Education and Wealth: You Don’t Need a College Degree, But You Need an Education

You don't need a college degree to become wealthy or be successful. Many people can build wealth or become rich without a college degree.
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College is overrated. There, I said something you’ve probably suspected since high school and may have confirmed several years after you entered the workforce.You probably know many people who excelled in college and can barely string together a cohesive thought. And you probably know many successful people who never went to college, barely made it through college or worked in a field unrelated to their degree.

Why is that? How can some people struggle when they have a degree from a quality institution, while others can be successful without a college degree or in a field unrelated to their degree?

I think it’s because a college education doesn’t guarantee success. Success is up to many other factors that colleges often don’t teach.

You Don’t Need a College Degree

A college degree is simply a certification

A degree is simply a piece of paper certifying you met a certain level of scholastic achievement. But what happens in the classroom doesn’t always translate into the real world.

College degrees don’t always pay well or guarantee a job

There are many high-paying degrees. But for every high-paying degree, there are two low-paying degrees. Some degrees have a limited job market.

Simply having a college degree doesn’t guarantee a job, nor should it. Employees need to bring marketable skills to the table, as well as the ability to continue learning, growing, and providing value for their employer.

I am not saying people who choose low-paying degrees aren’t successful – far from it. Many people choose degrees based on what makes them happy, and it is easy to admire someone who chooses happiness over wealth.

The truth many people aren’t willing to admit is you don’t need a college degree to be successful. But you need an education and a desire to continue to learn, work hard, and adapt.

You Need an Education, and You Need Marketable Skills

Education is different from a degree. Education can be formal, informal, self-directed, on-the-job training, professional licenses, and certifications, or any other form of education.

Take technical schools for example. If you know what to look for in a community college, you can gain a valuable education that prepares you for the professional world at a fraction of the cost.

Considering a community college or any other educational paths above can help cut the cost of college tuition while still giving you a solid educational foundation.

There are hundreds of careers which don’t require a degree. And they all share one thing in common: They require results, and in many cases, require years of hard work and study to achieve success.

It’s easy to discount athletes, musicians, actors, and others who don’t go through a traditional four-year degree program. But the amount of hard work, training, practice, and study they go through to achieve their success often exceeds the amount of effort put into an average 4-year degree. But let’s look beyond those careers, which are far too rare to be a practical vocation for most people to aspire to.

A more realistic example. I’ll use a friend of mine as an example. He is in his 40s and is by most measures, a successful man. How successful? He brings in a quarter million a year as a small business owner.

“Oh, one of those…” Yes, one of those. Want to know what he does? It’s not sexy, but it’s a great career. He is an electrician, or, I should say he owns a small business focusing on residential and small commercial electrical installation and repair jobs.

He built his business from the ground up in a manner that almost anyone can do if they want to. His story is about the tortoise, and the hare – slow and steady wins the race. It just takes time, hard work, and a continuing desire to learn and improve.

He started as an electrician’s apprentice out of high school, achieved his license, and eventually started his own business. He now employs a couple of people who are following in his footsteps. The best part is his job will never go away. People will always need electricians. And plumbers, landscapers, mechanics, and dozens of other jobs don’t require a degree.

But these jobs require education and hard work. These folks have marketable skills and provide services people need. Many of these jobs also require licenses and certifications, which require study and continuing education.

Do You Have a Skill Others Will Pay For?

As you try to chart your career path, it makes sense to stop considering whether you are developing skills others will pay for instead of just going to college because you “should.” In some cases, developing a skill set others are willing to pay for doesn’t require a college degree.

Developing a Marketable Skill

Stories abound of communications majors with $100,000 in school debt and few job prospects.

However, it’s not about whether your degree is useless. It’s about whether or not you can leverage it into a marketable skill that others are willing to pay for.

For example, a friend of mine has a communications degree and a journalism degree. She turned the knowledge and experience gained through earning those degrees into a successful freelance career.

But you don’t need a four-year or advanced degree to succeed in this manner. There are plenty of in-demand skills that you can acquire through two-year programs and certifications earned in six months. It’s also possible to develop marketable skills for free with the help of open courseware and the discipline to read extensively.

Instead of assuming that a degree is a ticket to a good job (in the new economy, it’s not), focus on the skills you’ll develop.

What About Starting Your Own Business?

Developing skills others will pay for isn’t just about getting a job working for someone else. If you want to start your own business, you still need to have something to offer. I discovered that there are plenty of people out there who are willing to pay someone to write on their behalf.

This is especially true online. There is also a demand for freelance skills such as freelance writing and ghostwriting, digital media, design, video editing, coding and development, technical support, optimization, and a host of other online skills.

