Is a Bachelor's Degree Necessary for Success?

Ask a group of millennials about their top expenses each month and most will rattle off a list of things we’d expect — housing costs, car payments, food. But for many, school debt nears the top of the list. With the average college attendee leaving school with over $28,000 in debt, it might leave you wondering: Is a bachelor’s degree necessary for success?

The answer largely depends on individual goals and career ambitions. While there’s just no escaping higher education for some careers (think medicine, law, and engineering), we’ll unpack some alternative and unconventional options that will set you up for a fulfilling career without the debt.

Off the Beaten Path

If a four-year (or more) college experience isn’t for you, consider “middle-skill” jobs that don’t require a bachelor’s degree and can earn you well over $35,000 per year. Examples include job titles like electrician, dental hygienist, paralegal, and police officer, and most only require technical training or a two-year degree. Many of these positions can garner well over $55,000 per year, carving out excellent long-term career paths without the burden of long-term student debt.

Creative Ways to Gain Experience

Scoring your dream job without a bachelor’s degree can be done, but may require some creativity in gaining real world experience, such as apprenticeships and temping. Apprenticeships open the door for on-the-job training, while simultaneously earning a paycheck and possibly even college credit. Following the program, apprentices earn industry-recognized credentials and, in many cases, receive college credits that may lead to an associate’s or bachelor’s degree.

Temping, on the other hand, won’t help you work toward college credit, but will provide valuable experience and a paycheck. Temping also allows you to get your foot in the door at a company that otherwise wouldn’t consider someone without a bachelor’s degree, and could potentially set you up for a permanent position.

Making Degrees More Accessible

If you’re willing to forego the traditional college experience, there are ways to minimize debt while earning a bachelor’s degree. Distance learning can be an excellent option to cut costs (like pricey room and board fees) and create a flexible class schedule to allow for a job on the side. In fact, you may even find a job that pays for your online education. Starbucks covers tuition through Arizona State University’s online program for all part-time and full-time employees, and other companies like UPS provide tuition tuition assistance for employees.

Competency-based programs offer a new higher-education concept where students can select a particular focus and work through the program at their own pace for a flat fee that’s usually much less than the sticker price of a traditional four-year college experience. Western Governors University, Purdue University, University of Wisconsin, and Southern New Hampshire University’s College for America all offer competency-based programs.

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Once considered king, employers still see the bachelor’s degree as valuable, but no longer deem it necessary for many profitable career options. There are plenty of other ways to gain experience, and technology has made bachelor’s degrees more accessible with less debt.

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