There’s a consensus that seems to favor having a college degree if one is to be successful in life. Some statistics even support this popular belief in the value of higher education. According to a study from 2003, on average a college degree holder is expected to make one million dollars more in lifetime earnings than someone who’d started their career with just a high school degree. But it’s 2020 – are there other ways to succeed in life without graduating from college?

Erik Greener is a senior signal designer whose successful career spans many industries. As a professional with a high school diploma, he believes that the lack of a college degree should not get in the way of success. “Come to think of it,” he muses, “there are actually a few advantages to not having a college degree. You start your life free of debt for one. You’re not limited to seeking employment in the field you studied. Instead, the whole job market is your oyster and you can choose any career you like.”


As Erik Greener mentioned, a college degree can leave someone just starting their professional life with a significant amount of student debt. With the average student having over $29000 in student debt after finishing school, most people are having to pay off their debt for most of their lives. However, since many high-paying jobs require an official document to attest to the applicant’s knowledge and expertise, a certification can be a cost-effective alternative to a college degree.

Trade schools offer recognized certifications that come at a fraction of the cost of obtaining a college degree. Another option is to enroll in a training program at a local community college. With the many options available, it’s easy to change programs or even get certifications in different fields to increase the prospects of landing a good job.


In addition to getting a certification in a specific fields, it might be a good idea to also explore the path of online courses. Unlike certification programs, online courses are more flexible in their schedules and the course materials they offer.

It’s easy to find free online courses offered by several distinguished universities the world over. Harvard University, UC Berkeley, and Oxford Home Study College are just a few examples. They don’t require the participant to be located in a certain city or region and anyone can apply. Other online sources such as LinkedIn Learning and Coursera charge a subscription fee. “In return,” says Erik Greener, “they offer courses in just about any field from computer science to economics and even arts and crafts. Plus, you only focus on what you need to know.”

On-the-Job Training

Many jobs offer training for staff. Such training is valuable and shouldn’t be missed. For one thing, it comes from reputable sources and at the end of the training, a certificate is usually awarded to the participants.

Another reason why these training courses are important for one’s career is that they are quite specific to a certain field or specific skills which usually have a high market demand. Not to mention that the training is free, and employees almost always get paid while attending it. So, it’s a win-win situation!

Building a Portfolio

The path to a successful career requires a strong portfolio. According to Erik Greener, a college degree might help jumpstart your career, but without a portfolio to bolster it, that career might go nowhere pretty quickly. “A degree shows how much someone has taught you,” he says, “but a portfolio shows your unique skills and expertise which are more important in the job market than a college education.”

One way to build an exceptional portfolio is to gain a lot of experience in a specific field, or in a variety of fields. This includes attending seminars, taking part in workshops, and joining conferences that are related to your career of choice.

Marketable Skills

With experience comes the honing of skills. This is the kind of advantage a career-driven person needs to have over someone with a degree from a prestigious university. In Erik Greener’s opinion, an applicant with a high skill set won’t find it hard to get a job that pays a six-figure salary. But not all skills are equal. “The most marketable skills,” he says, “are dependability, working under pressure, and having a strong work ethic.” From an employer’s point of view, what sets one candidate apart from the rest is not what they learned at school, rather, whether they’re willing to go the extra mile to get the job done.