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5 Reasons Why College Is Not the Only Way
to Develop Life-Changing Skills

Life Skills

The allure of college is powerful. Elite universities are compelling for parents and teachers alike. But a good college doesn’t necessarily equal a good education. In addition, college in general is not the only path to finding success in life.

In fact, studies show that 30% of students attend college because they think it’s part of the natural progression of education and 23% percent of students go because they feel they are expected to go.

Considering that in the U.S. the average cost for one year of college education lingers around $21,000 for state tuition and $47,000 for private tuition, that’s a lot of money to spend because you think you’re supposed to.

The truth is, college is not the only way to prepare you for life. College will give you an education and prepare you for a career.  You can learn the ways of the great philosophers, and you can study the finest artists and musicians.

You can examine the strategies of the greatest business people in the world or you can expand your scientific knowledge base in college.

College will expose you to the information you need to be successful. However, college is not the place to learn the life skills to chase down that success. Life skills are not taught in the classroom: they are learned through experience. 

In other words, college is not the only way to develop life-changing skills and here are five reasons why.

Intrinsic Motivation Can Lead to a Great Education

Numbers don’t lie and, as you’ve learned, a significant number of students enrolled in college are simply there because they think they are supposed to be there. What that means is they are just going through the motions.

Truly successful people are motivated by something. There a passion that drives them to succeed.

You can’t be taught desire. You become intrinsically motivated based on experiences and the satisfaction that comes along with those experiences. So, while college may teach how to take care of the balance sheet for a company, it will not teach you how to be motivated enough to like doing it.

Problem Solving Needs Real Problems

A group of problem solving college students.

Classrooms can recreate situations but, in order to truly experience solving a problem, you need a moment where you have to think on your feet to get the job done. In other words, you need real problems to develop problem solving skills.

Think about all the engineering classes kids take in college. The math is learned, and structures are built.  But, more often than not, it’s done in ideal situations.

Job fields and work environments are not ideal, and they always throw a few unexpected factors into the mix.

  • What are the ordinances that go along with building here?
  • How will it adjust to the weather?
  • What do I do about people calling off?
  • What if my foreman treats workers poorly?

Your textbook education is not helpful in situations like this.

Communication Skills Grow Out of Experience

You can’t go to one college class, deliver a speech and expect to be a communications expert. However, college is a great place to learn to communicate with your peers, it’s a great place to network, and to form great relationships. You can learn how to properly shake hands and look someone in the eye.  But, it’s not the only place you can learn how to strengthen your communication skills.

Life and work teach you the type of communication skills that a classroom can’t. Is there a problem that is slowing down progress? If so, you need to find a way to work it out. You can’t learn these skills from a book, and you have to learn to problem solve with people.

Give and take and compromise are all skills learned from being in a situation where you have a common goal. Often, that goal is to solve a problem and, in order to learn to solve problems, you need to be exposed to real world problems.

You can practice techniques for communicating with people when you run into different situations, but experience brings emotions and, until you have to apply the skills you learn with the emotion that comes from a situation, you can’t get better.

Leaders Emerge

A leader emerges from a group female college students.

A leadership class in college does not make you a leader. Leaders can see the big picture, and they know how to manage people and tasks to make the picture a reality. They can read people quickly and they know how to trust the people on their team.  And, most importantly, leaders are looked up to and trusted.

Just being popular doesn’t make you a leader. Just being organized doesn’t make you a leader. And, just being able to see the big picture doesn’t make you a leader. You need to be a combination of all the above, and people have to trust you. If not, they won’t follow your lead.

Again, you cannot go into the classroom and say, “I’d like to be a leader.” You must be in situations that require you to step up and take charge.  You need to be able to see a task that requires some direction and guidance, and you need to have the courage emerge as the person who can sort it out and get things moving in the right direction.


College can open many doors. But college isn’t the only way for you to be successful in this world.

Trade schools, art schools, and the general work force are options as well. And, if you are unsure what you’d like to do, a gap year is a great way to see what’s out there. If a gap year isn’t something you can afford, you can take online courses to see what you might enjoy. Get some insight before you open the flood gates that are student loans.

There are many other places you can go to learn what you need to know to find success in this world. With a little motivation, some hard work, and a few opportunities to experience what this world has to offer, you can grow into the successful person you want to be.

About the Author

Thomas English:

“I'm a freelance writer from Philadelphia. I recently graduated from Drexel University with a bachelor's degree in businesses administration. While studying for my degree I interned under a notable financial consultant in King of Prussia, PA. I have a passion for finance and writing.”