Is College Necessary For A Successful Life?

Raising Daughters | Is College Necessary


Is college really necessary for a successful life? We hear this question all the time and both sides of the argument have their merit. And then the time comes we have to help our children decide. What’s your first move?

Drop the 1-size-fits-all standard about everyone needing college & be open to kids finding their own path to success. I encourage all parents and daughters to be open to many paths to success. Kids today are conditioned to believe there is one path that fits everyone: get good grades, go to a top college, get a good job, and make a lot of money. But that path does not fit for the majority of people.

Dr. Jordan presents many facts about the benefits and disadvantages of a four-year college degree, including economic and mental health issues. For example, over 60% of all US adults over 25 do not have a four year degree, 41% of college grads in their 20s are underemployed and working in jobs that typically don’t require a college degree, and only 46% of college grads in 2022 say they currently work in their field of study, i.e. jobs that do not apply the training they received in college. The high up-front cost of college can dig a hole that takes years to overcome—on average, it takes student loan borrowers two decades to pay off their debt.

There are 30 million jobs in the US that pay an average of $55,000 and don’t require a bachelor’s degree; many of these jobs go to people with vocational degrees. A 2017 survey found that 70 percent of contractors have difficulty finding qualified craft workers, such as electricians and plumbers.

Dr. Jordan discusses the possible answers to the question:

What is the return supposed to be for your four years of college?

Is it just about earning more money?

Is the only purpose of an education to enable you to get a job?

What, in short, is college for?

These are great questions to discuss with your daughters during high school years as they try to decide their next step after high school.

Dr. Jordan also discusses some of the non-economic benefits of a four year college experience. He also discusses why HOW you go to college is more important than when or where you go. He also discusses how that gap years can be beneficial to young adults, especially if they are conscious about how they use that time. Young adults need usable skills, and college is hardly the only source for developing these. Support your daughters to carve out their own path, in their own way, & in their own time, and to not live life by “shoulds” & what everyone else is doing or not to disappoint parents. If given the choice, given autonomy to choose their path and whether they go to college & where & when, they will be more invested and engaged, thus reap more benefits from the experience.

Is college necessary for a successful life? I believe the answer is a resounding no, and we need to appreciate that all young people aren’t cut from the same cloth. Support your kids in finding their unique life path that fits their interests, passions, and aptitude, and watch them soar.

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Is College Necessary For A Successful Life?

I was motivated to do this particular topic for several reasons. One, I saw two high school girls in my counseling practice and an eighth-grade girl who were stressed and feeling pressured about this issue. The other was I was able to give a talk to a group of about 120 honors students at a private all-girls high school. I hear over and over again the stress and pressure they’re putting on themselves about their futures. I thought I would try and answer the question, “Is college necessary for a successful life?”

When I talk to young women, a lot of them look at me like, “Everybody goes to college.  You have to go to college.” Is that really true? Sometimes, we think things are true because we think things are true. We assume that sports are a good way to build character. I’m doing some reading about that. I’m going to do an episode sometime in the near future, but the truth is we don’t know if sports build character. A lot of things go into that, just like the whole topic of, “Is college necessary for a successful life?”

I read a quote by Sebastian Thrun, who’s a cofounder and the CEO of Udacity. He said, “I could pressure my son, but the skill of reacting to the pressure I put on him is not the skill I want him to have.” There’s a lot of pressure we put on kids about their education, getting straight As, and getting to top college. There’s one of my campers who became a camp counselor. I asked her one time what her plans were after high school. She said, “I guess I’m going to go to college.” I said, “Why are you going to go to college? You don’t seem motivated.”

What she said was, “My parents want me to go. My parents expect me to go.” She didn’t say this, but I would’ve said to her, “Society tells you you should go.” As I listened to and prompted her, what she pretty much admitted to was that she didn’t want to go to college. She wanted to go to a beautician school. She wanted to do hair and makeup. Eventually, she said she wanted to do makeup for celebrities on the red carpet at the Oscars. She’s a kid who was the friend who does everybody’s makeup before homecoming or prom. When her parents found out that she was thinking about doing that, they threw a hissy fit. They threatened to withhold any support for her. They wouldn’t pay for that. They would’ve helped to pay for a college. They would not pay for her cosmetology school.

