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Do You Have a Skill Others Will Pay For?

by Miranda Marquit

One of the debates raging right now, as student loan debt sky-rockets, is whether or not a college degree is worth it. Once you get that college degree, the next debate is over whether or not graduate school is worth it.

Honestly, though, it’s not really about whether a higher education is worth it, and more about whether or not it’s worth it for you.

As you try to chart your career path, it makes sense to stop and think about whether or not you are developing skills that others will pay for. Instead of just going to college because you “should,” consider what you’re accomplishing. In some cases, developing a skill set that others are willing to pay for doesn’t require a college degree.

Developing a Marketable Skill

Marketable skills

Do you have any marketable skills?

Stories abound of communications majors with $100,000 in school debt and few job prospects. My husband’s psychology degree was practically useless until he went all the way up the Ph.D. ladder so that he could teach at university.

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. I have a communications degree and a journalism degree. I’ve managed to turn the knowledge and experience gained through earning those degrees into a successful freelance career.

But you don’t need a four-year degree or an 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 the ticket to a good job (in the new economy it’s not), focus on the kinds of skills you’ll develop.

It’s true that 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, there are plenty of jobs that 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.

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. I provide content to several blogs and web sites. There is also a demand for ghostwriting. I just finished ghostwriting one book for a professional, and I’m ghostwriting a memoir for someone else. It’s an interesting line of work that requires a specific skill set — and there are those willing to pay for it.

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

It’s not about education as much as it is about the skills your developing, and how you plan to market those skills.


Published or updated February 24, 2014.
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