Bunce Hall (pictured) is one of the most prominent buildings on Rowan’s campus. The Whit's editorial this week examines the societal affiliation of success with a traditional college education, and whether it's the only way to attain success. - File Photo / Miguel Martinez

As college students, it feels like we’re supposed to have everything figured out.

We’re in school spending thousands of dollars on an education that many of us have been told is the only way to have a successful life. After we graduate, we need to find a job to support ourselves (and to pay back those thousands of dollars we likely took out as loans). And thus begins a seemingly endless cycle of working to pay off debts — ranging from mortgages to student loans — and working to afford the things we need to survive.

Is this the definition of a successful life? Going into debt to afford an education so you can get a job to pay back that money? What exactly is the end result of that cycle? Should we as a society define success as graduating from a university and getting a 40-hour-a-week job?

The short answer is not necessarily. We believe that success should be defined by individuals, not by society. If your personal idea of success is getting a college education and stepping into a full-time job after graduation, that’s fine, don’t let anyone stop you from achieving that.

What we’re saying is this shouldn’t be the only accepted form of success. Some people may be pushed into a college education in a particular field, such as the medical field, by their parents, and subsequently have to deal with the debts accrued through that education. Superficially, that person may be “successful,” becoming a surgeon post-graduation and being well-paid. But if their dream since childhood was to become a world-class chef and open their own restaurant, they would most likely feel unfulfilled.

Yes, they’re making a lot of money, but is that worth their own happiness?

The other side of this societal predicament is someone who doesn’t have the means to attend their local community college, let alone a university. They looked at the benefits and detriments of going to college and decided an alternative path to a full-time career was a better option than going into debt to get an education. And so they may have started their own business with what skills they had, making a sufficient income to cover their own living expenses.

Society would tell us that since this person didn’t go to college, they could’ve been doing “so much better” and been more “successful.” However, if they are satisfied with their path in life, why should society tell them they should’ve gotten an education?

We’re not saying that you should drop out of Rowan — quite the contrary, actually. What we posit is that we as a society should not attribute successfulness to whether or not someone goes to college. As members of the Rowan community, we can sometimes normalize college attendance as the only path to success. Outside of the Rowan bubble, however, many of us know people who found success without going to an institute of higher education. We shouldn’t disregard the successes of people who didn’t go to college just because they chose not to do so.

We believe success should be fully dependent on the satisfaction of the individual. If someone is happy with going to college and getting a full-time job, let them be. If someone is happy putting their natural talents to work to create a life for themselves, let them be too.

This popular internet anecdote sums up our thoughts quite succinctly: “When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy.’ They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.”

Though the origin of this quote is unknown and often misattributed to The Beatles’ John Lennon, the sentiment stands. The key to a successful life lies with the happiness of the individual, not with the expectations of society.

For comments/questions about this story, email editor@thewhitonline.com or tweet @TheWhitOnline.

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