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What Is Success?

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When considering attending college, there are many questions to be asked. For some it may be as simple as, where should I go? For others, there are a multitude of questions. Can I afford college? Am I too young? What do I want to major in? It is not an easy choice, and the decision will affect your life for years, in some cases decades to come. Many students are not decided on majors or even the idea of college, but are pressured into it by peers, parents, and older siblings.

This decision is not only about furthering your education, but an investment in your future. A common inquiry is if a college education is worth going into debt. While college does on average make return on your investment, the key word is average, it does not guarantee success. Success is different for everyone, for some it may be getting a degree and providing for a family. For others it could be joining the military and serving their country, or possibly attending a vocational school and mastering a trade. There are so many different options and we do not all share the same skills. The most important question when considering if college is the best decision would be, what is success to you?

For many success is not gauged based on financial gain, or passports stamps. A lot of people who graduate with a degree do not even work in their field. Attending a university is a unique experience that only so many get to share. It is a chance to learn about other cultures and experience them firsthand. It is a chance to mature and form new ways of thinking. It is a chance to build friendships and connect with peers. It is a chance to build a professional resume. It is a time of self-discovery and for many is the turning point that puts a life’s purpose into perspective.

According to Stuart Mills, from a piece by Charles Murray, “Surely a mass democracy should encourage as many people as possible to become “capable and cultivated human beings” in Mill’s sense. We should not restrict the availability of a liberal education to a rarefied intellectual elite. More people should be going to college, not fewer.” (Birkenstein 344) While education should not be as expensive and restricted as it is, there is a demand for skilled workers and knowledge has become privatized. It should be the collective goal of all people to empower all members of society, but unless unemployment rates reach 0% this is simply unrealistic.

College also builds character; it helps build self-esteem by learning to overcome fears and insecurities. After spending years of your life working towards a goal and achieving it would relieve so much anxiety and fear of failing. Knowing that you actual had what it took to do what so many could not. Among this benefit of improved mental health, college degree holders are more likely to get better health insurance. It offers job security, and financial stability.

College is becoming more common, and more important as time goes on. It is a requirement for many jobs and necessary to provide for large families. While it can be overwhelming and stressful at times, the idea of relaxing when you reach sixty-five to retire because of all your hard work is comforting. Job searching, and career development is much harder without a degree, college can be worth the expense if effort is given.

A big factor when deciding on if college is a good fit for you, is considering the dropout rates of other students. According to, thirty percent of college freshmen drop out after their first year at university, and fifty-six percent of college students who begin at a four-year college drop out by year 6 of their college career. These numbers are not too discouraging, but if you are still unsure on what field you want to go in it is without a doubt something to put into consideration before deciding. Being unable to balance school, jobs, and family is cited to be a common reason for dropping out of college.

One risky problem about the college education is passing and failing rates. Students who do not preform to university standards academically will be put on probation and can even be suspended or expelled from attending classes and participating in sports or clubs. To be successful in college in takes a level of will power and determination to not be overwhelmed by the newfound independence and stay focused on your personal goals and classwork. Without this drive many become a statistic, trapped in debt with no degree. Trying to overcome student loans while working at an entry-level position, likely for minimum wage is not a recipe for success.

Despite the importance of finding your purpose, most people do not have the option to pick and choose which college to attend. Not everyone shares the privilege that many students have of essentially free college, whether it be from scholarships or family wealth. A large number of college students take out student loans and go into debt in hopes to get an education that will foster a successful career in a field of choice. “Upcoming and recent grads reported having an average student loan debt of $22,919,” according to a 2019 report from Cengage. (Cengage 2) Student loans make a college education obtainable to almost anyone.

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Obtaining a bachelor’s degree makes you more likely to find gainful employment. “In December 2010, a month marked by high overall unemployment, high school graduates had an unemployment rate of 9.8 percent, while those with a bachelor’s degree had an unemployment rate of just 4.6 percent.” (5) There are so many benefits from obtaining your degree, but how will it affect your finances?

