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

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Do you need a college degree?Do you need a college degree to become successful?
College is overrated. There, I said something you’ve probably suspected since you were in 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 is overrated. There, I said something you’ve probably suspected since you were in 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 work 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?

In my opinion, it’s because a college education doesn’t guarantee success. Success is up to many other factors – factors that colleges often don’t teach.


You Don’t Need a College Degree

A college degree is simply a certification. In basic terms, 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. There are also degrees that have a limited 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 do need an education, along with 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 of the other educational paths above can help to 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 equals or far 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 along the lines of 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 which 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 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

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 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 a ticket to a good job (in the new economy it’s not), focus on the kinds of 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 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.

A College Degree is Beneficial, but Not Always Required

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, 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.

How to Invest In Your Education

If you do decide to pursue a degree, here are some best financial moves for college students. Whether you decide to 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 come at a cost. If you plan to open an investment account to save for college, you need to 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 a number of 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 a bad idea 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 emphasis 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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About Ryan Guina

Ryan Guina is the founder and editor of Cash Money Life. He is a writer, small business owner, and entrepreneur. He served over 6 years on active duty in the USAF and is a current member of the IL Air National Guard.

Ryan started Cash Money Life in 2007 after separating from active duty military service and has been writing about financial, small business, and military benefits topics since then. He also writes about military money topics and military and veterans benefits at The Military Wallet.

Ryan uses Personal Capital to track and manage his finances. Personal Capital is a free software program that allows him to track his net worth, balance his investment portfolio, track his income and expenses, and much more. You can open a free account here.

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  1. 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.

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