I met a girl a couple of years before that who went to a private all-girls high school. She decided to go the beautician route and cosmetology school. When she crossed the stage at her graduation, the school was upset with her choice that they couldn’t say, “Here’s Sally. She’s going to attend this such and such cosmetology school.” What they said was, “She’s been accepted into,” and they named off 3 or 4 colleges. They could not tell the audience this girl is not going to college because all of our graduates go to college. That’s the pressure girls are under. Everybody goes. Everybody should go. If you don’t go, your judge is being less than, stupid, and you’re not going to be successful.

I wonder, “Is that true?” I started investigating this. I did a lot of reading. I read lots of articles. I’ve talked to you before about this one-path mentality and this one-size-fits-all standard. We’re all supposed to go and get good grades, go to college, get a good job, and make a lot of money. That’s the path our kids are hearing, absorbing, and being conditioned to believe. That’s the only way. They’re supposed to know when they’re 16, 18, or 20 their whole life story.

The eighth grader I talked to told me she was feeling pressure because she didn’t know if she wanted to go to college. If she did, what would she major in? She’s in eighth grade and she’s already feeling like she’s behind. I hear that all the time. Girls tell me they feel like they’re behind because they don’t know. Some of their friends say, “I’m going to do this.” These are girls who are 14, 16, and 18. They don’t know, but they think that they should know. They put it out there and then everybody else says, “I should know too.”

We’re doing a big disservice to our daughters when that’s the mentality. I asked the audience of 120 honor students I talked to, “How many of you feel like you’re behind as far as knowing what your major’s going to be, if you’re going to go to college, what your life path is supposed to be, what your career is going to be, how many of you feel behind?” In that audit auditorium of about 120 young women, 95% of them raised their hands. It is interesting because if you think you’re behind, but everybody around you also thinks they’re behind, then maybe nobody’s behind.

It’s interesting that when I ask the girls, “How many people in the United States who are 25 years of age or older have a four-year degree?” I’ve asked the same question of adults. I always get the same answer. Most people guess 65%, 80%, or 70%. The answer is about 37%. That’s up a little bit. It was running around 28% or 32%. It bounces around a little bit, but about 2/3 of people in this country who could have a 4-year degree don’t. That’s interesting, isn’t it? We just assume that more people do.

As of 2021, those are the latest statistics I found. About 37% of adults 25 years or older have a Bachelor’s degree, including about 14% who also have a Graduate or Professional degree. It’s interesting the gap in college completion is even wider than that among adults who are 25 to 34, that narrower age range. Forty-six percent of women who are 25 to 34 have a Bachelor’s degree and 36% of men do. Women are beating boys butts. Only 62% of students who start a degree or a certificate program finish that program within six years. A lot of our kids that go up to a 4-year school do not graduate in 4, 4.5, 5, or 6 years.

I’m going to throw a few facts out at you that might feed our discussion here about whether college is necessary. There is a growing earnings gap between young college graduates and their counterparts who don’t have a high college degree. In 2021, full-time workers aged 22 to 27 who had a Bachelor’s degree made a median annual income of about $52,000 compared with $30,000 for full-time workers. They made about $25,000 more than people who had a high school degree.

Over the course of their lifetime of earnings, people with a Bachelor’s degree earn about $1 million more in total versus people who have a high school degree. That degree does, over time, mean more income. As of December 2021, it’s interesting, 41% of college graduates in their 20s were underemployed, meaning they’re working in jobs that typically don’t require a college degree, but they’re working at them even with their degree. That was compared to 34% of all college graduates.

About 41% are not using their degree. It’s also interesting that when it comes to income and wealth accumulation, first-generation college graduates lag way behind those who have college-educated parents. That’s a whole other discussion for another day. It’s also interesting that college graduates see 57% more job opportunities than non-college graduates. About 2/3 of all jobs are going to require a post-secondary education.

I found some data that said that more than 80% of all job openings for workers with a Bachelor’s degree are higher on advertised online. They can find those jobs online. Only 50% of jobs requiring a high school degree are posted online. It makes it harder for workers to connect with prospective employers if they don’t have a college degree. Over 80% of the jobs in the four of the fastest-growing occupations. Those four fastest-growing occupations are healthcare, STEM jobs, education, and government services.

