Do You Have to Go to College to be Successful in Business?

definition of success

They say if you can find a way to make a living doing what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life. Once upon a time, the path to a fulfilling career that was more a passion than an obligation seemed to inevitably lead through the doors of a college.

Nowadays, as job markets worldwide tighten, and more and more college graduates are leaving school burdened with massive student loan debt, people are beginning to ask, is it worth it? The truth is, the answer is far more complicated than a simple yes or no.

Though it’s true that college may no longer be the sure path to financial security that it once was, its importance in the lives of many students and families cannot be discounted. At the same time, as a society, we’re beginning to wake up to the fact that college is not the only route to a rewarding and prosperous career. 

Determining which route is right for you depends on understanding what you need and want, both for today and for the future.

The Role of College and Universities Today

According to a recent article in Forbes, an estimated 46 million Americans have student loan debt, and the amounts they owe are staggering: more than $1.6 trillion, based on the most recent estimates.

Nevertheless, many graduates and future graduates continue to feel that the tradeoff is worth it. By taking on such debt, they reason, they will be guaranteeing themselves a future filled with robust career opportunities and financial security. And their analyses, for the most part, are sound. The most “elite” professions, from law to medicine, require not only a Bachelor’s but advanced degrees simply to get your foot in the door. 

Studies show that the future of work, not surprisingly, is increasingly technology-driven. This means that, at minimum, today’s workers will likely need some degree of tech-based learning if they are going to be prepared for a long and lucrative career. 

In a knowledge economy, research shows that the workers who survive and prosper are those most prepared to be agile, those most equipped to respond to a global economy and labor market constantly in flux. Traditional career planning, in which a singular professional trajectory that students develop in college and typically adhere to throughout their careers, will no longer suffice. 

Today, the leaders of successful businesses embrace lifelong learning and serial evolutions throughout their careers. Continuing education, whether in the form of traditional college degree programs or certifications and licensures, are often essential to that process.

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The Role of Trade Schools

While traditional forms of higher education have  an important place in today’s workforce, they are by no means the only option. The trade industries are currently facing significant worker shortages, and they are willing to pay a premium to fill them. 

For instance, according to estimates from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median income for technical and trade school graduates is nearly $60,000. Pipe fitters, for example, earn more than $58,000 annually, and top earners may exceed $90,000! And this is a job that students can begin training for while in high school, entering the field with nothing more than some professional training, such as an apprenticeship, and a high school diploma or the equivalent.

For other trades requiring a bit more credentialing, the savings in both time and money can still be significant. For instance, while a Bachelor’s degree costs students nearly $130,000 on average, most trade school licensure and certification programs can be completed for just over $30,000 and in a fraction of the time.

One of the most formidable challenges that trade school students face, though, is the stigma too long associated with them. Despite the promise of a robust income and significant job security, trade workers are still too often stigmatized as being less skilled, less educated, and less valued, professionally, than their college-educated, white-collar peers.   

Fortunately, this stigmatization is declining as the labor shortage calls into sharp focus the urgent need for and vital importance of skilled tradespeople. These stereotypes are also on the decline as more high schools offer vocational training and technical diplomas and more states cover tuition for two-year colleges and trade schools.

Wrapping Up

Education has always and perhaps will always be the ultimate path to empowerment and personal liberty. However, that education can take many forms. It is no longer simply to be pursued in the halls of our hallowed colleges and universities. Indeed, though colleges, universities, and graduate schools still play a crucial role in American life, work, and society, they are not the only option for today’s students. Trade schools offer a robust and rewarding alternative for workers and students for whom traditional post-secondary education simply isn’t the right fit.

This guest post was authored by Ainsley Lawrence

Ainsley is a writer who loves to talk about how business and professionalism intersect with the personal, social, and technological needs of today. She is frequently lost in a good book.

Ms. Career Girl

Ms. Career Girl was started in 2008 to help ambitious young professional women figure out who they are, what they want and how to get it.

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