Just a few months ago we were congratulating high school graduates of the class of 2022. Now is the time of year when those recent graduates are heading off to college.
It is usually expected that young adults automatically attend college the fall after completing high school. But this brings up an important question: Is college the only option for young adults after high school?
That is the question we are going to consider in this installment of our college series.
If you missed the previous articles in this series, head here to check out the introduction, and here to read about the cost of attending college.
Benefits of Not Attending College
There are definite perks that come from attending college, but do you actually benefit when you make a different choice? The pressure put on young adults often makes them feel like they will be missing out if they take a different path.
Contrary to much of the advice out there, advantages to not pursuing higher education do exist, and it’s high time we made them known.
Real Life Experience
Many skills are learned through experience.
Many of us, whether we have a college degree or not, know this to be true.
I experienced this during my time in graduate school and in my first couple of years in the field. (If I’m being honest, I still experience this today, I’m just less surprised by it now.) I gained all of the knowledge and information in school, read the books and studies, learned the techniques, and memorized all the terminology, acronyms, and definitions. But when it came time to put all of that into practice in the real world with the clients and students sitting across from me? That was a different story.
School just cannot prepare you for every eventuality, what to do when things don’t go as planned, and the unique nuances of the different people you meet and circumstances you will experience. I learned so much more on the job (that I could actually apply in my day to day work) than I did in the classroom. Not to say that my time in grad school was a waste, but it had to be combined with that real life experience.
We set up an artificial construct whereby degrees were suddenly “needed” for things like business, sales, and even writing. This house of cards is beginning to tumble, as employers are realizing that, shockingly, they need people who can actually DO the job. They need talent – not paperwork. New college graduates are left unemployed because they often expect too much and offer too little.Walsh
The School of Hard Knocks
Entrepreneurs go through a period of struggle. Is college helping or distracting you from that?
Struggle? Who wants to struggle anyways? Well, it is often through the struggles that the biggest lessons are learned.
Starting a small business has a huge learning curve. Whether it is a long-term or a short-term venture, you learn many powerful lessons along the way.
My husband and I know this from personal experience. He is a solopreneur, and has had to learn about the many facets of running a small business as he goes. He has learned a lot from others online, through free and paid courses.
Being a business owner teaches you self-agency. You can be a very successful college student without taking ownership of your life. To get an undergraduate or graduate degree, you need to do what you are told. You stay on the track you are given; you don’t invent the track on your own. This is not the case for entrepreneurs. Book smarts will only get you so far.
There is just something different about working for yourself versus working for someone else. As an employee of a company, you do what you are required to do, but you are working for a paycheck and don’t always feel the need to go above and beyond. As a business owner, no one is going to care as much about your business as you. I now help my husband with various aspects of his business, since we are both invested in its success.
Alternate Career Paths
Although these are not often discussed with young adults, there are plenty of other career options for those who choose to forgo college. Countless adults hold successful occupations via alternate paths, such as entering the trades, completing an apprenticeship, attending a vocational training program, learning through mentors, or taking the leap and becoming an entrepreneur.
Who You Gonna Call? The Necessity of Non-Degree Jobs
According to Business Insider, there are numerous jobs that do not require a four-year college degree. If compensation is a concern (and isn’t that at least a relevant factor for everyone?), many of these are high-paying jobs.
Farmers, ranchers, first-line supervisors of construction workers, firefighters, police, and mechanics, medical technicians (such as MRI technologists, diagnostic medical sonographers), dental hygienists, radiation therapists, electrical power-line installers and repairers, train engineers, postmasters and mail superintendents, power plant operators, subway and streetcar operators, boat captains and mates, detectives and criminal investigators, commercial pilots, air traffic controllers, and makeup artists all had a median annual wage of over $70,000 in 2021. The median income of many of these even go over $100,000 per year. Some of these jobs require a non-degree certificate or specific training, but some companies pay you for that or allow you to learn as you go.
The trades (electricians, construction workers, plumbers, roofers, etc.) all provided necessary skills that families and businesses need. “We need to start praising work that provides real value and solves real pains…we should start giving more praise to entrepreneurs that start small businesses that provide real services to real humans with a real need.” (Construct-Ed)
Higher Education Hiatus
There are plenty of ways to learn relevant skills that do not include an institution, for those willing to think outside the box. If you are a go-getter, you can become a well-rounded individual and give yourself a higher education without stepping foot in a college classroom.
