What do Steve Jobs, Coco Chanel, Mary Kay Ash, Rachael Ray, and Mark Zuckerberg all have in common? They’re famous entrepreneurs with billions of dollars to their name, yes. But a lesser known fact is that they all also succeeded without ever completing a college degree.

Maybe you can’t afford the ever-rising college fees or you simply aren’t cut out for the modern education system. Figuring out your next career step is hard, regardless of having access to higher education or not. What exact steps should you take to have a successful career?

Do you even have a shot at success without a degree?

In this post, we will share five tips and perspectives on how to be successful without a college degree.

Pursue a Career That Doesn’t Require a Degree

One of the most obvious solutions to not having completed a college degree is to look for a career path that doesn’t require one.

But what are your options and how do you still get the success you want, even without a degree?

The number and kinds of job opportunities that don’t require a degree depend on your location. In some countries, certain positions may require a specific college degree and your salary may be lower without one. The more emphasis your country places on qualifications, the more likely you are to encounter this issue.

The same principle applies to fields that require a lot of education such as doctors, scientists, or certain government officials. In those careers, it might be impossible to be considered without degrees and certifications.

Despite those obstacles, there are plenty of careers that will be obtainable for a non-graduate.

The key to success is to collect work experience through internships or entry-level jobs and build a resume of valuable hands-on education. If you have skills and work-related knowledge, employers will consider you regardless of formal education.

It is also possible to acquire qualifications and diplomas outside of college. If you want to become a police officer, you don’t ‌need a college degree but ‌can attend a police academy. The same principle applies to other careers such as a fitness worker, medical assistant, electrician, actor, singer, cook , and many more. Choosing one of those careers makes it possible to be successful without a college degree.

Find Other Ways to Educate Yourself

A general lesson for most things in life: always keep learning.

As we mentioned, there is more than one way to educate yourself for the job you want. You don’t need a college degree or other higher education to gain knowledge and skills that will be useful for the job you are pursuing. You should always strive to learn every day, though.

If you can’t or don’t want to attend college full-time, you can still take a select number of classes on the side. These can be university classes from a part-time program, online courses, or local training opportunities offered by job centres. The choice depends on your goals and ambitions, your time management, and your financial status.

If you’re already working and wish for more success despite not having a degree, sign up for classes or extra training. It’s even more affordable to look for good books and articles in your field of interest. The newly acquired skills and knowledge help you apply for better opportunities in the long run if you’re willing to put in the extra hours.

Depending on your field, you might also want to think about internships, apprenticeships, mentorships, and fellowship programs. All four options are ways to take your work-specific education and knowledge to a practical level.

EWOR’s fellowship program and academy showcase how effective education outside of college or university settings can be for successful careers. With a team of experts by your side, you will increase your chances at success, even without a college degree.

Don’t Compare Yourself to Others

Another helpful perspective for life ‌is not to compare yourself to peers and friends. It’s easier said than done, but don’t let your lack of a college degree keep you from trying to reach the highest possible success.

It’s common for people of all walks of life to develop self-doubt when comparing themselves to their more successful peers or people in their social circle.

Don’t let other people’s stories discourage you.

Your career journey might look different from someone who ends up doing the ‌same job as you. Just because you didn’t have access to or chose not to attend college doesn’t mean you aren’t just as qualified for a position as someone who has a degree. Comparable work experience and knowledge will make you just as attractive to employers in many fields.

One helpful perspective is to look at other people’s success as motivation for your own. In some cultures, for example, in Germany, people will have a more negative view of successful people. Rainer Zitelmann’s book The Rich in Public Opinion confirms this attitude towards wealth and success. Envy is a difficult emotion to navigate and lacks usefulness. Don’t fall into the same trap and think you can’t be successful without a college degree.

Try to find a healthy balance of gaging what your competitors are doing and applying the most useful habits to your own career. If you want to become the next Coco Chanel and have an impact in the fashion industry, study what she and other successful people in that business have done and create your own version of that.

Learn How to Take Calculated Risks

Some of the most successful people in business will tell you ‌they failed their way to success. That doesn’t mean you should take risks left and right and hope for the best. It means that you need to learn how to take calculated risks that are likely to benefit you, even if you fail.

“Do the one thing you think you cannot do. Fail at it. Try again. Do better the second time. The only people who never tumble are those who never mount the high wire.” – Oprah Winfrey

What Oprah is trying to teach us is this very concept of not being afraid of taking risks and then learning from your mistakes. No one reaches success without obstacles and setbacks, whether they result from your own shortcomings or external factors.

Maybe not getting a college degree is already part of the calculated risks you’ve taken. If you had better opportunities outside of college or simply aren’t cut out for the modern education system, this would make perfect sense. Mark Zuckerberg dropped out of Harvard after realising the potential of the social network he had been developing on the side: Facebook.

This tip applies to people with degrees and non-graduates alike. Learn how to take calculated risks and take advantage of your mistakes.

Work Hard

In the vast majority of cases, your success depends on your work attitude – whether or not you have a degree. If you’re unhappy with where you’re at in life and don’t actually take any action to change that, you likely won’t find greater success.

Your college degree or lack thereof won’t determine the extent of your success. Your decisions, the calculated risks, will play a much greater role for both groups of people alike.

An ambitious, ever-learning, and motivated individual who has never stepped foot inside lecture halls will find success if they work hard towards their goals. You need to take control of your own career and put in the extra hours to land the opportunities you would like to pursue.

Working hard seems like common sense. But what exactly do we mean by that?

Working hard means having the discipline and tools needed to be as efficient and productive as possible. Most people want to be a hard worker to turn their goals into achievements. Without the proper tools and know-how, some might struggle with this.

Include productivity and organising your work a priority in your education – no matter where you’re at in your career. Take classes, read books, and make connections with people that encourage your productivity.

Final Thoughts: Successful Without a College Degree

We want to acknowledge that success sometimes closely links to privilege, which could be financial, racial, gender, health or class related. It’s easy to say that hard work and a positive attitude are enough for every single person to be as successful as they want to be but reality doesn’t always reflect that.

Success is subjective and can look different from person to person. If you follow our five tips on how to be successful without college, you will gain a better understanding of what that means to you and how to achieve it.

About the author

EWOR is a school conceived by Europe’s top professors, entrepreneurs, and industry leaders. We educate and mentor young innovators to launch successful businesses.

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