You can do the same if you plan to start your own business. Think about your skills and expertise and how that can translate into a service you can provide for others. You can make money from your skills if you can provide something others need or want.

It’s not about education as much as the skills you are developing and how you plan to market those skills.

A College Degree is Beneficial, but Not Always Required

Some jobs require a degree. Jobs in science, engineering, and math often require at least a bachelor’s degree — and you can often find a pretty good job with such a degree. Additionally, professional jobs like those in health care and law usually require a degree if you want to work at the highest levels. If those are the jobs you want, you have little choice but to pursue a degree.

However, plenty of jobs don’t require long years of schooling. Develop those skill sets with the help of other educational options, and you can start earning money earlier and get ahead of the game, at least a little bit.

I am not against college degrees. I have one and recommend college for many people. But some people are better off not going to college because it doesn’t align with their skills or career aspirations.

Highest Paying Jobs Without a Degree

Here are some of the best-paying jobs that either only require a two-year degree or no additional education:

1. Air Traffic Controllers

Most air traffic controllers directing our nation’s airplanes in and out of crowded airspace only have an Associate’s Degree. But don’t let that fool you, they are highly skilled individuals. And they are well compensated for it. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for an Air Traffic Controller was over $100,000 in 2010, or over $50 an hour.

2. Military Service

Many military members start with relatively low pay. However, annual salary and benefits can quickly increase as service members increase in rank. Full-time benefits, including tax-free allowances for food and housing, free dental and health care, and other benefits, make this an attractive career opportunity for those who do not wish to continue pursuing a four-year college degree.

3. Dental Hygienist

As long as you are comfortable working with people’s mouths, this is an excellent career for any people person. Hygienists have a median salary of nearly $67,000 per year, which is $10,000 more than the median salary for a four-year grad. In addition to the great salary, hygienists enjoy a relatively flexible schedule and can even potentially work part-time. To become a dental hygienist, you will need to complete a two-year associate’s degree—which means you could be working for a great salary just two years out of high school while your former classmates are still working toward their more expensive bachelor’s degrees.

4. Construction Manager

With a median income of nearly $84,000, becoming a construction manager is one of the highest-paying jobs you can land without needing additional education after high school. However, it will take some time and experience before you can step into this job. Construction managers oversee a project’s construction team and must coordinate and schedule the necessary contractors to ensure the project stays on time and within budget. Most construction managers work their way up to this position after many years of working in construction.

5. Funeral Director, Mortician, or Undertaker

This is certainly not a career path that everyone will want to take, but it offers individuals the satisfaction of helping families in times of mourning. Those going into the funeral business must have an associate’s degree in mortuary science, as well as state certification, with a year long paid apprenticeship after you complete your education. If you would like to be an embalmer as well, that will require additional licensure. The median salary for funeral directors is around $54,000 annually, and it is a recession-proof career.

6. Casino Gaming Manager

This is another great option for high school graduates who want to start a career without going to school. Casino gaming managers are responsible for overseeing all of the gaming operations in a casino, which would include everything from setting policies to resolving complaints to determining the servings of food and drink (which is quite important in a casino).

The bad news about this job is that it is one you must work your way up the ladder to get. Many casino managers start their careers as dealers, which is not particularly well-paying. However, casino managers have a median salary of about $67,000 and can sometimes make as much as $110,000 per year. Not bad for a career that requires no extra education.

7. Registered Nurse

Becoming a registered nurse offers one of the best bangs for the educational buck. After completing a two-year degree, a registered nurse can start working in one of the most flexible and recession-proof careers available. With a median salary of around $62,000 per year plus typically generous benefits packages, this is a smart career choice for anyone interested in the helping professions.

Many other high-paying jobs exist:

This is only a sampling of the highest-paying jobs available without a degree. These salaries were taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which tracks occupations and salaries in the US. However, some occupations, such as entrepreneurs and small business owners, are difficult to track. Other opportunities exist in the arts, including computer programming and design, database development, athletics, and more. You don’t need a degree to be successful. But you do need education and the drive to excel.

How to Invest In Your Education

If you decide to pursue a degree, here are some of the best financial moves for college students. Whether you attend a four-year university or get an associate’s degree from your local technical school, these pieces of advice can help you get the most out of your education.

