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Is higher education necessary?

Higher education might not be perceived as a necessary milestone by everyone, since we all set different priorities in life, but it is indeed crucial for intellectual and personal growth, skills development, and networking. As stated by Bill Gates, who famously dropped out of Harvard to start Microsoft, getting a degree is a much surer path to success than skipping college. Gates has a point: people who attend college are prone to landing better jobs, especially in developing countries such as Brazil, where unemployment rates and income inequality are staggeringly high. Therefore, not only can higher education be a key to financial prosperity and professional success, but it can likewise provide one with valuable life skills and personal connections.

Higher levels of education usually translate into higher earnings and better employment opportunities. This was revealed by an OECD (The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) report published last year, which analyzed education levels in 46 countries, and found that full-time workers with a higher education earn 54% more than those with just a secondary education. This advantage is particularly substantial in Brazil: the average salary for college graduates is 144% higher than the average for high school graduates. However, it is well known that many Brazilians with a higher education level often grapple with unemployment. In this regard, Luciana Prazeres, HR coordinator of an employment agency, said to BBC that the main reason why many college graduates in Brazil do not get jobs is because they attend low-quality universities (often looked down on by employers) and lack work experience (such as internships), because they usually have to take on jobs unrelated to their major in order to pay for college. This last point is one of special importance: even though Brazil has prestigious public universities, getting into them is harder for low-income students, since they normally attend public elementary and secondary schools that do not properly prepare them for college entrance exams or academic life in general. As a consequence, they have to study at less reputable institutions, many of which are private, while middle and upper class students get to attend renowned institutions for free, thus getting ahead more easily in the workplace. In order to reduce such inequalities, the government should see to it that everyone, regardless of their social economic status, is able to get an appropriate basic education, so they can have a better shot at getting a good higher education and more job opportunities as well.

Even though having a degree is not always enough to land a job, college graduates have an advantage over fellow qualified job seekers even when it comes to positions that do not necessarily require a degree. Higher education can still open many doors, – even in Brazil, where degree credentials from certain universities are way less valued than others –, because college graduates tend to have a strong knowledge base and better qualifications. For instance, although the Brazilian Supreme Court determined in 2009 that it would no longer be necessary to have a degree to work as a journalist, many media outlets in the country continue to require such credentials, seeing as journalism majors spend at least four years preparing for their future careers and studying several topics – ranging from communication theory and grammar to ethics and philosophy. In other fields of expertise, such as economy and business, applicants with a degree are often also considered more qualified than those without one.

Going to college is likewise a unique opportunity to develop multiple life skills and build a network. Critical thinking, communication skills, time management, good study habits, and assertiveness skills are some of the abilities learned in college. Even if a person does not have career goals, these skills will be useful in their daily adult life. This means that anyone can benefit from a higher education, whether they have ambitious career goals or just want a simple, slow-paced life. Aside from that, building a professional and social network is also an important part of college. Many schools have vast alumni networks, which can be useful when one is looking for job positions, mentoring programs or skill-building opportunities. Even if a person decides to start a career in a field that is not related to their major, having a vast alumni network to fall back on will surely be helpful.

In short, higher education plays a vital role in a person's financial prosperity and employment prospects, especially in unequal countries like Brazil. Moreover, going to college can be a way to learn valuable life skills and make professional connections. This is why governments should make it a priority to provide quality education to all its citizens – from elementary school to university.

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