Why Should I
go to College?
Written by Bill Cosby
for College Outreach USA Students
ne big question: Why do you
go to college? Because you were finally pushed out of
high school and found yourself with four free years?
Yes, that is certainly a basic part of your motivation.
However, you also go because your parents keep saying to
you, “There is nothing more important than a college
degree. Without it, you will end up playing the
saxophone in a bus station. No, that’s not true. Playing
a saxophone in a bus station calls for talent. Without
it, you’ll be sweeping up there.”
In my books, I, like most parents, talk about the trials
of urging my children to do well in school so they can
go on to college. It has not always been easy. In fact,
it has often been damned hard. I can smile a lot about
it now because I use my humor to “motivate” young people
who, much of the time, won’t listen to their elders in
the first place. I am astonished at how poor
communication is between young people and their parents
regarding their children’s aspirations and concerns.
For me, however, college was my second choice. My first
choice was to go to Rio, but I only had the money to
reach Atlantic City. And I got some financial aid from
college, but none was being offered by Rio.
But before we can talk to our kids seriously about going
to college, we need to shepherd them through high
school. Studies show a correlation between inadequate
schooling and a wide range of distressing outcomes,
including early death, a propensity for violence, and
substance abuse. Given the dropout rate at many urban
high schools, it is easy to understand why the social
fabric has become tattered.
Change can only be set in motion when families and
leaders get together and acknowledge that a problem
exists. Where are the standards that tell a child:
“Stop! There is hope.” This has to happen in the home.
It reverts back to parenting. We must make a renewed
commitment to our children, and that means parents must
show that they value education. We must demand that our
youth have an understanding of spoken and written
English, math and sciences. Parent power! Guaranteed to
Although we do our best to inspire our children to
succeed on their own, the motivation for good work
always has to come from inside them. Parents can insist
that their offspring come home from school at
three-thirty, but we can’t go to their rooms and stand
there to make sure that they immerse themselves in the
traditional three R’s instead of rhythm, rap and
Young people in our culture are bombarded with the
concept of instant gratification like never before. Many
elements of pop culture can give you a quick temporary
high, but you have to remember that they don’t take you
very far down the road to long-term achievement. More
and more people seem to be saying “I want what I want,
and I want it now.” News flash: people aren’t born with
a house, two cars, and all the perks of modern
middleclass life. They earn it, and for most of them, it
Bill Cosby during an appearance on
The Ellen Degeneres Show.
Another modern day problem is having “the victim
attitude.” Children raised in an atmosphere where they
are told they are inferior because of their skin color,
family background, or socioeconomic class express
self-doubt by asking themselves questions like: “Do I
have the ability?” “Can I really succeed?” This lack of
self-confidence identifies a person who does not feel
capable of taking charge of his or her own fate, who is
just one step from acting like a complete victim.
Victims, we know, feel helpless and behave as if their
destiny were completely controlled by others. At his
worst, a victim does not accept responsibility for
himself but always blames others for his predicaments
and failures. A victim attitude is epitomized by the
black student who fails her physics exam and blames it
on the professor’s racism even though she did not study
for the examination. Victims are passive and quite adept
at finding excuses for their personal failures.
Fortunately, many disadvantaged individuals have
excelled in spite of racism, succeeding against the odds
because they exerted control. Inside, they sang to
themselves, “I ain’t goin’ to let nobody
turn me ‘round.” What our great historical leaders ––
Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, and Martin Luther
King, Jr., for example –– all had in common was a strong
sense of being “in charge.” They were people who had
who made things happen. They did not allow the self-negation
often associated with oppression to shackle their
For success in any field, a “take charge” approach is
absolutely necessary. The success of African-Americans
in sports is the result of their taking control of their
fate. Sports figures provide the pattern for an approach
that is critical to whatever goals we pursue. Good
players reach the top because they work hard and
practice for many hours to perfect their skills, to
become the best. They do not settle for average.
Bill Cosby during an appearance on
Tonight Show with Jay
But many students, even at top universities, are
satisfied with a mediocre performance as long as they
obtain the degree, the credential. Indeed, if students
put forth the effort in their studies that athletes
devote to excelling in sports, we would all be much
better off. It is not enough just to get a credential,
whether from Harvard or Howard. Everyone faces stiff
competition in the real world of work. You cannot afford
to be just average. The master word is education ––
education with maximum effort. With that, you can attain
your highest ambitions.
I have always put the highest value on education.
However, one day several years ago, my daughter
announced that she had decided not to go to college
because she was in love with a boy named Alan. At first,
my wife and I went crazy. Then, a light went on in one
of the musty corners of my mind; her decision would save
me a hundred thousand dollars.
