Dreaming beyond the degree

College isn’t the only path to success


Photo by Caden Rainwater

Some of the most recognizable careers don’t require a college degree at all. In fact, students do not need to get a college degree in order to have a profitable career that also makes them happy.

Story by Cate Rounds, editor in chief

One of the most common questions adults ask children is, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Despite being only a few years into their lives, these kids seem to have very clear visions of their future careers. 

“I want to be a firefighter!” 

“I want to be a police officer!” 

“I want to be a ballerina!” 

As these children get older, those dreams change as the idea of college gets implanted into their minds. Many parents and teachers preach that a college education is the only way to be successful in life. However, some of the most recognizable careers don’t require a college degree at all. In fact, students do not need to get a college degree in order to have a profitable career that also makes them happy.

From 2000-2018, the numbers of students enrolled in universities increased by 26%. While this may look good for the colleges themselves, it is causing major competition once the graduates are finally looking for a career pertaining to their major. Around 25.5% of these students reported that they were unable to find a job relating to their career. Now that an undergraduate degree has become more and more common, it seems like they are not valued as highly as they used to be.

With these degrees being as devalued as they are, it seems like graduate school is the only way to set individuals apart in their industry. This plan, in theory, seems simple enough. Just go to school for a few more years and the job opportunities will come flooding in, right? This plan holds fault in terms of cost. The average student loan debt per person as of 2020 was around $30,000. If those numbers weren’t already significant enough, the addition of graduate school payments increases those debts by $66,000 on average. That puts the total costs of loans at close to $100,000 that takes some people a lifetime to pay off. 

To make matters worse, it has been estimated that 38.6% of graduates are not using their degree in their current profession. That means that these people have wasted thousands of dollars on an education that they can’t use to fulfill their current work. 

With the debts that come from a university education and the student being unsure of their future, a postsecondary education could seem out of the question for some people. In light of this, vocational schools could be a great option for those individuals. These trade schools offer training for jobs that require a specific skill, such as electricians, plumbers and IT technicians. 

Some may judge these careers thinking they are “dirty” or “lowly” compared to jobs that typically come from college degrees. However, these occupations provide services we need every single day. Even those in waste management can make up to $50,000 a year — and sometimes even more. The best part about these schools is that many of them take less than two years. That makes these schools cheaper, faster, and students are able to get out into the field much quicker than those pursuing a bachelor’s degree.

These careers can be some of the most recognizable, and even highest paying, jobs out there. Police officers and firefighters, which are considered iconic jobs that you see everyday, only require a few months of training. MRI and radiologic technologists, occupations considered very important in the medical field, are both jobs that can be attained by going to trade school.

The creative careers should not be discounted in the conversation about jobs either. Dancers, photographers, chefs and other artists alike have their own paths to follow in order for their dreams to succeed. Professional ballerinas usually have to start their apprenticeships right out of high school in order to make it in the business world. Chefs attend culinary school anywhere from one to four years. 

Most artistically-minded people don’t even need to attain a higher level education in order to make it. Celebrities like Beyonce, Tom Hanks and Reese Witherspoon, to name a few, either dropped out of college or never attended at all. As we all can see, their decisions definitely worked out in their favor. Famous actor and comedian Ken Jeong was even a doctor before landing his big break.

Now, this isn’t to say that college isn’t beneficial. There are certain careers like doctors and lawyers that need a college degree to be successful. However, certain trade and art careers should be supported just as much as college careers. These jobs can make people just as successful and happy as their college counterparts.