  • Invest wisely: Building a business, honing a skill, or getting your degree comes at a cost. If you plan to open an investment account to save for college, you must strategize your asset allocation. Determine your risk tolerance, assess how much money you’ll need, and adapt your risk levels to maximize your investments.
  • Know your financing options: There are many strategies to pay for college, from work-study jobs to loans, scholarships, and grants. Know the pros and cons of each and come up with a plan to meet your goals and budget.
  • Find financial success in college: Investing in your education doesn’t stop when you sign the tuition check. Live within your means, build a budget and stick to it, and work to establish and maintain good credit.
  • Save where you can: Do your homework, pun intended, and you can find plenty of ways to save money in college, from student discounts to sites that help you with buying and selling textbooks.
  • Make tough decisions: Make choices that help to set you up for future success as you pursue an education, even if they aren’t your first choice. For instance, moving back home after graduation might not be bad as you work to find a job and save money.

Bottom Line

Success doesn’t depend on a piece of paper. And it shouldn’t. Success is rooted in the actions you take to achieve your dreams and goals in life.

If that means attending college to receive a traditional 4-year degree, then awesome. And if that means doing on-the-job training and studying at night to get a license or certification, then that’s great too.

A lot of emphases is put on achieving a college degree, but it’s not the right choice for everyone. And it shouldn’t be. Choose the career path which makes you happy, work hard, continue to learn, and provide value, and success will follow.

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  1. Shantell Young says

    Thanks for writing this article, I taught middle school for the past eight years and I would often get criticized by other teachers because I was honest with my students about this topic. Many of the students I taught were not going to go to college because they could not afford to, they didn’t have the grades to get scholarships, or they just didn’t want to. I’d tell them that it’s ok because you can still be successful. You just need hard work and a skill you can market. Great article.

  2. Cathy says

    I agree about the non-degree and level of degree. It is unfortunate that many companies only look for the degree first, then the experience. My college education has nothing to do with what I’ve done in my career. I have many certificates on the programs that I have worked in (legal). When I hire, I look at experience first and the interview questions geared toward fit for the company. I have worked with many A-holes with high degrees, no job experience, no people experience and they alienate themselves in the work place, labeling them the person ‘not approachable’. The degree albeit helpful. The hiring companies really need to get with the real world and look at the experienced individual who will add value with maturity, teamwork and ‘usually’ will leave the drama at the door and get the real job done.

  3. Michael G says

    Any person can be successful and earn a decent if not excellent salary, provided that they acquire the necessary skills to become one of the best in their field. That said, one of the drawbacks of many blue collar careers is how late in life you can continue to work and earn a living. My dad was an air conditioning mechanic and my uncles all did some sort of manual labor (plumbers, electricians, sheet metal workers, landscapers, etc.). Unfortunately as they approached later years in life (60 or so), their physical abilities declined and years of stress and strain on muscles and bone showed their effect. Conversely, their children became the first generation to get a college degree and their office jobs allowed them to go well into their 70s as productive workers. But in closing, I would say to work your passion if possible.

  4. Ronald Clark says

    And there lies the problem Ryan, you don’t need one to be successful but you need one if you plan of having a job, faster then people without a degree that is.

    “There are hundreds of careers which don’t require a degree.”
    Yes there are. But the problem is as follows, the notion of getting into collage has devalued over the years. Going to collage is almost as trivial as going to high school. And that little piece of paper can and will make all the difference in an interview, especially if you’re applying for a job that doesn’t require a degree. And that’s more common then you might think, there are thousands upon thousands of economics, history, mathematics, political science, philosophy, even legal graduates each year. Statistically speaking the large majority of them will not find jobs in their field, the job market is over saturated in this areas, and they, out of desperation, will turn to jobs that do not require degrees.

    And that’s the tragedy, people with experience and no degree will get turned down in favor of someone with a degree, because he “has” more potential. I’ve seen it so many times.

    I’m very split on the issue, on one hand I do completely agree with you, it’s not necessary to have a degree to make it big (successful), in fact if I were to draw a conclusion from my personal experience I’d say it’s easier, most people I know that bring home 7 digits every year do no have a degree, most of them being business owners that took risks. But how many of them succeed? The small minority. But if you want to live your life almost care free, then I think you do need one. I base that on an educated guess, I don’t have nor have I searched for any numbers, but I assume that on a global or even national level people with a degree have a better material situation then people without one. As a funny trivia I point to the top 50 most richest people on the planet, very few of them actually have a degree, goes to show that collage is a middle ground. Not too poor but not filthy rich either.

  5. observant says

    The people who are scoffing at this girl for suing are no better than the employers who refuse to give college degree holding individuals a chance. I graduate from Hunter College with a degree in English and a 2.5 GPA. Yes, it could have been better but with my parents dying while I was in college, it affected me deeply. I went for my masters, hoping it would make a difference and I have yet to receive a job offer.

    What’s the point in obtaining a college degree then? If education means nothing, then why the hell do we have universities/graduate schools then? There’s people out there with degrees and experience and yet can’t find work.