Raising Daughters | Is College Necessary
Is College Necessary: More than 80% of all job openings for workers with a Bachelor’s degree are higher on advertised online. They can find those jobs online. Only 50% of jobs requiring a high school degree are posted online.


Eighty percent of those jobs demand post-secondary education. They demand a college degree. Of the 11.6 million jobs that have been created in the last 20 years, over 8.5 million jobs, about 95% of them have gone to Bachelor’s degree holders. That is a powerful statistic. Meanwhile, jobs for high school graduates have only grown by about 80,000 in that time. Bachelor’s degree holders have a much lower rate of unemployment than people who aren’t college degree holders. People without a degree are three times more likely to be living in poverty. There’s definitely an income benefit to going to college in general.

There’s also research that shows that having a Bachelor’s degree leads to more long-term job satisfaction. The majority of Bachelor’s degree holders, about 60%, say they’re highly satisfied and their job is more than just a paycheck. Forty-two percent of high school grads say their job is getting them by and to get them by compared to only 14% of Bachelor’s degree holders. Here’s another interesting statistic that will give you some food for thought. I’m not saying your kids should or should not go to college. I want us to get some information and facts and make a more educated decision to have our sons and daughters make better-educated decisions.

We need to get some information and facts and make a more educated decision to have our sons and daughters make better-educated decisions. Click To Tweet

There is a new survey from August 2022. Only 46% of college grads say they are currently working in their field of study. Less than half of people with a college degree are not using their major. They’re not in a job that’s using their major. Most of them are working in a different field. There’s also a lot of energy in the culture about the value of grades and how much we overvalue grades. We overvalue what university kids go to. We put a lot of energy around what the name is across the sweatshirt that they get from the college that they go to.

Be Willing To Learn And Relearn

I’ve traveled around a lot, giving talks to some very successful business people all over the world. My wife and I have been to 17 or 18 countries now and all over the US. A lot of them have been 3 or 4-day retreats, father-daughter retreats, mother-daughter retreats, and family events. I got a chance to meet a lot of these successful business people. I always ask them, “What do you look for in the young people that you’re hiring?” After many years of asking that question, almost nobody says their grades or where they go to school.

They don’t care. It’s not about that. What they say they’re looking for is a couple of things when they’re interviewing young people for jobs. Do they have good people skills? Can they look you in the eye and carry on a conversation? Can they be a good teammate? Are they good at collaboration and working with other people? That’s almost always number one coming from people who hire people a lot. They want people who have in their past experienced times when they grabbed onto an idea, took the initiative, got fully engaged in something, and poured their hearts and souls into it. They want people who can get engaged in their passions.

Oftentimes, that passion is not school, and it doesn’t have to be school. That passion, taking the initiative, working hard, and focus can be transferred to anything. It doesn’t have to be about schoolwork. These successful business people also tell me they want young people who are curious learners because they tell me when they get young people out of college, they don’t have very many good usable skills. They’ve got to teach them and train them anyway.

What happens in their job is going to be changing, technology changes, and all kinds of changes. They’ve got to keep being willing to learn and relearn. Those are the three things I hear the most. I sometimes hear things like critical thinking and problem-solving, but people skills, being fully engaged in something, and being a curious learner are the top three things I heard. It’s not about grades. It’s not where they went to school.

In summary, generally, workers who have higher levels of education tend to earn more money. They also tend to find employment more readily. It’s easier for them to find jobs in general. Having a four-year degree does, in general, equate to more income. Only 2 in 5 students or 40% of students, complete their four-year degree in four years. It takes 60% of them in 4, 4.5, 5, or 6 years. Sometimes, they take gap years off. They come back. It’s not as easy as you go to a four-year school. Four years later, you graduate and you get this perfect job.

Many graduates end up in jobs that don’t apply to the training that they received in college. It’s also interesting that the high upfront cost of college can dig a big hole that can take years for students to overcome. On average, it takes college students who are borrowing money or have loans about 2 decades or 20 years to pay off the debt. That large student debt can have profound consequences for wealth building. Instead of growing their retirement savings and buying homes, a lot of student loan borrowers expend a lot of their income paying back their debt.

