Op-Ed: The Million Dollar Question


A few weeks ago the workforce lost one of its brightest stars, Steve Jobs – Genius, Visionary, CEO of Apple, Co-founder of Pixar, Respected manager, Beloved husband and father, College dropout? Looking closer at society, a recurring trend is that the successful members of society have dropped out of college. This elite group includes Microsoft executive Bill Gates, architect Frank Lloyd Wright, Hollywood director James Cameron, and Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg. Other millionaire college dropouts include Steve Wozniak, Peter Jennings, Lady Gaga, Jennifer Aniston, Tiger Woods, and other celebrities and academic figures across the world. The above stated are successful figures in their respective industries. The fact that many highly successful people that society reveres do not hold college degrees leads to one question: is college worth the cost?

On average, a student spends $100,000 on undergraduate college related expenses in a lifetime. These expenses include tuitions, room and board, textbooks, travel expenses, etc. This number does not account for hours of studying, aggravation and stress due to course work, and wages lost from other working experiences. This number also does not include the cost of graduate school programs, which oftentimes are the degrees you need to make the “big bucks.”

On the flip side, by not attending college or by dropping out to focus on a career, one is able to focus energy on the things that matter closely to him or her. One is also able to work, saving up money to pursue career aspirations. College dropouts may also be empowered to rise above their “dropout” status and prove themselves as contributing members of society. From a young age, students around the world are taught that a college degree is essential in obtaining a steady, profitable job. However, at his time of death, Jobs’s estimated net worth was over $7 billion. Most with a college degree do not achieve this amount of financial success during life. This leads to the question: should we all drop out to pursue highly successful careers?

Many college dropouts are leaders in society. However, when asked if it is worth dropping out of college in order to pursue a successful career in IT, Hollywood, architecture, or other sectors, realistically, the answer is no. While it may look appealing to drop out to focus energy on other efforts, college drop outs have lost billions of dollars of wages made nationally. The average starting salary for a college dropout is around $35,000, while the average starting salary for a college graduate is around 60,000. There are other unintended consequences that result from dropping out, which include loss of networking opportunities, living expenses, and oftentimes the stigma of being a “college dropout.” In today’s society, it pays off for one to have at least a Bachelor’s Degree.

At the end of the day, the million dollar question is, “Is college worth it?” Should we all dropout and pursue highly successful careers in disciplines that stress skill over education? Could we become the next Jobs? If you are after money and job security, the answer is obviously no. Biologically, some are born with inherent ingenious and drive. Not all of us can become Jobs. However, if you are chasing passion and have the resources and charisma that many of the mentioned college dropouts (or non-degree seekers) possess, the opportunity cost of dropping out may one day pay off. By avoiding student loans and chasing after dreams, the sky is the limit.

“Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose,” as said once by Jobs. “You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”