    I always though college was to prepare you for entry-level work. How the hell you’re going to gain experience when you’re not given a chance?

    • Dan says

      Observant: Perhaps the reason you’re having trouble finding work in an English related field is because your written English skills are atrocious.

  6. Alfonso JR says

    I completely agree, yet I am having trouble persuading my mother into thinking the same. I graduated high school with a very strong GPA and in 3 years for that matter. I jumped into a top private university to study for a biology degree, even though biology is far from what I really am passionate about. A couple years ago I began trading stock, and I have been unable to put a book down since on the subject. I took matters into my own hands and dropped out of college, only 4 months into it. I believe no university can teach what one needs to know when trading the financial markets, and I choose to save myself the time, money, and boredom. Success is not guaranteed because you can get some piece of paper, It comes from within.

  7. REYNO RENTON says

    colleges is much more important to me since this is the only way were i can go for work and be successful in life. i graduated in colleges of doctor of veterinary medicine /and still study a caregiver certificate/ diploma. but all of this education that i get doesn’t make me wealthy since at my vet. med. degree i wasn’t have a professional license and that was the reason why that i can not do my professional field so i work in the farm but not in the title of veterinarian but stockman or general farm worker,farm manager/ supervisor or driver because i have a license in driving professionaly. all of this position when i apply for a job was given to me because i am a colleges degree in my resume and it was related to what i finish in school.entrepreneurship is only successful to those people with money which is already rich.but for those who don’t have money that there only capital in life is to get degree knowledge in school to live.

  8. Barry says

    But what if people like me that does not have the interest to study, keep on failing on maths paper and aren’t confident in my college degree cert. What should i do ? and i cant figure out what my passion was. Tq.

    • Ryan says

      Barry, the idea here isn’t to focus on college as the only way to find a better paying job. The idea is to find something which you enjoy and are good enough at to offer value to someone else. Do you enjoy working with your hands? Then you could begin an apprenticeship as a vehicle mechanic, carpenter, electrician, welder, etc. You don’t need a degree to be a pilot or to get a commercial driver’s license. You don’t need a degree to start a business, be an air traffic controller, a real estate broker, website designer, network administrator, or to wok a variety of jobs in the technical fields. You do, however, need an education to do these jobs. Whether it be specific training or a certification in these fields, or a different level of education, you need to be able to prove you can do the job and earn the certification if need be. If you don’t know what you want to do, then focus on your communication skills and on upgrading any skills you have which are already marketable.

      • Mike Illenberger says

        Hi Guys,

        I agree with Ryan, also, I’m not really sure how old you are Barry but I didn’t know what my passion was til I was 23. I am a stock trader, I am 31 now and Ive been a stock trader now for 8 years. I did one semester in college then dropped out, like you, I wasn’t interested in studying at all. When I was 18, all I wanted was to become an entrepreneur and I was aware that a college degree wasn’t necessary so I just launched. I tried many things before I found the right one. I sold women’s clothing at a swap meat, I tried mail order businesses, a child care center and they all failed. I stumbled upon stock trading and I love it! I taught myself how to trade, there so much quality information now on the internet and I took advantage of it, so get this, I started my entrepreneurial journey when I was 18 and didn’t find my passion til I was 23, That’s 5 years of trying and failing. So keep trying! You miss 100% of the shot you don’t take.

  9. Jaime says

    I think college is great option for some people. Some people really love/loved their college years. You need to absolutely go to college for certain careers. I don’t think college is for everyone though. I’m about to get my 2 year associate degree in general studies. It’s been an interesting experience.

    I’ve had a taste of higher education and I’m not interested in more. I’ve toured a couple of state universities to see if I wanted to transfer, and while they were nice, at the end of those tours, I still didn’t want to transfer. I have a 3.6 GPA at my community college but my heart is just not in it.

    I’m not rejecting curiosity, life long learning, knowledge, new experiences, traveling, etc. I’m about 3 classes away from my associate degree. I can’t wait until I’m done. I just plan on doing other things with my life, I’ve decided that after I graduate from community college that I will pursue a career that doesn’t require a 4 year degree.

    I didn’t go into debt for my degree and I’m thankful that I didn’t. I’m thankful that I did try higher education, I do think that it was important for me to figure out what I wanted from life, and to see what higher education was all about. It’s really important to try things for yourself and then make a decision based on your experiences.

    You never know where life might lead you. A lot of people develop interests later on in life, some go back for academic knowledge, and others go back to change careers. That might happen to me, which is one reason I’m keeping my GPA at community college high.