The high upfront cost of college can dig a big hole that can take years for students to overcome. Click To Tweet

Another topic for another day is why some students are getting an English degree and going to a top school and paying $50,000 a year and owing $150,000 to $200,000 to get a degree that’s not going to pay off in that way. That’s another subject for another day. Publicly funded colleges and universities should tell students upfront what are their completion rates, what’s their average income, and the degree program that they’re going into. What’s the average student debt?

Vocational and trade schools average about $33,000 for their degree from a trade and vocational school, while 4-year institutions cost, on average, for four years about $127,000. That is a big difference. There are 30 million jobs in the United States today that pay an average of $55,000 a year, and they don’t require a Bachelor’s degree. Many of these jobs go to people who have vocational degrees or trade schools.

There’s a survey done in 2017 that said 70% of contractors are having a hard time finding qualified craft workers. Many of you probably found that because you’re trying to get a plumber or an electrician to come to your house. We did a little add-on to our house. The contractor who was doing the work said he couldn’t find workers. There are lots of jobs that people put their noses up at, which are good jobs and good-paying jobs, but we don’t value those very much in our culture. We value the four-degree like it’s the holy grail.

As you’re mulling over, “Is college worth it? Is college necessary for my daughter to have a successful life?” There are some other questions you can be asking along the way like, “If they go to college, what’s the return supposed to be? What are they supposed to get out of it? Is it about earning more money over their lifetime? Is a college education’s only purpose to get you a job?” In a sense, ask the question. Have your daughters struggle with the question, “What is my college going to be for?”

It’s interesting that a lot of people say they want their kids to go to college because they want them to think of themselves as future leaders in our country and society. A lot of times, what these institutions mean is that leadership is nothing more than getting to the top and making the most money. I don’t think that should be the goal of our kids.

Too many young people haven’t taken the time to think about, “What’s the return? What do I want from this education besides a degree or that piece of paper?” What about things like intellectual discovery? How about their development? How about their personal growth, expanding themselves, learning about their interests, and their aptitudes?” One thing I know is true because I’ve been watching surveys over the last 10 to 15 years, especially in girls, a lot of anxiety, depression, and mental health issues in our sons and daughters who are in college. Girls are suffering more than boys when it comes to things like anxiety, feeling overwhelmed, sadness, loneliness, etc.

Two years of COVID didn’t help. I found a bunch of articles that were talking about the non-economic benefits or potential benefits of college because college hopefully doesn’t just affect income. It’s also about growing up. Some studies found that a college degree can lead people to make better decisions about their health. People who have a college degree tend to have better marriages. They parent differently, in general, with less spanking and more authoritarian. They tend to be less engaged in risky behaviors. They tend to live longer when they have a degree, but there are a lot of factors that go into that.

It’s hard to pick out just the college piece to say, “They went to college, that’s why they’re living longer. That’s why they’re more satisfied.” There are things like genetics and family background. There’s a lot of research that shows that having had parents with a college degree and having gone through that experience conveys something to their kids that makes them more likely to be successful when they go off to school than “first time in the family college people.”

It’s not easy to say, “You went to college and these people have this,” it’s a cause-and-effect thing if you understand what I’m saying. One of the things that I talk to young people about oftentimes is not about, “Will you go to college? When or where will you go to college?” How will you go to college? How you go to college is critical. What do you demand from your university? The nature of your daughter’s college experience is going to depend upon the work that she puts into it. How much energy and effort?

Is she thinking consciously about what she wants to achieve? Is she taking part in lots of different activities? Is she trying to hang out with different kinds of people? Is she expanding herself? Is she taking risks, trying new things, and trying new things on? Is she spending some of those four years doing self-examination? Is she honing her resources? Is she developing more tools that’ll help her in life? All of that matters more than the name of the college across the jersey. How you go to college is more important than where you go.

I think sometimes students who go to colleges that are less prestigious and who are paying some of all or part of their college, a lot of times those students demand more of those places because they’ve got more investment. They’re paying part of it or all of it. Oftentimes, they end up putting more into it because of that. For young people who don’t go to college right away or who go for 1 year or 2 and then back out and take a gap year or some gap time, it’s not about, “Are you or aren’t you?” It’s like, “What are you doing with that time?” Let me give you two examples.

