Financial Success Without a College Degree
There are many lucrative and fulfilling careers without college degree requirements. Learn how to be successful without college in this informative guide.
September 9, 2021
The path to financial success can seem predetermined: Get a college degree in a high-paying field, secure a position in that industry, then work your way up the career ladder. But does it always have to be that way?
The reality is that there are many paths to financial success, with or without college. If you’re wondering how to live comfortably without a college degree, this article will help point you in the right direction.
How to be successful without college
Finding success without a college degree is not all that different from the traditional path. The difference, of course, is that you will skip the time and expense of a college education and focus on building your career.
There are many paths to financial success in life, and everyone’s idea of what success actually means will be different. For the purpose of this article, we will define financial success as being able to live comfortably and debt-free, and save for retirement.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to financial success without a degree, but the ideas below can help you figure out what’s right for you.
Know your options: Start by exploring all your options; take note of all the various career paths that don’t require a college degree. Think outside the box: Consider everything from a skilled trade to starting your own business.
Research high-paying careers: Some of the best careers without college degrees include jobs in industries such as construction, trucking, welding and other skilled trades. For a birds-eye view of typical pay rates in every industry the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics maintains an updated database of salaries and wage estimates for nearly every career type.
Define your goals: What does financial success mean to you? More importantly, how can you get there in a way that feels rewarding and engaging along the way? By setting clear, attainable goals you can set the foundation for a lifetime of personal and financial success.
Build a financial foundation: You are in control of your own financial success, and success generally starts with a detailed plan. This means that you should create a budget, begin investing for retirement, build up an emergency fund and start thinking about your long-term financial goals.
Seek out certifications and training: If you are in a career path that you enjoy, one way to expand your potential and improve your salary is to complete additional training. This could be a brief online certification program or a program at a trade school. By learning valuable skills related to your line of work, you can accelerate your financial success while also becoming more effective at your job.
Consider apprenticeships: Seeking out an apprenticeship, internship or a professional mentor can help you gain valuable skills related to your line of work. In many cases, these entry-level positions pay very little, if at all, but they can fast-track you to a high-paying career.
Consider starting a business: If you dream of building wealth or making a difference in the world, starting a business should be a serious consideration. While it can feel intimidating to explore entrepreneurship, there are few career paths with as much potential for financial success. Running your own business can be risky and stressful, but if you’re up for it, being your own boss can be an incredibly rewarding experience.
Why college may not make sense for everyone
Going to college can be a worthwhile experience, but it’s not necessary to live a successful and happy life.
To be clear, those with a college degree do typically earn substantially more than high school graduates. On average, workers with a bachelor's degree earn approximately $32,000 more per year than those with only a high school diploma.
This does not paint a complete picture, however. Consider these factors:
Time: Getting a college degree takes two to five years and often delays students from entering the workforce. Individuals who opt for the trades — or go through a shorter technical or trade program — can enter the workforce sooner.
Debt: Put simply, college is expensive. According to EducationData.org, the average graduate in 2021 left school with $36,900 in student loan debt. Having this huge debt burden so early in life can drastically limit your options and sideline other important financial goals, like saving for your first home.
Career: Getting a college degree can bolster your long-term career potential. However, it also delays the point at which you can start building your career. As many skilled tradespeople could tell you, pursuing a career in a blue-collar industry can be quite lucrative — and the sooner you can get started, the better.
Investing: Investing for your future is a vital part of preparing for financial success. Workers who don’t go to college can theoretically start investing much sooner than their student peers. Through the magic of compound interest, those few extra years of investing can make a huge difference in your long-term net worth.
Entrepreneurship: College does a great job of preparing students for traditional careers, but some believe that it does little to encourage entrepreneurship. If you are interested in starting your own business, it may make sense to skip the college experience and start building your own side hustle or full-blown business immediately.
Training and certifications versus college degrees
It’s wise to remember that not going to college doesn’t necessarily mean not enrolling in any sort of educational program. In many industries, workers can further their careers by obtaining professional certifications or completing training programs.
In many cases, these programs are substantially quicker than traditional college degrees — some may be completed in as little as a few weeks. They are also generally cheaper, and some employers may even cover the costs to enroll.
As you plan for your future, make sure to consider all the options. Find a path that works for you and take measures to limit your debt and prepare for unexpected expenses.
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