A father like me with five children faces the terrifying
prospect of paying to send five to college. When my
oldest one went, the bill for her first year was
thirteen thousand dollars. I looked hard at this bill
and then said to her, “Thirteen thousand dollars (which
has since risen to more than twenty, and is still going
up) is more than just a sum of money. It requires a
winning lottery ticket.
Many high school students worry too much about handling
college, about whether they have the motivation,
ability, time, and money. Some worry so much that they
talk themselves out of going to college and having a
chance at a better life by selling themselves short. I
donate a lot of money to colleges because I realize that
there is no substitute for a good education.
Paying for college can seem
pretty scary when you don’t have much money to start
with. Don’t let that fear stop you, though. There are
many, many scholarships and loan programs to assist
students in a variety of circumstances. Talk to the
guidance counselors at your high school or visit the
financial aid offices of the colleges you are
considering attending. Most schools also include
work-study programs to help you earn part of the money
while you are taking classes. It may take hard work, but
it is worth it.
Of course, once my daughter decided not to get married
and to continue her education, I was delighted. Marriage
is a wonderful thing, but college is a must these days.
Our rapidly changing society is becoming more and more
technological. I went to Temple, just after the end of
the Ice Age, when the routine for a student was very
different from the hi-tech college life of today. I
don’t know how to configure a hard drive. To me, a hard
drive is the Long Island Expressway; but the computer is
where you will be living and maybe finding someone to
help you make your way through the scary world.
College is more than just dumping another drone into the
workplace. College is a rite of passage. Take courses
that might have some connection to something. And, keep
an eye on the real world after college. The real world
is a reversal of college in so many ways. You will no
longer have Fridays off, you will now go to a library to
check out only books, and you will no longer eat in a
place where the food should be served to dolphins.
Moreover, in the real world, your social life will be
dramatically different because it will involve you with
people whose approach on campus sent you ducking for
In the current employment market, it is extremely
difficult and virtually impossible to make any kind of
living with only a high school diploma. When you get a
college education, you open up a world of possibilities.
If you don’t, you are slamming a door on your future.
You may think you’re a talented high school graduate,
bright and energetic. You can learn “on the job.” True.
But without a college degree, you may never get the
chance. A college degree is the most important
investment in both time and money you will ever make. It
is one which will bring to your life a richness and
value that is beyond measure.
Bill Cosby is,
by any standard, one of the most influential stars in
America today. His humor often centers on the basic
cornerstones of our existence, seeking to provide
insight into our roles as parents, children, family
members, and men and women.
Mr. Cosby was on the nightclub circuit when he made the
transition from standup comic to actor as co-star of the
series I Spy, with Robert Culp. Mr. Cosby won three Emmy
Awards as Best Actor for the role, which was
instrumental in breaking racial barriers in American
Mr. Cosby’s additional television credits include
Bill Cosby Show, the variety show Cos, and the hit
comedy series The Cosby Show. He produced the series
Different World. Mr. Cosby executive produced Cosby and
starred in the series as Hilton Lucas. He also hosted
Kids Say The Darndest Things.
Mr. Cosby’s successful recording career began with
Cosby is a Very Funny Fellow, Right? His many subsequent
comedy albums earned him a total of five Grammy Awards
in the category of Best Comedy Album. He has also
released a number of jazz recordings, including hello,
friend; to ennis with love, in 1997.
Mr. Cosby is the author
of Little Bill, a book series designed to
encourage reading among children ages six through 10.
The best-selling books were developed into a television
series that Mr. Cosby executive produces. He
is also the author of the books Fatherhood and Time
Flies, both record-breaking bestsellers, as well as the
bestsellers Childhood, Congratulations! Now What?, and
most recently, Cosbyology.
Born in Philadelphia,PA, Mr. Cosby often neglected his
studies for athletics, and after repeating the tenth
grade, he left school to join the Navy. While in the
service, he finished high school via a correspondence
course. Upon his discharge, he enrolled at Temple
University on an athletic scholarship to become a
physical education teacher. Despite his decision to
pursue a career in the entertainment field, Mr. Cosby
felt it was important to continue his education and
earned his M.A. in 1972 and his Ed.D. in 1977 from the
University of Massachusetts.
Mr. Cosby married the former Camille Hanks, who also
completed her Ed.D. in Education. When speaking of his
wife, Mr. Cosby has urged an amendment to the saying,
“Behind every good man there’s a good woman.” He
suggests instead of “behind” to substitute “three miles
ahead of.” They are the parents of four daughters,
Erika, Erinn, Ensa and Evin, and one son, Ennis.