How to Be Successful Without College

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Develop Skills and Leverage Contacts to Lead to Professional Success

A college education isn't for everyone. Maybe you’ve found it cost-prohibitive, decided to dedicate full-time efforts to raising a family, or you simply opted out of the formal education route. Regardless of your education credentials, there are still myriad ways to build your skill set, develop your professional marketability and succeed in the workforce.

Seek Specific Job Training

Much like college students pick majors that focus on their particular areas of professional interest, you can seek out specialized training specific to the line of work you'd like to pursue. For example, if you're interested in becoming a chef, you might investigate a culinary arts institution. Interested in law enforcement? Contact the local police academy. The more you’re able to develop the skills relevant to the line of work you want to pursue, the more you increase your odds for professional success.

Technical or Skills Development

Consider attending a trade or technical school, where you'll have the opportunity to learn hands-on skills specific to a particular business or industry. Tech schools are more short-term than traditional college educations, they’re less expensive, and they allow you to enter the workforce faster than if you pursued other forms of post-secondary education.

Internships or Jobs Shadowing

It's possible to get on-the-job, real world education and experience via an internship or job shadowing opportunity in the industry of your choice. For example, if you're interested in learning more about general office operations, working as an intern would expose you to different job functions in an office environment, equipment usage, customer service, data entry, meeting preparation and other skills specific to the industry you're targeting. It may be that the company with which you intern or job shadow offers you a job after seeing your potential. It will also give you a nice resume boost, showing other potential employers that you have hands-on experience.

Make the Most of Existing Skills

When you're building your resume, focus on practical skills you already have, such as computer skills, budget crunching, attention to detail, planning, working well with people, problem-solving – in other words, emphasize skills employers will find desirable in the workplace, even without a college degree.


Volunteering has the potential to give you real life skills that are attractive to potential employers. Consider community recreation centers, religious organizations, or school-based activities, particularly if you have children. Volunteering can lead to paid work, as well as allow you to make contacts that can lead to other professional opportunities.

Take Advantage of Contacts

Sometimes, it’s all about who you know! Take advantage of personal and professional connections to help build your network. Consider joining community or civic groups or professional organizations such as Toastmasters, Rotary or chambers of commerce. These organizations allow you to network with a wide range of professionals who can help you advance your professional goals.

Start Your Own Business

If you have a marketable skill or ability, consider starting your own business. You could work in a consulting capacity, buy a franchise or otherwise capitalize on your skills and interests. Consult your local Small Business Administration office or Small Business Development Center for free information on what it takes to become self-employed.

Options for Higher Education

Even if college isn't the right choice for you at this time, it doesn’t mean you have to rule it out altogether. If you decide you want or need additional formal education at some point, you may qualify for financial aid or student loans, or you may even be eligible for tuition reimbursement through your current employer.