Do You Really Need a College Degree These Days?

Do You Really Need a College Degree These Days?
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If the career you envision for yourself doesn’t absolutely require a degree to be considered, you fall into that murky “it depends” area. There’s no denying that when you have zero experience, a degree is going to help you have a little more clout.

Related: Choosing the Right College or No College: A Real-Life Analysis

When it’s you (degree-less) and 100 other people applying to be the new theater assistant director at an elite private school, the 30 people with undergraduate degrees in theater are going to move to the top of the list. The three with advanced degrees in theater will get a special spot at the top.

Still, that doesn’t mean you need a degree. Maybe what you really need is a more creative way to genuinely build your brand -- and an incredible amount of ambition.

Re-assessing the statistics

Look at the readily available data on college degrees, and you might get wary. Consider this: in 2014, the Economic Policy Institute found that college graduates earned 98 percent more per hour than non-college grads. However, that doesn’t take into account numerous scenarios.

Obviously, overall those with a college degree will likely earn more. After all, they’ve invested that time and money -- okay, student loans or their parent’s money much of the time -- and if they’re remotely ambitious or lucky, they made some connections in college to help get a suitable entry-level job.

Here’s what statistics like these don’t tell you: You can foster ambition and make connections without spending tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars on a college education. The key word here is “foster.” Oftentimes, ambition is something already within you. You either have it ready for nurturing, or you don’t.

As an 18-year-old kid, you’re likely not in the position to accurately gauge your best “life plan,” so you do what your parents  and school counselors encourage, what your high-achieving friends are doing and what society has urged for decades -- you go to college.

But it’s not the only option.

Related: 3 New Truths About Millennials and Their Careers

What success really requires

For many traditional students (we’re not talking about non-traditional, mature or those “other” college students here), college is a time to “figure it all out.” Some incredible social learning and personal growth takes place here -- but that will likely be true at this age no matter what. And if you make an effort to challenge yourself, delve into new circles and simply “get out there?” It’s a guarantee.

What you really need for success is surprisingly simple. Identify what you love -- which is almost always what you’re good at. Then find an accessible and reasonable way to be the best at it, or at least the best at a part of it. 

You may adore tennis but will never be good enough to win at Wimbledon. That’s okay. However, aiming to be the best instructor in a region that 1) has a need for it, 2) offers reasonable cost of living and 3) is appealing to you is very achievable. Plus, nobody’s going to be asking for your tennis degree.

You likely already know if your ideal career path -- even if it’s fuzzy -- requires a degree or not. Many times, it doesn’t. If that’s the case, why spend those four (or more!) precious years getting into debt, taking courses you don’t need and being stagnant?

Related: Want a Career in Real Estate? Don't Go to College.

A degree may not be required of you after all, and that four-year head-start might just give you the edge you need to find success.