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Is university education a passport to success?

College education is costly, challenging and time-consuming, but the general notion among students, parents and teachers about university education is that if you can afford it, you should get it. Often, a formal university degree is considered a must to launch a successful career. Is a university degree the only passport to success? While the likes of successful dropouts Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg might have shown otherwise, a formal university education can equip you with not just ‘formal education’, but certain abilities, skills & not to forget opportunities that are crucial to be successful.

What is Success?
There is no one correct definition of success. The meaning of success varies from person to person, and situation to situation. Success can be an end, an accomplishment of a purpose like getting a degree, finishing a book, or securing a business deal. Or it can be an ongoing process measured over a long period of time, and the standard to measure success is different for different people. For instance, for an artist, success might be in being able to create a work of art that makes an impact on the community, while for a businessman success is about making profits, increasing assets and bank balance. A Buddhist story of success is concerned with being able to detach oneself from worldly concerns. For many, being successful simply means being happy and leading a quiet and content life. One thing that is common among many different definitions of success is that every story of success follows a trajectory of transformation that is desirable and positive. The quintessence of success is a positive and favorable change in ones own life or in the lives of others, whether it is a change in economic status, fame or simply the feeling of well-being, or a combination of these. 

“Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall,” says the age-old wisdom of Confucius. Success is, therefore, about climbing ladders. Someone who inherited a flourishing million-dollar business cannot be called a successful businessman unless he/she takes it to another new level. The word ‘success’ comes from a Latin word ‘succedere’ which means ‘to go close to’ something. Hence, success is more likely to signify movement, rather than stability.

Being successful is everyone’s goal in life, but it is not a part of everyone’s life-story. In our society, it is taken for granted that a formal education is a stepping-stone towards success. While basic high school education is indispensable even to be able to survive in this world, the common conception is that college education provides a boost necessary to succeed in one’s career. It is true that most jobs require a university degree as a minimum qualification. The general image of college is that it is a surefire way to economic and social success, and a vital stepping-stone towards a future of opportunity.

Why you should attend a university to be successful
Having a degree opens up job options and career choices. Studies have shown that it not only ensures a higher pay but also increases the chances of promotion. Educational qualification is the first thing an employer considers while evaluating a candidate for a position. Work experience usually come later. While having a degree might secure you a job, what really counts towards making a successful career are the skills and abilities you can put to use. One is expected to gain the necessary set of skills for a career during the course of one’s education. A university education comes with the many advantages when it comes to paving your way towards a successful career.

Career-centered Skill Sets 
If you want to pursue a technical profession like medicine or engineering, you don’t have a choice other than to attend university. Even to enter into these fields, getting a university degree is in fact the first and ineluctable step. Many professions require you to have a set of basic skills and knowledge, which only a standardized university education can provide. If you are certain about the career path you want to choose, and if your career goals require you to have a certain level of university education, then attending a college is definitely the first step you will have to take.

Academic Abilities
Those who have attended college are more likely to be better at writing reports, critical analysis of issues, and active group discussions than those who haven’t. Mostly colleges that take a student centered approach to learning and teaching are able to impart these academic skills. While teaching techniques in most colleges in Nepal tend to be exam and curriculum centered, teaching and learning processes become more efficient when class sizes are small and the focus is on group discussions that are more suited towards honing such academic abilities in students.

Developed Social Skills
College is also a place where you meet and interact with people of similar age group and interest. Most colleges provide opportunities to get involved in group activities, be it academic or extra-curricular. These activities help to enhance the sense of social responsibility, and develop leadership skills and ability to work in a team. Concurrently, in college, students also have to act independently and make their own decisions, which help them to be more autonomous and self-confident. These two to four years spent in college become crucial for a transition into  professional life. 

Friendships and acquaintances one makes in college usually turn out to be very useful while one is on the way to build a career. You might end up teaming up with one of them to start a company, or you just use their connection to find a job - classmates, professors and even alumni can help to bridge the gaps on the pathway of your career. 

Work Discipline
Exams, homework, problem-sets and papers - college requires serious hard work. A successful completion of college proves that the student is capable of working on a particular task with sincere dedication and responsibility. 

Opportunities to Explore
While entering college, a student may not always be sure of which career-field to choose. Most colleges allow students to choose from a range of options of classes within the same discipline or across different disciplines, which help students to explore different subject areas, and see whether or not they seem interesting. A student after entering an engineering college might find out that engineering isn’t really his/her cup of tea, and that he/she might succeed in a different discipline. Such a situation should be considered as progress rather than as regress in one’s life, as it is a well used opportunity to find out what works and what doesn’t.