Take time to develop hands-on skills. In our culture of immediate gratification, many of these skills aren’t taught or valued as much as they used to be. Most people would rather just pay to have things done so they don’t have to do it themselves. But consider how much money you would save if you learned how to do things yourself. Or think of it this way: you can be the person providing that service…and getting paid to do so! Learning how to cook, coach sports, or do electrical work or automotive repair are great hobbies to start that can turn into passions and part-time or full-time work.
Widen your community. Join local or online interest groups or clubs and attend local events. Follow and interact with people you admire on social media. You don’t have to miss out on the community you would enjoy in college. This is an opportunity to learn and share knowledge while also forming friendships with like-minded individuals. These relationships can also lead to networking opportunities in the future.
Volunteer. While you need to make a living at some point, not all learning experiences need to be paid. Volunteering is a great way to dip your toe into a new area to discover if it is something you want to pursue further. And since you are volunteering, there is usually minimal commitment, and you can move on if you find out that it isn’t for you.
Have a talent to share? Teach! And no, you do not need a teaching degree to get started. Tutor students in math, writing, or more challenging advanced placement classes. Teach music lessons to local children. Offer to lead hands-on courses. Now you are no longer limited to your geographic region since there are so many ways to reach people online. Get your name out there and build a portfolio. Become an expert in your field and you can create workshops for conferences or host talks at your local library.
Skipping the Classroom: Does it Work?
What if your child or student decides that college is not the route for them? Depending on your background and personal experience, that may still make you nervous.
Keep in mind that a college education does not guarantee success or fulfillment. Just as pursuing another route does not automatically lead to a miserable low-paying job living paycheck to paycheck.
On a personal note, my brother-in-law decided to pursue the trades instead of attending college. He apprenticed for years to learn skills, living on his own and saving money. He bought his first house at age 18. Now he is a great provider for his family, earning more than I do with a graduate degree. And he has no student loans to pay off!
Many household names of major contributors to society either did not attend or did not complete college. Here are a few examples to inspire you:
- Henry Ford. He got his start by assembling a watch at age 15, and went on to mass produce cars.
- John D. Rockefeller. Known as one of the richest Americans ever, he dropped out of high school two months before graduating. He worked as an assistant bookkeeper before going on to found Standard Oil.
- Richard Branson. Founder of Virgin Records, he decided to forgo school to sell popular records out of the church where he ran a magazine he started at age 16.
- Rachael Ray. After high school, she worked in the food industry and began teaching cooking classes. She did a segment on a local television station, which kicked off her career, all with little to no formal cooking training.
- Matt Walsh. The political commentator and podcast host didn’t attend college, but is a successful writer who supports his family of four on a single income.
My hope and goal with this college series is to make you think. This is not a black and white topic and there is certainly not one right answer, which is the point.
I have always loved school and I genuinely enjoyed my time in college. I like to learn and study, and consider myself a researcher to this day. But the longer I’ve been out of the classroom (as a student), the more I’ve come to realize that I’ve really learned so much more in all of the other experiences I’ve been a part of.
What about you? For those of you who attended college, have your thoughts changed since you received your diploma? Would you do anything differently? What kind of conversations are you having with your children and students about post-secondary plans?
In our next article in this series, we are going to expand on this topic and discuss ways to support students as they explore and discover alternate paths throughout schooling. Be sure to subscribe below so you don’t miss it!
- Boles, Blake. “12 Ways to Educate Yourself Without College.” Huffpost, 10 July 2012. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/12-ways-to-educate-yourse_b_1657521
- Buzzfeed. “10 Very Successful People Without a College Degree.” Buzzfeed, 17 January 2013. https://www.buzzfeed.com/suits/very-successful-people-without-a-college-degree
- Construct-Ed. “Millennials (Still) Don’t Want the Trades. Here’s Why and What Needs to Happen.” Accessed 20 July 2022. https://www.construct-ed.com/millennials-still-dont-want-trades-heres-needs-happen/
- Gillett, Rachel & Hoff, Madison. “The 39 Highes-Paying Jobs You Can Get Without a Bachelor’s Degree.” Business Insider, 21 April 2022. https://www.businessinsider.com/high-paying-jobs-dont-require-bachelors-degree-2015-10
- University of the People. “12 Great Ways to Be Successful Without College.” University of the People, Accessed 27 August 2022. https://www.uopeople.edu/blog/12-great-ways-how-to-be-successful-without-college/
- Walsh, Matt. “Thank God I Wasn’t College Material.” The Matt Walsh Blog, Accessed 27 August 2022. https://themattwalshblog.com/thank-god-i-wasnt-college-material/
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