Raising Daughters | Is College Necessary
Is College Necessary: Sometimes, students who go to colleges that are less prestigious and who are paying some of all or part of their college a lot of times those students demand more of those places because they’ve got more investment.


One of my camp counselors went to college for a year. She was hemming and hawing about going. She is a young woman who probably should have been born in the ‘60s. Free spirit. She went on some adventure. She went to junior college for a year. She worked two jobs, saved money, and then went to Europe all on her own dime. What she’s doing is she went to England, this first leg of her journey and she’s working on an organic farm. There’s some a system out there. It’s called Woofers, where you can go online and find places that will take you on. She’s been at this place for six weeks. It’s an organic farm and they’re teaching her how to do organic farming.

They have bees. They’re raising bees to make honey. She is learning how to do that for six weeks. She gets free room and board. They don’t pay her, but they pay her in experience and room and board. There are places like that all over the world. She did her first six-week gig and loved it. She had a great experience. She met ten other people that are doing the same thing. She was going to take two weeks to travel to France because she’d always wanted to go there and look at the art because she’s very artistic.

She’s going on to a new six-week experience. To me, that’s an invaluable experience for an almost twenty-year-old. She’s learning way more about herself than she would if she was in school and not wanting to be there. My guess is that someday she’ll go back. On the other hand, she may end up deciding, “I’m going to be an organic farmer, raise bees, and whatever.” She may not need college or she’ll learn what she needs and when she goes to college, she will demand from her professors, “This is what I want. I know what I need.” How your daughters spend their time if they do a gap year is important.

Teach For America Model

Let me give you another example. My son TJ went to a four-year college, graduated, and did well. He had a Political Science major with two minors. He had a minor in Sociology and one in Psychology or something. He didn’t want to go to Law school. Everybody said, “You’re going to go to Law school.” He’s like, “I’m not going to Law school. I don’t want to be a lawyer.” He was accepted into a program called Teach for America. He went to a big city and worked in an inner-city middle school for two years.

That’s the Teach for America model. It was tough families, circumstances, great kids, but in tough environments. He loved the kids. He loved working with them. He didn’t want to be a teacher. When he was done with his two years of that, he needed a break. He bought a backpack, a tent, and a ticket to New Zealand along with a ukulele because he plays guitar and he wanted to take something.

He took off knowing nobody in New Zealand. He said, “I’m going to fly by the seat of my pants and I don’t even know how long.” He went to New Zealand, hiked around, bungee jumped, and did all kinds of fun things. He started running out of money. He worked in an orchard picking fruit for a month, traveled some more, stopped again, picked fruit for a while, saved money, traveled some more, went to Australia, worked at a high-end seafood restaurant for six months, saved money, got his scuba certification at the Barrier Reef.

He traveled another 6 or 8 months around Australia and Southeast Asia. His total trip was either 20 or 22 months. After he’d been gone for a couple of months, he started to question, “Am I being like a bum? Should I be going back home and get a real job? I’m starting to feel guilty.” That’s all the conditioning that was saying to him, “You shouldn’t be doing that. You got your degree. Go get a job or go to grad school or law school.” He fought that off, thank goodness. He hung in there and had an incredible experience for twenty-ish months.

I remember some of our friends when we would tell them what TJ was doing, they would look at us like, “Are you okay with that? Shouldn’t he be working?” He was 23 or 24 at that time. We said to them, “He is having a chance of a lifetime. He is learning so much about himself.” He was already very grown up, was already very independent, and had a lot of self-efficacy, but he learned even more on that trip, flying by the seat of his pants. How your kids spend their time and go to college is important. They’re sucking the marrow out of their experience.

Watch your energy when you start talking about college and what your daughters are going to be doing when they graduate from high school. Even things that seem easy to understand are hard sometimes. Our daughters sometimes feel so much pressure by going to top schools that if they don’t get into Harvard or some top school, they feel like a failure.

I saw a girl in my counseling practice who has a 4.5 GPA. She’s a junior in high school. She wants a 4.7. That’s the top. She says if she ever gets an A-minus, B, or B-plus, she’s distraught because that to her is a failure. That’s why I’m seeing her in counseling because she’s stressed out unnecessarily. I want them to know that going to college or what college you go to should not be the thing that decides, “Am I okay or not? Am I successful or not?”