    I want to have that option later on if I need to or want to go for a bachelor’s degree later on. It’s always a good idea to have your options open. 🙂

  10. Matt says

    The article echoes my own sentiment on the subject matter. I really don’t blame the person in question for sueing. What is college suppose to guarantee? I’ve been out of college for two years with loan debt and no job prospects still. It is basically a catch 22 argument. I’m overqualified to work some jobs because I have a degree. Or, I don’t have the necessary experience to perform another type of job. How do you acquire that experience if you aren’t given a chance? If the career services department at a university isn’t helping a student, what is the point?

  11. Mike Illenberger says

    A college degree does help in some way, I believe that but you dont need it at all to be successful. I am not trying to denigrate the importance of college education here. Education is still important of course but we all know that in this day in age, a college degree is now just a “good” thing to have and not anymore a requirement for success in life, and dont get me wrong, I am only talking as an entrepreneur here, obviously you still need a degree to be a lawyer, doctor or an engineer, but having a degree or having an MBA to start a business? I dont think it is required at all. If my daughter comes up to me after graduating from high school and tells me daddy, I want to skip college and start a business, I will tell her “Lets do it, I will be your seed investor” for as long as I see passion and willingness to work hard in her. A guy I know only did one semester in college (never graduated) but became a mentor to somebody who graduated from Harvard and also advised one of the top stock brokers in America. The point I’m trying to drive home is that it doesn’t mean you have finished college, you will be better than the one who did not finish college and college grad or not, The internet made the playing field level, I know 20 year old kids who never stepped foot at a college university but still manage to make 6 figure income a year on the internet. Let’s wrap this up and let me leave everybody a quote by Jim Rohn I think everybody will agree with. “Formal education will make you a living; self-education will make you a fortune.” I don’t want to make a living; I want to make a fortune!! 🙂

  12. Loretto says

    If college doesn’t get you a job, then what is college for? Why do you get BAs and MBAs that you pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for, if ultimately it does nothing for you? Why in the world would you even waste four years of your life, on top of the money you pay, going there? With all due respect that is the stupidest comment that I have ever heard “College does not guarantee you a job” what does it guarantee you then! “To better yourself” ? ok fair enough, but you know what ,NO! In this planet MONEY is essential, and if you don’t have it, you cannot live and you cannot better yourself, period, that’s the way it is. You need a job to get money, WORKING is a necessity to survive, do you realize that? And when you pay $80,000 for a college degree, it should work for you!!!!! there is no excuse, experience, what experience?!!! I could do your job with the tip of my finger that’s how easy your job is for me, because that is what college taught me very well, it taught me how to be a WORKER, and be mentally agile, you’re saying you didn’t have to go to college to get six figures bbla bla bla babble babble say whatever you want, I embody my college degree, and I could do what it took you to do your whole life in the matter of SECONDS if it wasn’t for the employers WHO LIKE CHEAP LABOR…guess what NO I DO NOT WORK FOR FREE!!!!!!

  13. Nick says

    Great stuff, Ryan. Like J. Money points out there are a lot of life lessons / growing up that college offers in addition to the education. But I completely agree that going to college isn’t a ticket to success. In my field, college is a requirement for a license. But once you get there, it’s really a battle between the book smart folks and the street smart folks. They both succeed, but the street smart folks out earn the bookworms by far.

    • Ryan says

      I agree – college is a necessity for many people, and a great experience. My goal was to play the devil’s advocate and take the other side. I know a lot of people for whom college was a waste of time and didn’t advance their career. They may have been better off not going to college, but went because it was expected. It really all depends on your career goals and desired field.

  14. Dolla Thug says

    This article definitely makes a lot of sense, but it’s true – many employers won’t even think about employing you if you don’t have that little piece of paper from a college or university that says you ate pizza and slept through classes for four years of your life. It’s come to the point where the bachelor’s degree is the new high school diploma! It’s become a standard given and now the MBA or other grad degree is the new way to stay competitive. The MBA isn’t worth the investment for me (…yet), but hopefully I’ll just be able to be my own boss and live off blog proceeds…one day…lol

  15. Mark says

    First off… College for the most part has become a financial racket. I have a BS in Info Tech., but to be honest the campuses I went to both at real locations and online were extremely disappointing. Employers realize this and considering the economy we are in they are being forced to look through higher numbers of applicants and what college grads are learning are that those with experience (especially with college backgrounds) trump those fresh out of school. When you have to streamline your operations, you can’t afford to have both those in the know and those fresh out of school which require on-the-job training. I don’t care what university you attended, this is going to be the case. The ones at the top of the list especially are those with a combination of college, experience, and military background. These are proven individuals that have been tested and generally are of great value to employers. That’s the reality, and personally, I think the lawsuit does hold merit. Many of you are being ripped off. If you look at every aspect of hold higher learning institutions are being run, you’d be a fool not to conclude they are squeezing every penny from students, their families, the government, that they can. There is no reason college should cost what it does, especially considering how unprepared it leaves most grads to be able to walk into a job and go to work without further training by the employer.