According to an article from, “the share of students graduating with more than $50,000 in student debt has more than tripled since 2000, increasing from 5 percent of borrowers in 2000 to 17 percent of student borrowers in 2014.”(Looney) While student debt can seem insurmountable, there are options to pay it off. It has shown that people who graduate with a bachelor’s degree earn significantly more than those without one. People who take out student loans can afford to pay them back. Exemplified by Mark Kantrowitz, “Student loan debt is affordable if the borrower can afford to repay their student loans in a reasonable amount of time (10 years or less), with loan payments that are less than 10 percent of gross income.”(Kantrowitz) Despite the mountain of debt a student may inquire through graduation, a degree helps your odds at obtaining employment, while guaranteeing a higher salary.

Another option for making a college education more affordable is attending community college. It is an often-overlooked option that many older academics use today to earn a degree and qualify for better paying jobs. Earning an associate degree from a local community college, and possibly transferring credits to a university is often a far less expensive route. It allows many the time for trial and error when choosing a major. For those not accepted come fall, taking a placement test and getting started on a degree locally can build hope for building a professional career. It may not be the same as attending lectures at a university but building college experience and earning credits for a fraction of the cost is well worth it.

Along the same lines, many high schools offer programs for students in good standing to dual-enroll and earn college credit before getting their diploma. Along with this head starts many school districts pay for their student’s college courses, making it completely free to take classes at their local community college. This is an opportunity to save thousands of dollars and get ahead of earning your degree. For anyone who hopes to one day graduate from university, this is a blessing that should not be overlooked.

Besides obtaining a degree in traditional colleges, there are many alternative ways to achieve personal success. There is no end all be all path to success, as the word itself varies in meaning from person to person. An example of a good alternative would be vocational schools. Vocational schools are a streamlined approach in comparison to a college education, focusing on cultivating a specific skill instead. Learning a trade is a much cheaper option in terms of debt and student loans. Similar to dual enrollment, many high schools offer programs with career institutes so that students can begin their schooling before graduation.

Although college in the long run could help you earn more money, there are several other options when striving to achieve personal success. Vocational schools are a great option for high school graduates who want to dive right into the workforce. It is a shame that it has such a stigma behind it, because for many with low test scores or limited financial options to pay for an education, learning a trade is the best option. Young adults with bills to pay, do not always have the time and resources to go get a liberal education. People who choose vocational schools can enter the workforce sooner, thus earning a salary while others are in debt living in dorms. Many schools offer apprenticeships where students get paid to work while learning. As an illustration, “You would graduate with one to three fewer years of debt. In 2014, the average mechanic’s wage was a little over $37,000 a year, which beats out most liberal arts degrees.”(Bondar 1) For those who are not afraid of getting their hands dirty attending a trade school could be the best option.

In the same way as vocational schooling, a military career could be the best option for a young high school graduate. Depending on their skills and discipline, many service men and women go on to have successful business careers after their service. In particular, the military provides numerous benefits for you and your family such as the GI bill, health-care coverage, and “competitive pay” according to America’s Navy. (Navy) You begin paid training after signing, while at the same time being housed and fed by the government. The military also provides opportunities to travel and spend time abroad. For people who dream of seeing the world, the United States has bases across the globe. This option is not for everyone, and those who enjoy their freedoms of being a citizen of the United States of America may not wish to risk their life for their country. Even though you are signing away some of your civilian rights, if you have the ambition to serve your nation and would like to earn a living straight out of high school, a career in the military could be your best option.

Everyone has an idea of what success looks like, but that does not translate from person to person. People have different skills, dreams, ambitions, and beliefs. One person’s perfect life could be unbearable to another. College is on average the highest earning path for those seeking a bachelor’s degree in fields with high paying jobs. For those who have different ideas of success those years may be better spent earning a salary, getting a head start on their life without acclimating loads of debt to be paid off. Others may be interested in travel and want to see the world. Some strive to be part of something bigger than themselves and end up serving their country.

Nobody wants to consider themselves a failure. Everyone wants to achieve their own personal goals. If you have the drive to achieve those goals, the most important thing is figuring out what path is right for you. There are so many questions to be asked when considering what to do with your life. In a world of endless possibilities, there may never be an absolute answer to the question “is college the best option?”. The more important question would be, what do you consider success?

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What Is Success? (2022, February 17). Edubirdie. Retrieved January 28, 2023, from
“What Is Success?” Edubirdie, 17 Feb. 2022,
What Is Success? [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 28 Jan. 2023].
What Is Success? [Internet] Edubirdie. 2022 Feb 17 [cited 2023 Jan 28]. Available from:
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