Only college grads can have career success, says one fifth in US

October 23, 2013, 7:15 PM GMT+0

For the 20% of the nation which thinks a college education is essential to have a successful career, the expense of a degree may well be worth it. Despite this, cost remains a factor when choosing a college – more Americans say that cost is most important to them than reputation if they were looking at colleges for their child.

The majority of the nation (54%) says a college degree is beneficial, but not essential, to succeeding later in life – while just 12% say a degree is not essential to a successful career.

Adults educated up to high school are most likely to feel a degree is not necessary – 16% compared with 6% of adults with a postgraduate degree. Those with some college education, but not graduates, are most likely (16%) to think a degree is essential to succeeding in the working world.

With the cost of education steadily rising, and grants and funds becoming increasingly scarce, more than one in ten (11%) Americans think that no college degree can be worth the cost. 21% of Americans think a degree in any field is worth the expense of tuition and maintenance.

51% of the nation says that only certain subjects justify the expense of a college education. Out of these respondents, engineering and technology degrees were seen as the most valuable (by 84%). Art and design degrees were seen as ‘worth the cost’ by 8% among this group.

38% of college grads not in ‘Bachelor’s degree’ jobs

While most Americans feel a degree is beneficial to a good career, we find out how many graduates see their degrees as essential for their job. 48% of college graduates and 47% of postgraduates say their job requires at least a bachelor’s degree.

38% of college graduates and 14% of postgraduates may not be getting value for their education in terms of career training – as they answered that their job does not require a degree education.

4% of people educated up to high school said their job would normally require an associate’s degree, 3% of this group said their job required a bachelor’s degree, and 4% answered their job normally requires a master’s or doctorate.

Cost trumps reputation

The fees and funding available at a college are more important than its reputation, academics and degree programs, for the biggest group of Americans.

60% said that if they were choosing a college for their child, cost and financial aid would be their primary consideration. The reputation of a university is most important for 26%, while 47% said degree programs were the most important factor.

Cost is a consideration regardless of family income. When asked what they would consider important if they were sending their child to college, 62% of Americans earning less than $40,000 in a year and 65% earning $40,000 to $80,000 thought cost and financial aid was paramount, along with 60% of those earning $80,000 or more.

Higher earners are more likely to place importance on reputation (33%) than lower earners (21%), with 27% of those earning between $40,000 and $80,000 saying reputation was an important consideration.

We also asked respondents which kind of university they would like a child of theirs to attend. Out of all Americans, regardless of whether they have children or not:

  • 29% favored a public university
  • 26% favored a private university, but this was slightly less among college graduates (22%) and postgraduates (21%)
  • Most have no preference for a private or public university (45%)
  • Suburban colleges are most polled as the preferred option for a child (27%), as opposed to urban (13%) and rural (15%)
  • Almost half (49%) of the population would prefer their child went to a co-educational college
  • 8% of Americans would like their child to go to a single sex college – this was 11% among those aged 55 and over
  • While 44% of Americans would not mind if their college had a religious preference or not, 25% would prefer to sen their child to one with a religious affiliation

For further information about poll results, and for details about methodology and omnibus services, please email

Find the full results here.

Image: Getty