  16. Bruce says

    Not to get off subject, but shouldn’t a parent push their son or Daughter into a situation to that child’s desire? Then coach them in a means as to how they may be able to sustain themselves doing just that, what the child wants to do?

    My degree has little to do with my profession yet it is perceived to have just that. Master in accounting doesn’t make me a Tax Professional. Yet that is what I am. And no I don’t have my degree hanging on the wall. It’s a misperception.

    • Ryan says

      I think so, Bruce. Most parents want what is best for their child, but in many cases they want what “they think is best” not what their child thinks is best. I think parents should try to work with their children to help them understand their options, then try to help them achieve their goals.

      My degree helped me get started in my professional career, but it doesn’t do too much for me now – other than fill a blank on my resume. This article isn’t designed to slam degrees, though. The goal is to say there are other options for people who aren’t inclined to get a degree.

  17. Shaun says

    I just recently decided to drop out of college for at least a semester. I run about 6 websites/blogs, and work on them full-time. I was expecting a lot of people to get upset at my decision, but was surprised that most have been completely understanding. Like my dad said, “If you make more than double the average income, there’s really not much anyone can say.”

    Earning a great income requires more than just a degree, especially in a world where:
    a) Degrees cost thousands of dollars, and
    b) Everyone has one.

    This isn’t to say that degrees are bad — they can be fantastic investments, depending on the person and their financial values. It really just depends. Finance is rarely a one-size fits all world. 🙂

    Once again, great article!

    • Ryan says

      Shaun, You probably made the right move. I had my sights set on going to a top tier MBA program, but this site and the others I run were taking up too much time. I had to decide which was more in line with my long term goals – having an MBA or running a business. I chose the business and have no regrets. I can always go back and attend an MBA program, and this way, I never have to ask myself “what if?” You are in the same boat. You can always go back to school if that is where your passions lie. 🙂

  18. myfinancialobjectives says

    Great “against the mainstream” message. Crazy that you posted this, another PF blogger and myself also recently posted about how you should really consider your options when thinking about college.

    Excellent personal example as well. As you said, electricians, plumbers, etc, will always be needed. The trick is to make yourself marketable. Perhaps a combination of the trade + some business education would do the entrepreneur best.

    • Ryan says

      Absolutely. I think there is the perception that “blue collar” jobs aren’t marketable and don’t have a long term future, when that is simply not the case. If you work hard and continue to grow personally and professionally, then there are no limits. Owning a small business is a great way to creating wealth, or at least a healthy living.

      • danielle says

        my washing machine broke and i thought i could try to fix it myself…until i learned washing machines have a transmission LOL

        i called up some guy who gave me an estimate over the phone and i paid him $130 to change out some part that i had no idea existed or was broken. who knows how much that part cost him, but i’m pretty sure he made a decent amount for 1 hour of his time. i’m sure he gets tons of calls like that. and he deserves every penny. i’d call him again in a heart beat.

  19. Blair says

    Great piece Ryan; couldn’t agree more when it comes to the importance of learning and self-education, whether you choose college or not. Jim Rohn always had a great quote: “If you work hard at your job, you can make a living. If you work hard on yourself, you can make a fortune.” I think that same thing applies when facing that hard work in school. Whether you complete the process & get a degree, whether you go for a few years or whether you don’t go at all, you need to be accumulating knowledge for yourself in learning your respective trade & much of that can’t be found in the classroom.

    Also, with regards to the earnings gap between college grads and non-college grads, many of those statistics that are thrown out by The College Board & others associated with the business of academia are intentionally misleading. In reality, the gap is shrinking more and more as the burdens of student debt continue to increase:


    • Ryan says

      That is a great quote, and one I truly believe… thanks for sharing! And thanks for the link on the earnings gap. There are many factors to take into consideration when comparing the vlue of a degree, and student loans is one area I think many people don’t consider (or earning money while learning a trade, as in the example I gave about my electrician friend).

      In my opinion, there is no right or wrong way to go, just different ways. In the end it comes down to working hard and providing value and results.

  20. Ryan says

    Joe, in my experience, parents who push their children in any direction tend to push them toward a job the parents perceive to be better than their standard of living, regardless of what that standard is. Many parents would love to see their children run a successful business, but the perception is strong that college is the best, or only, way to achieve that. Many people don’t look at alternative career options because they perceive them to be limiting.

