When I was still in school, I remember thinking about college as an automatic next step in furthering my education. What I didn’t think about were the actual professional outcomes I’d have with a degree in English literature and history from a foreign university.
My situation was not unique. Too often, I’ve seen young adults think about their careers and thoughtlessly include college as the means to get there, even if the degree they choose has little or nothing to do with the career to which they aspire.
I was fortunate to find a route that made me question the true value of my Bachelor’s degree and find my career on my own terms. Going through Praxis, a for-profit apprenticeship program, taught me a lot about myself and the kind of work I excel in.
The Fetishization of Higher Education
We’ve all heard phrases like this: “Without a college degree, you’ll never find a lucrative career.” And this: “You’ll never be able to choose what you want to do if you don’t go to college.”
Both of those statements are inaccurate—and that’s not a matter of opinion.
The job market of 2018 is drastically different than 30 years ago. At that time, college was still mostly for the elite, and a degree often meant you had undergone a thoroughly specialized learning track that suited you for a thoroughly specialized job. Things have changed a lot since then—the gig economy is a pretty recent phenomenon—and the landscape continues to change every day.
There are at least three clear downsides in the current career paradigm:
- In the US, college is exorbitantly expensive ($35,000 per year for private school, on average; $10,000 for in-state public schools). As a result, many college graduates find themselves immersed in debt for decades after they’ve earned their degree.
- The college learning process is too drawn-out for today’s job market. Students who have gone for a degree in marketing, for example, will generally have no understanding of current marketing tactics, nor are they likely to be taught how to identify and master them as fast as modern markets demand.
- Many well-paid, high-demand careers are sneered at because they don’t require a college degree.
Let’s talk about that third point a bit more; even if you don’t believe that college is basically dead, just think of this: You don’t need a college degree to make it in the “real world.” You don’t need to spend thousands—if not hundreds of thousands—of dollars and many years of your life to make it professionally. You don’t need to sit in a class and listen to someone talk to you for hours on end.
No, if you want to find a profitable job, you don’t need to go to college.
In fact, many profitable careers don’t ask for any special qualifications—some employers will teach you the job themselves, and often, businesses will even pay for you to get trained. To name a few:
A recent Washington Post article states that there are upwards of 50,000 job openings for truckers, with businesses offering higher salary incentives to try to fill the ever-increasing openings.
Although the trucking industry can be a hard one, it’s a career that can earn you as much as $80,000 annually in the first few years of work—with no degree required.
Elevator Installers & Repairers
The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that this trade is experiencing an increasing amount of demand for workers while paying almost $40 per hour, or a median $79,000 per year, without requiring any kind of higher education besides on-the-job training and apprenticing.
A physically demanding career, boilermaking is one of those jobs that, yet again, is desperately searching for staff.
As reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, boilermaking can easily generate $30 per hour, or $62,000 per year, with no need to go to school—and that’s only starting out.
For being a “dying” job, being a plumber is surprisingly lucrative. If you choose to go the self-directed route, you’ll be able to benefit from on-the-job training or apprenticing, which means that even as you’re learning, you’re getting paid.
Salaries can vary anywhere between $52,000 and $90,000 a year—much more than you can expect working as an overqualified college intern.
I could even go more general with this job title. Basically, if you like working on computers—especially the mechanics behind a working machine or website—you can launch a very prosperous career without going through school to gain the skills.
Web developers can earn a median salary of $62,000 and as much as $122,000 per year with a very low down payment on their education. Just like many non-trade and non-academic careers, this is a job you can essentially teach yourself thanks to the numerous tutorials and online courses you can find on the Internet today. (I’m a living example of that, although my trade is as an editor and a writer.)
Lessons to Be Learned
What I hope you’ll take away from this short list is that you don’t need to go to school to find well-paying work. Many jobs still require (or, more precisely, say they require) a degree from a four-year accredited college. But the truth is you don’t need to go the college route to make a lot of money or even find an interesting and challenging career.
In fact, choosing to go an alternative route rather than college might just offer you the freedom to change jobs as your interests evolve with time. You don’t have to lock yourself down professionally anymore.
Get with the times, think for yourself, and realize: you don’t have to go to college to be successful.