PSA: You're Going To Be Just Fine Without A College Degree

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Karen Schneider, PMP®, PMI-ACP®, CSM®27
Experienced Project/Program Manager
I am a mid-career professional, earn a decent salary and am successful by most accounts. I have been working for 18 years and have earned valuable knowledge and experience through the positions I have held. However, I never finished my college education and hold no formal degree.
It is a sore spot in my rearview mirror — a subject that I revisit often, especially as I consider going back to obtain my degree. Recently, my 11-year-old was telling me what his future would look like and used the word "if." "If I go to college..." — I stopped him mid-sentence.
"If? There is no if." I explained how it's imperative to get a college education nowadays in order to secure a successful future and how I had always regretted my choice. However, I didn't discuss the flaws with this plan: the heavy financial burden on parents and the student; the lack of available, well-paying jobs upon graduation; the fact that many students often pursue completely different careers than the one their degree prepared them for at such a young age.
And so, it got me thinking: is a college degree the only ticket to a happy, successful career?
I have to believe the answer is no, mostly because I believe in my own success story. Now, don't get me wrong — I still believe in the value of a good education and would never suggest otherwise. In many ways, a lack of a degree can be an obstacle, as some hiring managers won't even speak with you if you do not hold a degree.
But you don't need a degree to be successful. I did some research, and this is what I discovered:

The What 

In a 2015 article, Business Insider showcased 27 jobs that require only an Associate's or high school education; each boasts of a median annual salary of $60,000 or more. Kiplinger's shared a similar, smaller list as well. There are plenty of opportunities out there — you just need to know where to look!

The How

You've probably read plenty of articles on the importance of emotional intelligence, and what characteristics successful people exhibit. Jessica Stillman recently revealed the four characteristics needed to make it big without a college degree in Inc. The takeaway? Don't limit yourself on what you believe you can accomplish, and be prepared to work hard.
My two cents? Figure out what you're good at, and what you truly enjoy. Try to utilize those skills and that passion for your everyday work. Give it time, do what you love and prove you're good at it. Gain experience that speaks for itself. Volunteer. Do. Rinse. Repeat.

The Why

This part is yours to write; everyone needs their own mission statement, and while not specific to why you did or didn't go to college, it should align to your overall personal and professional goals. Instead of "the" why, this is really your why.
I spoke with a number of friends, peers and colleagues to see what their opinion was — and even a professor at Rutgers Business School. The professor reiterated the value of education, but assured me that a degree does not assign or limit the amount of intelligence, ambition or value that one person has. Every individual has to make the decision that feels best for them and their career.

More Resources for Jobs Where You Don't Need a Professional Degree

Ever hear about paraprofessionals? Most of the jobs in this category don't require a college degree. 
Even if college isn't for you, you don't have to nix getting educated altogether. Trade school is the perfect option for someone who wants to gain expertise in an area not included in traditional collegiate institutions.
Karen Schneider works for bareMinerals in Global Packaging + Creative Services and has worked in a variety of industries over the span of her career, including digital media, fashion & apparel, and wine & spirits. She is currently a contributor to The Muse and Career Contessa and has been featured on Business Insider and Harvard Business Review for her career advice. She's obsessed with learning, life, and career/self-improvement.