  21. Robert says

    While I understand that you do not need a college degree, statistics show you have a better chance of landing a decent job. However, I also agree that it is not necessary. As the jobs you mentioned are good jobs (electrician/plumber/etc) there are also plenty in the health care field as well. If you examine those jobs, they still require a lot of effort. If you think become a master electrician is easy, think again.

    • Ryan says

      BMT, I agree – the statistics show people with college degrees have an easier time finding a higher paying job. College degrees have almost become a commodity in our current market. But there will always be good paying jobs which do not require a college degree (but require a lot of hard work, education, certifications, etc.). The key, in my opinion is to work hard and never stop learning.

      I also agree with your sentiment regarding becoming a master electrician – it’s not easy. I was an aircraft mechanic while I was in the USAF and my specialty was electrical-environmental systems, which included aircraft power production and distribution (basically aircraft electrician) and aircraft air systems (heating, cooling, pressurization, etc.). It takes a lot of work to understand how the different systems work together, how to troubleshoot and repair those systems, and other aspects of the job. Residential and commercial electric work is just as involved. It also shares a common thread: it doesn’t require a college degree, but it requires years of study and on the job training.

  22. Craig/FFB says

    For me, I want my kids to understand that whatever they do they need to try their best at it. If they want to act, be in construction, or be a lawyer, it’s all good so long as they work towards their potential.

  23. danielle says

    you hit the nail on the head by mentioning achievement. i’ve had many discussions with friends on why some people succeed and others don’t – regardless of intelligence. some of the most intelligent people i know still can’t find a steady job and live on their mom’s couch. my belief is that college is only a facilitator that allows individuals access to setting and achieving goals; and i think accomplishment leads to many paths to a better life. the highly intelligent guy who’s not a doer is just a guy who doesn’t do anything.
    great article!!

  24. Craig says

    although not required, a college degree is definitely and investment and studies show it helps you earn more over your lifetime. Most corporate companies won’t hire someone who doesn’t have a college degree. Now I am trying to figure out if an MBA is worth it or not.

    • Ryan says

      Craig, I agree 100%. Most traditional “white collar” jobs require a degree just to get an interview. It works great as a screening tool. Many “professional” jobs require a degree as well, for example doctors, lawyers, nurses, etc.

      My purpose in the article is to look at the other side. I know quite a few people who don’t have a degree and who are very successful. Whether you need a degree or not should depend on your career goals more than anything else. I wrote a series on MBA programs. This article may be helpful: Do You Need an MBA ?.

      MBAs have a lot of value if you have the experience and specialization to back it up. You will certainly learn a lot if you go for it. How much it benefits you will depend.

  25. Karma says

    I am also in a similar situation. Graduated with double major undergraduate degrees, 3.43 GPA, participated in internships, plus I quit a very good job 3 years ago to get ‘experience’ in the field. College degrees are no better than the paper they are written on. I made triple the annual salary in a field without a college degree. Sadly, I will be going back to that field. To stop any doubt, I am attractive, well groomed, well mannered, and have excellent work ethics and attendance. My college professors rave about my abilities and have given recommendations. I am not goving up yet, but I am very disappointed.
    My advice is that unless you are specializing (i.e., nursing, doctor, etc.) in a degree program it makes no sense to finance a college degree. However, if you are getting a free ride through scholarships or grants then it will be a great experience.
    One last piece of advise, unless unemployeed do not go to college past the age of 35 because that adds to the difficulty of getting a good job.

  26. ers says

    Sadly this news item is pointing to deeper economic and educational crisis in this country indicating that our whole process of education, training and employment as well as suicidal trade laws are long overdue for an overhaul.
    Example: I took a six month course at a computer school in Calif. that the state government had paid 9k$ for each student laid off from aerospace or other jobs. (regular cost 15k$). The requirement was that the school had to re-employ graduates at good paying jobs and get them back into the working economy. Sadly the school did not achieve the min. limit of graduates re-employed at good jobs after they graduated. The state pulled funding and th e school went bankrupt.

    There are many reasons you could find for the failure, but you have to acknowledge that all the groups of people required to work together; government, labor, management, business owners do not work together in this country. Whereas countries like Japan all of them work together, and even have 10 yr plans to take over world markets. They have already done so with cameras, electronics, consumer items and almost the car market.

    In the USA corporations will not even take on an R&D product to design, develope and market and distribute unless they can make a profit in 6 months (US corps. more controlled by the stock market and taxes rather than long term innovation.)

