The Field School
First Place Winner, District of Columbia
Picture for a moment the quintessential “college experience.” You might see a group of friends, sitting in
a small dorm room late at night over some pizza and fizzy soda. You might see them chatting about their
favorite (or least favorite) professors or fellow peers or the exciting new movie that came out last week,
papers scattered about. You might see a video game or TV show playing in the background. You might
see that same group of friends looking at student directories and pointing out people they know or
wanted to know, friends and relatives alike, bonding over these little connections.
This was the very experience that provided Mark Zuckerberg with the basis for his massive enterprise of
connections, which came to be known as Facebook. However, Zuckerberg never did graduate from
Harvard, his college of choice. Instead, he dropped out, going on to become one of the most successful
businessmen of the 21st century, not dissimilar to Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft and a fellowHarvard dropout. Why, then, do we place such emphasis on college as the only means of finding a
career? Why is college seen as the be-all-end-all, stressed so heavily in the latter half of high school?
Why is college so important? If these individuals can become so successful, why do we need college at
The answer is that Gates and Zuckerberg are outliers. While it is undeniable that they did become
extraordinarily successful without the help of a college diploma, most college dropouts will not go on to
become the next founder of Facebook or Microsoft. Those without a college education will find
themselves disadvantaged against their peers who boast college diplomas that will - at the very least -
add another prominent line to their resume. As reported recently by U.S. News and World Report, a vast
majority of influential people (in the United States) did graduate college, indeed - 94% (“Gates,
Zuckerberg and the Myth of the College Dropout”) of influential people in the U.S. (as conducted by a
recent survey) attended college. Most success stories - with a few exceptions such as the
aforementioned Gates and Zuckerberg - come equipped with a college degree. Jeff Bezos (founder of
Amazon) graduated from Princeton, and Marissa Mayer (former CEO of Yahoo) graduated from Stanford.
(“Gates, Zuckerberg and the Myth of the College Dropout”) Graduating college is an invaluable thing that
can make a rocky path to success much smoother.
It’s not only careers in which college graduates have more success. High school graduates, when
compared to college graduates, are less likely to own homes. As of January 2017, 75% of college
graduates are homeowners, compared to 64% of high school graduates. (“Pay Gap Between College
Grads and Everyone Else at a Record”) College graduates are more likely to contribute to a 401(k)-style
retirement plan - Christopher Tamborini of the Social Security Administration and Changhwan Kim of the
University of Kansas report that college graduates contributed 26% more to their retirement funds than
their high school graduate counterparts, regardless of general income. (“Education and Lifetime Earnings
in the United States”) Happiness, too, is affected by whether or not an individual attends college -
CollegeStats.org reports that “Five out of the 10 happiest states in the nation [Colorado, Minnesota,
Vermont, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts] are also in the top 10 for educational attainment.” (“The
Happy State of College Graduates”) This is not a coincidence - due to the vast amount of benefits gained
from graduating college, it is no surprise that students are happier because of it. Stability and broader
opportunities go hand-in-hand with happiness.
According to the Center for Disease Control’s National Center for Health Statistics, women with college
diplomas have an 8-in-10 chance to their first marriage lasting at least 20 years, which is double the
odds of women who only have a high school degree. (“First Marriages in the United States: Data From the 2006–2010 National Survey of Family Growth”) In addition, the individuals in these marriages have
reported to be happier and less likely to divorce. (“The Happy State of College Graduates”) Even if one
does not wish to become a leading politician or CEO of a major corporation, college is still a highly
recommended part of life, as a degree can provide more favorable job opportunities and higher pay. As of January 2017, college graduates have earned significantly more money (56% more) (“Pay Gap Between College Grads and Everyone Else at a Record”) than high school graduates, while individuals who did not graduate college have had a 3% (“Pay Gap Between College Grads and Everyone Else at a Record”) decline in income.
The evidence weighs overwhelmingly in favor of college for individuals wishing to become successful.
Based on these statistics, college seems to be the best choice for people hoping to succeed in their adult
lives. Regardless of whether they attend a a small liberal arts school, a large public university, or an
exclusive Ivy League, their chances of success are increased immensely just with the title of “college
Finally, there is the issue of Zuckerberg again, who is often used as an excuse for why college is entirely
optional and does not help out in the long run. People seem to neglect the fact that Facebook’s
conception came to him in college, that the idea most likely would not have been born without it. Even if
he did not graduate, Zuckerberg did attend college for a short while, and that short while provided
enough time to plant the seed that would eventually become one of the most prominent companies of
the twenty-first century, a cultural touchstone built around human connection, not unlike the group of
friends huddled around the student directories - literal “face books,” as they were known. As important
as a diploma may be, the simple experience of college can be just as - or even more - important to an
individual’s growth and success.
Mark Zuckerberg’s and Bill Gates’ experiences should not be considered the guideposts for every high
school student having second thoughts about college. Even if college is not for everybody - nothing is
“for everybody,” in the end, as we are all individuals with different wants and needs - it has clear benefits
with statistics backing up its importance in several facets of life. Most college dropouts and most college
graduates alike will not end up founding multi-billion dollar companies. Many college graduates, however,
will find themselves in an advantageous position in the job market, and statistics prove that they are
happier, healthier, and more successful.
“First Marriages in the United States: Data From the 2006–2010 National Survey of Family Growth.”
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2 June 2009,
“Gates, Zuckerberg and the Myth of the College Dropout.” U.S. News & World Report, U.S. News & World Report, www.usnews.com/news/national-news/articles/2017-04-20/bll-gates-mark-zuckerberg-and-themyth-of-the-college-dropout.
“The Happy State of College Graduates -.” RSS, 22 Aug. 2016, collegestats.org/2013/05/the-happy-stateof-college-graduates/.
Rugaber, Christopher S. “Pay gap between college grads and everyone else at a record.” USA Today,
Gannett Satellite Information Network, 12 Jan. 2017, www.usatoday.com/story/money/2017/01/12/paygap- between-college-grads-and-everyone-else-record/96493348/.
Tamborini, Christopher R., et al. “Education and Lifetime Earnings in the United States.” Demography,
U.S. National Library of Medicine, Aug. 2015, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4534330/.