5 Alternatives to College

Receiving a degree doesn’t mean you’ve received an education. While a degree’s essential for some professions, the paper means little or nothing for other careers. How can you succeed and make good money without a degree? Well, you still have to get an education; just get it somewhere else.

1 – Start Your Own Business

Becoming an entrepreneur will teach you loads about running a business whether your venture succeeds or fails. (As long as you constantly figure out what went right/wrong.) Depending on the type of business you launch, you’ll have opportunities to learn about:

  • Marketing
  • Finance
  • Inventory Management
  • Sales
  • Production
  • Project Management
  • Supervision
  • Investing

Even the best MBA programs barely scratch the surface of all these subjects. What’s more, with hard work you’ll get paid to learn business while you’re building yours. You won’t be shelling out cash to learn business from someone who’s been in a university his whole life.

2 – Get Certified

Many Information Technology professions place more value on industry certifications than college degrees. Couple those certifications with real-world experience and you’ll have a jump on many people who’re still trudging through computer science programs. Here are some of the certifications that lead the list:

These certifications hold a lot of weight in the I.T. industry and are enough to build a high paying career. I know a few dozen people who’ve taken this route. I’ll profile one of them in my Success Stories section.

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3 – Work Your Way Up

Many people in big business (and small) value time in the trenches over formal education and training. I observe this every day. It’s still viable to get into a company or industry entry-level and climb ranks to the higher paying jobs.

Just spending time in a company or industry won’t pay off unless you couple your tenure with hard work and skill development. Learn from the people above you. Your track record of success will communicate more competence than a diploma hanging on the wall.

4 – Demonstrate Your Skills

It’s akin to working your way up, and you may be able to get a great, high paying job by simply proving your ability. I know one designer who was recruited by Apple, in part, as the result of an infographic he created. His creativity and skill got him what many would consider to be their dream job.

I always send links to an online portfolio of my instructional design work when I job hunt. That visible proof of what I’ve done and can do has generated multiple job offers.

5 – Get Friends in High Places

A less predictable route to getting great work and income depends on knowing the “right people.” Do you know anyone who got a great job simply because they’re a friend of the family? It hardly seems fair, but it happens all the time. People in Human Resources know all sorts of loopholes to justify cronyism and nepotism.

You’ve got to have something to offer if you think you can connect with movers and shakers on LinkedIn. Join groups and forums focused on the industry you want to get into. Make meaningful contributions to the dialogue there. Wait for the right moment to contact another community member about an open position you’re interested in.

So what are your thoughts on these alternatives to college for getting better work and income? Who do you know that fits these trends? Any other ideas about bypassing a degree and still being successful in a career?


About Steven Churchill

Steve is a learning strategist and instructional designer who’s successfully created training programs for thousands of employees in many industries and for a well-known consulting firm. He runs his own instructional media company, Didactable, LLC.