How Useful is a College Degree These Days?
I don’t think college is a good idea for most people today. Let me explain.
My freshman year of college was in 1998. I was 18 years old when I enrolled at a private university. At the time, I was excited to begin college and find out what it had to offer.
But 13 years later, after working at different jobs and observing others’ career experiences, I’m not excited about college anymore. And I’m the guy with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in education.
Case studies from my social circle
Here’s an interesting experiment. Think of the people in your life who do well at work, enjoy what they do and make a reasonable wage. Ask them what role college has played in their career so far.
I did this experiment and found that college played a non-existent or very small role for the majority of people whose careers I admired.
Take the best man in my wedding, for example, who graduated from college with me. He earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting. He only worked two years in the field because he didn’t like the corporate grind. He taught himself online marketing and now he works from home as a web content writer, editor and SEO specialist.
My friend from high school has many college credits but never completed a degree. Instead, he became a plumber after completing an apprenticeship.
Another high school buddy started a home improvement business. Though he didn’t earn a college degree, his business is doing well and he’s thinking about hiring.
My friend’s husband worked his way up the ranks in the construction industry and became a manager. At 30 years old, he’s already paid off his house. He makes around $100K per year. He never finished college.
My friend’s cousin graduated with a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology. However, he couldn’t find a job in that area, so he looked into a career in the restaurant industry. With serving experience under his belt, he learned bartending skills to become more marketable. After working as a bartender for some time, he applied for a management position at an upscale restaurant where Michelle Obama once dined. He got the job — and he’s only 24 years old.
My career journey is similar to my friend’s stories. After I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in journalism, I got a job as a teacher. Wanting to make more money and increase my credentials, I completed a master’s program in education. However, I burned out on teaching so I looked into other industries for work.
I stumbled into construction inspection and landed an entry level job making $8/hour. To increase my earning potential, I studied hard to pass multiple certification exams. In a few years, I was making more than I ever did as a teacher. Also, I’m much happier with my present career.
I partnered with my online marketer friend and created an online course to help inspectors pass certification exams. I’m happy to report that the course is starting to earn a modest part-time income. Also, I leveraged the skills I learned from this project to move to a marketing role in the construction industry.
Consider options other than college
Now I’m not saying, college is a 100% bad idea. But the conventional advice “go to college to get a good job” definitely doesn’t hold the same weight as it used to.
There are many non-college work options if you’re willing to look around and consider underrated jobs that don’t get much coverage by the mainstream media. Vocational schools or apprenticeships that lead to blue collar jobs are not glamorous, but these jobs pay the bills and often have good employment opportunities.
Another option is to start at the bottom and work your way up in a company you appreciate. Where do you regularly spend money? Consider working for those businesses. What industries are you interested in? Try to get any job with companies in those fields. Once you get your foot in the door, you can start working toward advancement by learning as much as you can about your company and the industry. Sales is a great option if you can learn how to sell.
Spend some time browsing through the jobs at the Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook. You’ll find many decent paying jobs that don’t require a college degree.
In this tough economy, what are your views on college and its usefulness?
Gabriel Kramer is a commercial construction inspector. He create an online course at SI Certs to help inspectors pass ICC certification tests.
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