Taking Another Road: Alternatives to a College Education

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, only about 33% of adults aged 25 years or older have obtained a bachelor’s degree or higher [1]. In fact, most students who go to school full-time usually do not complete the four-year degree in four years. CNBC reports that just 41% of these students obtain their bachelor’s degrees in four years [2].

Whether you feel as if you’re not ready to start a college education right away or you simply don’t want to take that road, you may find that one of these options could be a better fit for you. 

Evidently, going to college is not for everyone and may not be for you and the profession in which you think you may thrive. The good news is that getting a college education is not the be-all and end-all. You can have a great career without a degree. 

When I chatted with Sean about his career journey, he made a comment that astounded me. “The wealthiest man I know is an electrician that never graduated from high school,” he noted. After leaving high school, this man took on an apprenticeship where he simply “worked his way up.” He eventually bought the company for which he worked and proceeded to make millions when an airport contracted his company’s electricity services. He retired at age 60.  

As for Sean, an enthusiastic proponent and exemplar of success in talent-bent jobs, he actually started off going to college after high school before going his own way, transforming his artistic talent into a career. 

In high school, he marveled at the idea of studying architecture because of his passion for art and design. After working for two years at a printing company, Sean had saved enough money to enroll in Georgia College to achieve his dream of being an architect. However, he ran into an unexpected dilemma: he could not pass basic college algebra. 

“I tried everything,” he said, emphasizing the immense amount of effort he devoted to getting past the algebra class. According to him, architecture involved more math and engineering than an artistically-inclined man was prepared for.

Realizing that architecture was not for him, he decided to stop going to school and join the workforce. He worked in the construction field and subsequently entered into the remodeling business. In fact, he eventually bought the business for which he worked. Becoming a business owner was the first major step in making a career out of his own skill. 

“I liked the construction industry because it involved design and an eye for detail,” he explained. He wanted to apply those elements in the kitchen and bath industry, which he felt was a better fit for him. “All that was needed was to design and then build because the engineering of the house was already done,” he noted, highlighting that he didn’t have to be an expert in math and engineering like an architect would.  

His work with kitchen remodeling led him to become even more specialized in his profession when he encountered a frequent limitation. The local, custom cabinet shops had limited sizes and would often fall short in delivering cabinets that paralleled his unique and elaborate designs.  

As a very expressive artist and keen designer, Sean did not want to settle for the more simplified cabinets that the other shops were delivering. So, he bought his own custom cabinet shop so that he could do it all his way: making cabinets that reflected his vision and skilled design.

While he and his capabilities are high in demand, making him beyond busy; he is very happy with his profession. “I like the constant learning and change,” he reflected. “I never ever have the same day twice or do the same kitchen twice. Style is always changing, and I am always challenged to design for the customer’s personal taste.”

To summarize his perspective of being able to use his passion and God-given talent for a living, he remarked: “Thing is. I’ve always been satisfied with what I do.”

Sean’s story is unique in that he was able to make a career out of his passion and personal skill. In most cases, folks have to do a little more learning to launch a great career. Undoubtedly, though, you can still let your personal interests and passions lead you to a fulfilling and enjoyable profession within a trade. 

For example, Kevin, an incoming high school senior, wants to get a gunsmith apprenticeship after he graduates. 

I asked him what made him drawn to that career and why he would rather take on an apprenticeship instead of a college education. He explained that he has always been fascinated by working with guns. 

“Since I was a kid, I always liked playing shooting games and always had a blast doing it.” As for college, he explained to me, it “can’t teach you how to build a rifle, especially considering that colleges are no-gun zones.” 

Mitchell, who completed high school three years ago, also wants to pursue a trade profession. For him, college raised “mixed feelings”; but, overall, he knew that he “wanted to go straight into the workforce.” 

Now, he is an “upcoming mechanic” at an auto shop. Mitchell made clear that he is very happy with his current work, noting that he feels “well-compensated” for his age. 

And, of course, it was his own personal interest that inspired him to become an auto mechanic. “I chose to work in the automotive industry because I’m obsessed with cars! They are my passion. I grew to love them through my dad.” 

So, if you don’t think that college is the next step for you, consider pursuing a skilled trade. Sean, Kevin, and Mitchell are all clearly excited and happy with what they do or will do for a living. After all, what’s not to like about being involved with your hobby, talent, or passion everyday through your work? 

Regarding trade-oriented jobs, Mitchell remarked, “for anyone that is thinking of not going to college, the world needs people who can work with their hands whether it be as a plumber, auto tech, working HVAC, or construction. You can do whatever you want. If you keep working hard and stay with it, you can do very well for yourself.”

[1]  “Educational Attainment.” United States Census Bureau Data. United States Census Bureau, 2019. https://data.census.gov/cedsci/table?q=college+education&tid=ACSST1Y2019.S1501.

[2] Abigail Johnson Hess. “Graduating in 4 Years or Less Helps Keep College Costs down-but Just 41% of Students Do.” CNBC. CNBC, June 20, 2019. https://www.cnbc.com/2019/06/19/just-41percent-of-college-students-graduate-in-four-years.html.

Unikorn Staff
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