Why you don’t have to go to a university to be successful
Gone are the times when a university degree certificate used to be a guarantee of a good job. The percentage of the population with a university degree is rising. It’s to the point now where a university degree may not really distinguish you from the rest of the crowd. You need to have a unique selling point to stand out in the job market, which a college experience may or may not provide you. Here are a few reasons a university education might be a disadvantage for your career.

College education is costly in terms of time, money and work. In addition to 2 to 4 years of time, college education can cost over a million rupees depending on the course of study. It might take a lifetime to break even with such a huge investment if one is not able to land a lucrative job, and progress in his/her career. You might use your money, time and energy for many useful things other than college if you are creative and daring enough. Options include getting work experience, like working as an apprentice or an intern, starting a business, acquiring skills and knowledge in an area of interest through self-study, etc. 

Restrictive Thinking
In a world of freelancers, entrepreneurs and start-ups that values free-thinking and creativity, structured and guided university courses can, in fact, be harmful to one’s way of thinking. Especially, exam centered education commonly practiced in universities, which makes students learn a limited body of knowledge with the sole view to passing exams, doesn’t encourage students to think out of the box. Excessive focus on grades and exams in universities tend to alienate students from acquiring real life skills that are more valuable while building a career. Especially for people with artistic inclinations and entrepreneurial tendencies, college education can rather be a hindrance than a boost towards success. No wonder, from George Clooney to Mark Zuckerberg, many successful actors, artists and entrepreneurs have been college dropouts.

Verdict: The myth of the successful college dropout

Today’s media is rife with stories about millionaire college dropouts. Stories of people like Jobs, Gates, Zuckerberg and so on are used as examples to downgrade the value of college education. But such stories ignore a number of points, which is why they are misleading and are perpetuating a dangerous myth. First, these handfuls of super-successful college dropouts are really outliers in the normal bell curve of average people. These exceptional individuals have certain qualities and skill, either natural or acquired that make up for the lack of college education. Many factors come into play including hard work, intelligence, determination and even chance. 

Second, the fact is that thousands of students drop out of college every year and they are more likely to be unemployed and earn less than those who graduate, even though a handful of exceptions might find a way to build a successful career. 

Third, even the stories of successful college dropouts usually miss one thing: that in most cases, the time they spent in college, howsoever short, plays a crucial role in bringing them to success. Communities of entrepreneurs, thinkers and artists grow up around universities. Take Zuckerberg, who launched Facebook from his Harvard dormitory with the help of his class mates, or Steve Jobs, who attributed the typefaces in Apple computers to calligraphy classes he took at Reed College.

Billionaire entrepreneurs and extraordinary minds aside, for most college is not a choice but a necessary and vital step towards a more secure future. According to studies, in most cases every degree -- from associates to doctorate -- leads to progressively higher wages. College provides students with the intellectual capacity in analysis and reasoning, and the social capacity to make connections, build networks, and establish life-long relationships. As a transition into adulthood, college provides them with confidence that will lead them boldly to articulate and embrace new ideas. So, far from being an obstacle to entrepreneurial success, a college education arms a person with the set of skills necessary to capitalize on a great idea or pursue one’s career goals. The career you end up choosing might be completely different from what you majored in at college, but the experiences that you gather in college directly or indirectly make a positive difference in your life. While it also depends on the type of education and the environment for intellectual and social growth a college provides, at its best, college education is a proven path towards economic, social and intellectual opportunities. 

Brad Waugh (Principal, Lincoln School)    
“One of the greatest benefits in attending a university is having the opportunity to immerse yourself, socially and academically, in the university milieu.  Plenty of my own intellectual growth came from attending public lectures by poets, activists and Nobel laureates followed by beers at the grad club to argue over the finer points.  You don’t get this with the internet.”



Samit Raj Shakya (MBA, Term VI, Ace Institute of Management)    
“Getting University education is not just limited to getting a degree in hand, but to enhance one’s personality and confidence level to compete in the real corporate world. Although I worked as a Sr. Marketing Officer in one of the reputed hotel of Nepal, I felt the need to polish myself to make my career life stronger. Therefore, I joined MBA at Ace enhance my career. Now, I am confident on what I am doing and where I want to be.”