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Does an Academic Degree Guarantee Success?

The number of Americans with first degrees has continued to increase over the years. According to the United States Census Bureau (2014), about 30% of the country’s population aged 25 years and above have at least a first degree. University education is popular because of the increasing competition in the job market. High competition in the job market means that very few employers are willing to employ candidates without first degrees especially for middle level and senior level management positions. However, a large population of degree holders means that not all persons with first degrees get their dream jobs.

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Most academic degrees equip candidates with employability skills. A dwindling job market and growing competition for the few available jobs mean that only candidates with the right set of skills and academic qualifications get well paying jobs. Smee and Sreenivasan (2009) opine that most well paying jobs in the United States require candidates to demonstrate a clear grasp of employability skills, such as team working, communication, intelligent analysis, critical thinking, strategic planning, risk control, sociability, and coordination. While these skills may be acquired informally on the job, it is very hard for a candidate to secure a middle level or senior level management position without demonstrating that they acquired those skills in their academic degree courses. Such strict vetting process means that candidates without a first degree may find it hard to access well paying jobs in the United States.


Most degree programs offer student work placement opportunities. Work placement opportunities require students to spend at least three months in actual work environment refining skills acquired during classroom environments. According to Smee and Sreenivasan (2009), students who spend a portion of their college life on work placement programs have a higher chance of getting well paying jobs. Most leading companies that offer competitive salary packages require candidates to have some form of past work related experience gained through work placement programs. Even students whose undergraduate degree courses do not offer work placement programs can take up plenty of entry level internship programs offered by most Forbes 500 companies. This puts them in the path of career progression.

However, academic degrees alone may not guarantee professional life success. According to Williams (2013), academic degrees do not reflect the character, competency, skill, and ambition of the individual holders. Success in professional life is determined by a gamut of individual skills such as personal intelligence, integrity, discipline, choices, vision, character, attitude, competency, sociability, and ambition. All these individual skills may not be captured in an academic degree. According to Bilanich (2012), success in professional life is determined by the willingness of an individual to perform extra duties and gain more exposure in a given trade. For example, leading professional actors and musicians signed by big labels such as Sony do not have post high school qualifications. These individuals have achieved great success because of their willingness to take up complex tasks that are beyond their routine schedules (Williams, 2013). In a nutshell, it is safe to argue that great success in professional life is a function of an individual’s vision and willingness to pursue the vision with great passion.

In conclusion, academic degrees that provide work placement programs give candidates the much needed skills and knowledge to take up middle level and senior level management positions. Middle level and senior level jobs come with high salary packages and career progression prospects. However, academic degrees alone may not guarantee success in professional life. To succeed in their professional lives, candidates must demonstrate a clear grasp of other skills such as integrity, discipline, choices, character, attitude, competency, sociability, and ambition. These skills can be acquired through practice while on the job.


Bilanich, B. 42 rules to jumpstart your professional success: A common sense guide to career success, 2nd Ed. Cupertino, CA: Super Star Press.

Smee, D., & Sreenivasan, S. Totally American: Harnessing the dynamic duo of optimism & resilience to achieve success. Los Angeles, CA: Holy Molly.

United States Census Bureau. State and county quick facts. U.S. Census Bureau, [Online].

Williams, R. Developing a pathway to success, 2nd Ed. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.