There Are Many Ways For Our Kids To Be Successful

I want us to watch that we don’t condition our kids to believe this one path standard thing and all the pressures that come with that. There are lots of ways for our kids to be successful. Don’t allow our kids to feel like there’s one size that fits all because one size does not fit all. There are lots of ways to get there for whatever their means for each of your kids. There might be something totally different because they have different personalities, aptitudes, interests, passions, and opportunities at that particular time in their lives.

I think every one of our kids needs to be educated about their options. It’s not just that we talk about college. We talk about different vocations, trade school, and other opportunities that they can use, internships and jobs. You’ve heard me talk about my Dot Theory before. Dots are opportunities across your path that you feel drawn to. I always encourage kids to do those. If it seems like fun, if you seem drawn to it, do it because, eventually, over many months and years, those dots connect and then the picture of your life starts to emerge.

There’s not one drawing. There are lots of drawings. What every one of our young adults needs is usable skills. Those can be derived from a lot of different places, not just college. College is hardly the only source for developing these kinds of usable skills and tools. Too many young people are turning their noses up at good-paying jobs like plumbers, carpenters, firefighters, or electricians. Perhaps one reason why we’re losing our middle class. There are lots of reasons. That may be one reason.

I want you to allow your daughters, over time, to carve out their own path in their own way and in their own time like my son’s travels. I don’t want your daughters to live their life by shoulds. I don’t want them making decisions about going to college because everybody else is going because if they don’t go, they’ll disappoint their parents or their teachers. I urge you to value passion where you find it.

Raising Daughters | Is College Necessary
Is College Necessary: Value passion where you find it.


Remember Julia from the beginning of this show? I remember when she was describing to me doing up her friend’s hair and their makeup before proms and homecoming dances. She described what she was doing with them, her whole being lit up. That was her passion. That’s what she was motivated to want to do with her life.

Those are the times when she’s the most alive and most authentic. That’s her intrinsic motivation. Look for that in your kids when they’re doing things. Help them to get in touch with that because that’ll help direct them toward what’s the next step. If given the choice about college and things like that, give them the autonomy to choose their own path whether they go to college, where or when they go to college. I think if they’re given that autonomy, they’ll be much more invested and engaged and therefore, reap a lot more benefits from the experience if they go.

Young People Aren’t Cut From The Same Cloth

Is college necessary for a successful life? I believe the answer is a resounding no. We all need to appreciate that all young people aren’t cut from the same cloth. All of them aren’t going to fit on this one path that we’ve carved out for everybody. Support your daughter in finding her own unique life path that fits her interests, aptitude, and passions. If you allow your daughter to do that, then you’ll be able to sit back and watch them soar.

Support your daughter in finding her unique life path that fits her interests, aptitude, and passions. Click To Tweet

As an afterthought, my guess is that you know a lot of people in your lives who didn’t take the cookie-cutter one-path path. I encourage girls all the time to interview every adult they bump into and say, “When you were my age 14, 16, 18, or 20 at point A, did you know at that point what you’d be doing when you’re 50 years of age? If you’re 50 now in this cool job, you found your passion and calling, did you know that when you were my age?”

I tell girls, “My guess would be that 95% of them had no clue because that’s not how life works. Most of us did not know, and it’s okay not to know.” I encourage them to interview lots of adults so they can start to accrue evidence that says it’s okay to do it in a different way. If you know any friends who didn’t do it the exact way. If they took time off or gap years, if they started and stopped college, or if they don’t even have a college degree, but they end up having a happy, successful life, make sure your kids talk to them as well so they can start gathering information and experiences that’ll help them decide what was best for them.

I did a lot of talking. I apologize for that. I feel very strongly about this. I see girls often in my counseling practice and my retreats. I saw them the other day at that talk with those honors students. They were stressed and pressured. I want them to let go of all that stress and pressure and find their path, learn how to have quiet time and go inward to know what’s right for them. Encourage your daughters and support your daughters in that process. I’ll be back here with another topic.

I’ll figure out something that will be interesting to you. My website is You can go on there and look at all the things that I do, all my resources, books, and all that stuff. There is a whole list of 180 episodes or more blogs in the past. You can find that information there for more help in raising your daughters. Thank you so much for stopping by. I will see you back here.


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