [4].

Let’s not neglect the soft skills – you gain a lot of interpersonal skills throughout university. You may join clubs and other extracurricular activities that force you to learn to interact with new people and work cohesively with peers with different personality styles and work ethic. It widens your horizons and exposes you to new thoughts, ideas and lifestyles. College is also a great way to meet people and grow your personal network in case you do decide to pursue a career path independent to your degree.

One last interesting statistic I found was that college provides a pretty high ROI (return on investment), with an average of 15% per year [5]. I would take this number with a grain of salt, because tuition and loan fees vary on where you are in the world and what you studied, but it’s safe to say that usually, it pays off in the long-run.

The Pros of Not Going to University/College

You already know the biggest pro of not going to college or university is avoiding the burden of student loans. Student loans can push back your personal goals like buying a car, owning a house, or getting married by years. Let’s not forget that you’re not only spending money on your education, but you’re also forgoing years of earning a full-time salary.

As struggling graduates, we know just how hard it was to get a job straight out of university. Here’s the kicker: degrees just aren’t enough anymore. The job market is so competitive with more people going to college and university than ever before, that your degree is basically a given. Many people who are choosing to skip the degree have great success in getting their real estate licenses, working sales jobs earning commissions or working in construction. Hair dressers are making six figures while some accountants make under $40k/year. An education simply doesn’t symbolize financial stability, like it did a couple decades ago.

Here is a list of successful people that either never went to university/college or never graduated: Richard Branson, founder and chairman of the Virgin Group; Charles Culpepper, owner and CEO of Coca Cola; Ellen Degeneres, comedian and actress; Michael Dell, founder of Dell, Inc.; Walt Disney, Disney Corporation founder; Bill Gates, Microsoft founder; Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple; Wolfgang Puck, chef and restauranteur; Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple; Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook [6].

My Personal Opinion

I personally believe that you can be fine either way. If my children don’t want to attend university or college, I would be fine with that on the condition that they have a detailed game plan of what they want to do and how they’re going to get there. I believe that education and knowledge is a gift and a privilege denied to many, but it doesn’t begin and end in the classroom. You don’t need school in order to learn – or else we’d all have stopped learning as soon as we crossed that graduation finish line. It’s important to continue to invest in your mind in more ways than one – read, watch the news, listen to motivational speeches and indulge in thought-provoking debates with friends and colleagues. Discipline is required no matter which path you decide to choose – but what makes you intelligent isn’t a piece of paper: it’s your desire to learn.


  1. Anthony P. Carnevale and Nicole Smith, “Trillion Dollar Infrastructure Proposals Could Create Millions of Jobs,” Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, 2017
  2. Erin Currier, “How Generation X Could Change the American Dream,”
  3. US Census Bureau, “Educational Attainment in the United States, 2016,”
  4. Christian Yang, “DON’T Drop out to Do a Startup,”
  5. Dylan Matthews, “Going to College Is Worth It – Even if You Drop out,”
  6. Glen Stansberry, “12 Business Founders Who Succeeded without a College Degree,”

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