  27. Magnus says

    Sean, you make a good point. I would venture to guess that the majority of graduates in most degrees are either underemployed or not employed in their field. Sure, the myriad of choices of degrees are great, but they could stand to have fewer, such as practical business, paralegal/law, law enforcement, computers, teaching, and engineering. Those are all well-paid careers with many employment opportunities. Also, since there are tons of jobs in retail then have another department that specializes in short courses in retail sales or restaurants: cooking, management, customer service, and maintenance. The rest of the degrees are mostly esoteric, or they require that you buddy up to an influential/active professor that can get you an internship while you are in school. Otherwise you have to make do in retail or restaurants with low wages and hope that someone takes you seriously in the job market with your degree and the fact that most of your experience is in retail rather than that subject. Being in school does expose you to what academic jobs are like in your field, but those are mostly few, low paying and dull. I also found that most of my professors were completely cut off from the actual non-academic job market, except for the tiny, well-protected niche that they had carved out for themselves.
    The whole affair is frustrating in retrospect. I blame myself alone for doing honest work, seeking an improved, honest profession, and wanting a better life. I think it all links back to the adage that my parents often repeated in our house: “You need to go to college if you want a good job.” In their day people with degrees were rare and formed the elite in society, but today the market is flooded with degreed people and few actual jobs for them. I think the job market is geared toward internal promotion of the educated/skilled jobs and a large labor force of unskilled workers.

    Honestly, my goal is to be debt free, self employed, and self sufficient. I can put up with a little abuse in the job market, but that will always be my goal: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. This is better than unemployed or working a crap job and being bitter and frustrated. It is also ideal to be in control of your life and not hand that control over to an abusive employer or government official. In the end, my education and mental freedom are things no one can take away from me.

  28. Sean says

    I graduated with a finance degree in May of 06, but I am still waiting because I am under qualified for degreed jobs due to lack of experience, or over qualified for entry level jobs because I have a degree. Now I am living with family because I am unable to support myself due to student loans, and I feel like my time, money, and effort spent in college was a waste of time. While I don’t believe she should sue the school, I do believe that if schools are selling their degrees based on implying success of their graduates, then they should be held accountable for the success (or lack of) of the students. For instance, they should be required to make public the percentage of students who are underemployed, unemployed, etc.

  29. Magnus says

    i don’t think a university should exist if all they do is churn out unemployable, over educated people. I think it is the responsibility of schools that offer a product like a degree to also provide a disclaimer that the degree is worthless without experience. I was lucky to be chosen to do 3 internships (some mutiyear), busted my *** in student jobs for most of my college career, and did a graduate assistantship during grad school. However, since graduating I have yet to find any job besides working in retail, which I only do begrudgingly. I spent about 7+ years total getting my education and I think with my hard work, nearly perfect attendance, good GPA (3.50 undergrad, 3.79 grad) and experience that I deserve an equal chance of employment to these unseen, unemployed masses. I am still waiting to see soup lines, but I think it is all fake in order to keep people depressed and out of the job market, i.e. controlled. I did learn two things in college: 1. schools are in the business of selling snake oil and dreams, and that they are experts at suckering people out of their savings and future earnings, 2. the united states rewards athletes, politicians, pushy salesmen, drugged out movie stars, and somehow discounts the worth of intellectuals, which in many ways is counterproductive to our civilization’s survival


  30. Meg says

    Obviously she’s an idiot – not to mention the horrible epitome of the self-obsessed entitlment mentality plaguing our cultire.

    You went to a school no one’s ever heard of. You made BAD grades (which is almost impossible to do at US colleges nowadays what with remedial courses, rampant cheating and grade inflation). You graduated only THREE months ago. Oh, and your graduation happened to coincide with one of the worst recessions our country has had in decades.

    And you think the reason you don’t have a job is because your school isn’t helping you? This despite the fact that the school never promised to help you find a job so it’s not like they’re in breach of contract or anything else you could sue for.

    But good strategy painting yourself as a low-achieving, non-ambitious whiner to all of America through the media. I’m sure employers will be lining up straight away.

  31. Ron@TheWisdomJournal says

    I agree with Craig. A lot of people get along quite nicely without a degree. I have several friends who are making mid 6 figures in sales and never darkened the doors of a college. Conversely, I know many with a degree that are slaving away at menial jobs. It’s all in what you do with it, and all in how you handle yourself. I finished my MBA a few years back and I can honestly say it did nothing for me professionally (yet?), though I’m still glad to have gotten it.

  32. Craig says

    Forget college degree, even masters degree means very little these days. It’s all about who you know, networking and getting your name out there is the best way to make connections and learn about job opportunities.

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