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What Are The Opportunities For Success Without A College Degree

Opportunities without college degreeOnce upon a time, having a college degree was a sign of status. If you had a college degree, you had it made. However, thanks to universal access to education, those days are gone. Having a college education is now the status quo. About half a million of college graduates are working today in minimum wage jobs. Sometimes, the trend has flirted with the absurd: a few years ago, a McDonald’s branch required potential cashiers to have a college degree.

In a way, it makes sense for employers to always ask for a college degree as a prerequisite for a job. After all, if they can get graduates, why not have them? In today’s oversaturated job market, recruiters need to sift the incoming floods of job-seekers, and college degrees seem very convenient. A degree suggests a certain level of commitment and hard-work mentality, and besides, it’s really easy to verify.

Confronted with such an outlook, it’s normal to take a fatalist view and think that having a degree is necessary in today’s world if you don’t want to be homeless. However, reality is sometimes very counterintuitive.

If we look at the numbers, we’ll see that it’s still true that if you stay in school you have more chances to get financial security. However, when we look at the top 1%, the richest of the rich, things change. In fact, when Forbes crunched the numbers of its infamous 400 members, they found out that the net worth of the members without college degree was 6.6% higher than members with a degree. The truth is, if you play your cards right, you could have better employment prospects without a degree than with one.

How so?  First, not having a degree can make you stand out today. Though this is not true for all employers, some will find it almost brave that you have chosen not to get a college education. With the right attitude and skills, you could be seen as a maverick, someone who thinks outside of the box, someone who opens new paths. Slowly but surely, the public perception of what not having a degree means is changing. This is partly thanks to iconic college drop-outs such as Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Steve Wozniak, who arguably have had a greater effect on modern society than any graduate. But they are hardly alone. James Cameron, who directed the two highest-grossing movies in history, was a truck driver before getting into the movie business.  Media mogul Richard Branson dropped out of school at 16. The idea of college drop-outs as ultra-driven individualists who won’t stop until they get what they want is on the rise.

Of course, the key is knowing how to capitalize on this idea. Not every drop-out is going to be seen as the next Mark Zuckerberg. Most will still be stigmatized, just as they were fifty years ago.

The secret is getting an education. Note that an education doesn’t necessarily mean a college education. All of the previously mentioned millionaires are experts in their respective fields. They just taught themselves, out of passion, rather than letting someone else impose their stale ideas on them.

The first step to success without a college degree is, then, honing your skills. Astute observers of the marketplace will remark that that’d only work if your skill is marketable. There’s a degree of truth in this. Bill Gates met his tremendous success because he happened to have a passion that would become the future in a matter of years. A passion for computers in the 40s could have gotten you a cozy job in a governmental intelligence agency, but you’d hardly become the richest person in the world. Bill Gates was just the right man at the right moment.

Trying to pick up a skill based on how trendy it is, though, can be a surefire way to fail. In the end, it’s passion that drives someone. Any sane person in the world will tell you what a crazy idea is to try to get rich writing books – that is, unless you’re JK Rowling, who just happened to be passionate about it. Clichés, it seems, have won again this time: it’s love and dedication for your profession, not a formal education, that will ultimately decide whether you have success or not.

But maybe the greatest advantage of not having a degree is precisely how precarious it is. When you get a formal education, it’s easy to get lost in your own comfort zone. Someone without a degree must find a way to market herself or she’s lost. Necessity, after all, is the mother of invention. Someone without a degree must become a rounded jack of all trades to find success . She’ll become a salesman, a negotiator and an expert -- All highly valued qualities in the current marketplace. 

So, yes, old stigmas abound, but little by little they’re being erased by experience, and the era when someone’s educational background is barely a factor seems to be in the horizon.