In today’s world, it is believed that a college degree is absolutely necessary in order to have a successful career. Charles Murray writes, “Economists have established beyond doubt that people with B.A.s earn more on average than people without them” (Murray 245). People with B.A.s earn more because having a degree allows employers to measure a person’s academic ability. Because society believes that a college degree increases success level, more and more pressure is being put on students to go to college and earn one. The pressure put on students by popular culture, families, and teachers, has made the belief that a college degree is a necessity, the reality.
Pressure to attend college comes from all areas of life, students are being fed the idea that they need to go to college even when they don’t realize it. Popular culture, that is, movies, music, mass media, etc… is one of the often-unrecognized social pressures. One example of this comes from a movie made in 1989, Dead Poets Society, a teacher states “Discipline. Prepare them for college and the rest will take care of itself.” The idea that going to college and getting a degree is a necessity has been so drilled into the minds of people that even movies, full of fictional people and situations, have emphasized this point. Looking deeper than the fact that this quote comes from a movie, we can see that the motives of these teachers are only to get students to the next step in life, which is unquestionably, college. They have a mindset of preparing students to go to college, and then their job is done. In a movie that came out almost 10 years later, Good Will Hunting, a college student brags “Yeah, but I’ll have a degree. And you’ll be serving my kids fries at a drive-thru on our way to a skiing trip.” This quote comes from a different perspective, rather than a teacher and person of authority, this comes from a college student himself. This example illustrates the competitive pressure that comes from within a school. This quote also supports the view that a college degree is a necessity, and without one, a person will not succeed. When some people watch characters like this, they begin to want to be like them. They watch these movies not thinking anything of it, but with lines like these, students are being fed ideas about college and it’s going unnoticed.
Pressure can come from other sources too. One of the most common sources of pressure to go to college comes from a student’s family, along with teachers and guidance counselors. An example illustrating this point comes from my own personal life. While I am not the first person in my family to attend college, neither of my parents attended college for more than a year. I am also the oldest of three siblings. There is added pressure for students like me, who have parents with little or no college education, or students who are the first in their family to attend college at all. My parents pushed me to go to college because they never really had the chance to. Additionally, being the oldest child brings similar challenges, since the oldest child in a family is usually expected to be an example to and set a precedent for the younger siblings. Pressure also obviously comes from inside the school system itself, especially from teachers and guidance counselors. In his essay “Are Too Many People Going to College?”, Charles Murray notes “Guidance counselors and parents who automatically encourage young people to go to college straight out of high school regardless of their skills and interests are being thoughtless about the best interests of young people in their charge” (Murray 249). From the beginning of high school, students are talked to about what college they want to attend. Guidance counselors work to prepare students for college, but don’t consider what students could do outside of this. For instance, a classmate from my English class commented on our online discussion board and explained that he was once told “not to take a shop class” and to [instead] focus on core courses that would prepare him for college. It is common for schools to push classes that relate to STEM jobs, classes that seem the most applicable to the workforce. However, in doing this, students are not getting the opportunity to use their unique talents in areas other than core classes. Teachers have a somewhat robotic mindset that they apply to every student. So, the cycle goes: students go to high school to get ready for college, then go to college to get a job, then get a job to make money, and then the cycle starts over with the next student. This kind of pressure, coming from people that students love and trust, can sometimes be the deciding factor in whether or not they go to college.
When discussing the different types of pressure to attend college, an obvious question is “Why does this pressure exist?” There’s no doubt that obtaining a college degree brings advantages when applying for jobs and increasing earnings. Economist David Autor reports “Between 1980 and 2012, real hourly earnings of full-time college-educated U.S. males rose anywhere from 20% to 56%, with the greatest gains among those with a post-baccalaureate degree” (qtd. in Putnam 35). With statistics like these, it’s hard to deny that having a college degree can help increase a person’s earnings. Having a degree is now a sought-after trait that employers look for. This is because of the obvious reason that it shows a person’s capability and academic understanding. If a potential employee has a degree, an employer can usually determine what classes they have taken and their level of understanding, along with the skills they already have and how applicable they’d be to the job. For example, another classmate of mine (from the same English class) described a situation in which his sister entered the military straight out of high school and had to work her way up. However, a friend of his entered the military with a degree and got placed at a more skillful and higher paying level. Having a college degree can make a person a cut above the rest and give them advantages that they would not have otherwise. So, it’s no surprise why people are so desperate to have one. The job market can be tough, which is why it’s important for a person to take every advantage that comes their way. Charles Murray writes “Employers value the B.A. because it is a no-cost (for them) screening device for academic ability and perseverance” (Murray 245). Not only does a college degree show a certain level of academic capability, it also shows the ability to endure. Earning a college degree can be a stressful process and there are many challenges that come with it. If a student can make it through these challenges, it shows they are hardworking and can persevere through tough obstacles. The pressure to go to college exists for a reason. The need to succeed in today’s world is legitimate and that is hard to do without first earning a college degree.
The belief that college degrees are a necessity has become a reality because of the many pressures put on students from all areas of life. Pressures to attend college can come from places least expected, such as popular culture and movies. They can also come from the people that students trust and care about, such as family members. Similarly, teachers and guidance counselors are also a major influence on a student’s decision to attend college. The reason why earning a college degree is so heavily encouraged is because it brings advantages when trying to get a job. Pressures to attend college are strong, but it’s easy to see why, because earning a college degree will ultimately help people when entering the workforce and increasing their earnings.