​How to Build a Career without a Degree

Many kids with parents who can afford an education already have their path laid out for them-preschool, primary school, secondary, education, college, and on to a lucrative career. But the same path is not for everyone, as Mike Rowe of 'Dirty Jobs' fame will tell you.

"6.2 million jobs that are currently vacant, the majority of which require training and specific skills - not an expensive, four-year degree," Rowe shared in an online post. "And yet we're still telling our kids that college is the best path for most people. The result is $1.4 trillion of outstanding student loans, a 50% college dropout rate, a legion of debt-ridden graduates who can't find work in their chosen field, and millions of empty positions in dozens of technical industries."

Indeed, college is getting more expensive with each passing year, and top it off, many professionals work in jobs that are entirely unrelated to their degrees, rendering their college education ineffective if not useless. If you're having second thoughts about college or have a general lack of interest in it, there are ways to build a career regardless if you have a degree or not.

Many jobs come with no higher education requirements attached, and they can be found in many industries such as healthcare, insurance, law enforcement, transportation, culinary arts, and even government. Many of these jobs pay handsomely, offering excellent opportunities for work-life balance as well as career advancement, and without the financial drag of college loans. With that in mind, here are a few ways to build a successful career without degree or even setting foot on campus.

Know your career aptitude

Understanding yourself is critical to choosing the career path that you must take, and a career aptitude test can help make that happen. By taking a career aptitude test, you can determine which specific jobs are ideal for you. These tests take into account your interests, work style, values, and skills to help you understand your strengths, limitations, and motivations. Free career aptitude tests are offered by counseling and career development centers as well as campuses in your area, but you may also find many of these online.

Earn certification

Getting certified in a trade, skill or craft allows you to gain experience in a field and work towards a high salary. You can get certification for vocational or other specialized training through trade schools and local community colleges. It's even possible to get certified without attending a class, as many training programs are offered online. Look for a specialized curriculum that will help you find a decent entry-level job in the field you've chosen and obtain additional training and certification along the way to earn higher pay.

Look for on-the-job training

Many employers understand that there are people out there that are highly motivated but don't have the background, time, or financial capacity to learn a new skill. For these people, employees are increasingly offering on-the-job training where they can learn while earning, building skills that pay off over the long term. Learn about in-demand skills in today's marketplace and find companies that offer on-the-job training for them. This 'learn-as-you-go' method can help you forge an alternative career free of college.

Acquire knowledge through self-exploration

We are now in the Internet Age, with practically every piece of information made instantly available with a few keystrokes and button clicks. Today, you can learn what you want by reading blogs or watching YouTube videos. With determination and perseverance, there are a variety of ways that you can gain knowledge on your own. Researching on the Internet is arguably the easiest way, but you can also go 'old school' by purchasing books and magazines that teach you about the subjects you want to learn more about.

Find a mentor

Before college became mainstream, apprenticeship was the primary way that people found work. Such was the norm during the pre-industrial era. Back then, people looking to develop a skill or craft looked for a mentor who could take them under their wing. This mentor helped them understand the inner workings of the craft, guiding them in their decisions, and generally teaching them what they need to know so they could build, grow and sustain their careers. When you find a good mentor, let them know that you genuinely admire what they do and that would like the opportunity to learn from them if they have time to offer. If they say no, don't be discouraged. Perhaps it's not the right time yet, and they'll say yes at another opportunity when they've had time to think about it. If they still decline, keep approaching new mentors.

Start your own business

If you have a natural knack for entrepreneurship, why not turn that talent into a money-making enterprise? Know which business is right for you, then outline a practical business plan. Of course, you'll have to have capital, but if you don't have much to start with, look to start a business that doesn't need a high overhead at the beginning, such as selling stuff on eBay and other online marketplaces. Once you have your business up and running, know how to market it effectively to help it take off. As your business grows, stay on top of technological and industrial developments to maintain a competitive edge, and keep track of your expenditures and profits to monitor your business progress.

Keep your head held high

As you attempt to build a career without degree, people around you - even those close to you - will be there to tell you that it's impossible, that you're being impulsive, and that you're not really thinking things through. You'll need to silence all the negative voices, hold yourself accountable for your decision, and prove them wrong with your success. For sure, you'll face a lot of challenges and even low points as you move forward, but you must overcome. Create a plan, focus on the positives, learn from the negatives, and always keep in mind why you chose this particular path in the first place.

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