I have a confession to make: I don’t have a bachelor’s degree.
I know, I know. I’ve been working for Unbound—a company that literally exists to help put students through college—for over 6 years now. What excuse could I possibly have for not having my degree?
Listen… I’m totally in favor of people becoming more educated, developing wisdom, growing up, and participating in the privilege of higher education. I even participated myself for a while! I completed 96 credits of my 120-credit English degree, thank you very much. Of course, those 96 credits are hardly comforting when all I have to show for it is… a high school diploma.
I had some very specific reasons for leaving school, though. First off, I was going through a very intense time in my personal life. I had a lot to deal with emotionally and mentally, and I was breaking under the pressure of managing school on top of that. But secondly, after taking a hard look at my interests and the direction of my career, I realized… I already had the job I wanted. I didn’t need a bachelor’s degree to get in the door. And I was much more interested in pouring my time and energy into my work than I was in spending another few thousand dollars to finish up a degree I would never use.
So, I dropped out. It’s been three years since then, and I’m still doing just fine.
My choice was a fairly controversial one. The term “college dropout” bears an unfortunate stigma, so friends and family tend to get skittish when you float the idea. And they have good reason to. The bachelor’s degree has kind of become the new high school diploma—a minimum barrier to entry into much of the workforce. The vast majority of employers expect you to have one.
Call me a rebel, but I’ve never been one to do something simply because it’s expected.
But don’t think my choice to skip the degree means I’m handing you a Get Out of Jail Free card. I’m not going to tell you what to do with your life or education. I just want to have a little chat about the realities of choosing a job over college.
1. Skipping college is a legitimate option.
Let’s just get one thing cleared up right away: jumping straight into the workforce after high school isn’t a bad idea in and of itself. I realize that going to college is the assumed next step for most of us, but it’s still a choice. Choosing not to doesn’t make you stupid, lazy, or unwise. There are a lot of reasons skipping might be the best choice for you.
For one thing, college is expensive. When a year of college can cost as much as a downpayment on a house, it’s worth being absolutely certain it’s the right path for you.
After all, graduating college isn’t the only way to start a career. Over 60% of U.S. jobs don’t require a bachelor’s degree. And a lot of those pay really well! If you’re interested in pursuing one of these fields, why spend time and energy earning a credential you don’t need?
Maybe you’re still interested in going because you want “the college experience.” I’ll give you that. Going to college does offer a lot of experience, not just within the classroom, but outside of it too. You get to live on your own, interact with people from other backgrounds, make choices (and mistakes) that teach you about yourself, the world, and life. But college isn’t the only way to get that experience.
Getting a job, meeting new people, serving, traveling, pursuing missions, volunteering, getting married and having kids, taking up hobbies, starting a business—these are all great ways to engage in the myriad of non-scholastic opportunities life has to offer. None of them will earn you a credential, but they will make you more educated, wiser, and (hopefully) a better person.
And that’s great because, frankly, college just isn’t for everyone. Formal education is an amazing privilege, but not every learner thrives in the classroom environment. Plenty of students have difficulty fitting in with the structure of academic study. And for some people, that struggle is enough to snuff out their spark for learning. These folks often end up dropping out simply for the freedom of learning without a syllabus. 🙋🏻♀️
I’m not telling you any of this in order to discourage you from earning a bachelor’s degree. As I’ve mentioned already, I think college is a fantastic option for a great many people, especially those hoping to work in white-collar industries. I’m just saying that attending college shouldn’t be assumed.
2. You’re taking a risk.
While there’s nothing inherently wrong with skipping college, it’s not a decision you want to make lightly.
Bachelor’s degrees aren’t irrelevant. Many HR departments require applicants to hold one to even be considered for employment (whether or not the role requires such an education). Students who earn their bachelor’s degrees also tend to make more money than those who don’t. And while 60% of jobs may not require a degree… that means that 40% do.
Choosing not to earn your degree is definitely risky. So challenge your own decision. Ask yourself why you’re choosing a different path and carefully consider the consequences.
Perhaps your future career doesn’t require a degree. Cool. But what about the positions beyond the specific job you’re considering? Will you need that degree in order to move up?
Perhaps you just don’t like classroom-style learning. But what if you could complete a degree outside of the classroom? Would you do it then?
Perhaps college is too expensive. You don’t want to take out loans. What if you found a way to make it affordable?
Ask yourself the tough questions and answer them honestly. Leave every option on the table until you’ve determined what you need to prepare for the future you want. Is college the best way to reach your goals?
Only you can answer that.
3. Forgoing a degree now doesn’t mean you’ll never get one. (But it might make getting one harder.)
Don’t assume that skipping for now means skipping forever.
In fact, a year or two in the workforce may be exactly what you need to succeed in school: your life experience will undoubtedly influence what major you pick, what school you choose, how you choose to study, and where you go after graduation. (And, bonus, working a full-time job for a couple of years will help you save up the cash to afford that degree debt free.)
However, this does come with a caveat: going back to school once you’ve started working is really hard.
You’re making real money now and have probably acquired real expenses to go along with it. You’ve developed routines, cultivated a social life, and are spending a great deal of time simply keeping your life running smoothly. Going back to school will require some painful sacrifices.
This is one of the reasons so many students are encouraged to start college directly after high school. High school students are still used to the rhythm of studying full time and typically don’t have any conflicts of interest; doing well in school remains their top priority. So while it doesn’t have to be done this way, it is a bit easier.
But all that said, going to school down the road is far from impossible, especially if you have a clear vision for why you’re going and, maybe, some help along the way.
4. You don’t have to choose.
You’re still very young. You don’t know what the future is going to hold. You don’t know for sure if you need degree. You do know that bachelor’s degrees are valuable, but you also know you need more than just a degree to reach your goals—you need experience too.
So why choose? Get both!
That’s the path I opted for by pursuing my degree through Unbound. At the time, I was working 45 hours a week in a fast-food restaurant. I liked my job and was gaining great work experience. I didn’t want to give that up, but I also didn’t know what the future held. As much as I wanted the work experience, I also craved the security of a universally-respected credential.
Thanks to Unbound’s incredible flexibility, I didn’t have to choose.
I eventually took a job in sales which lead to my current position, writing full time (i.e. my dream). Through each of these roles, Unbound was able to keep me on track with my college studies *without impeding my career growth.* Plus, it was affordable enough that I never had to take out a student loan.
So even though I eventually chose not to finish, I was thankful that I didn’t have to make that choice before giving both working and studying a good “college try.” (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)
Was working and studying full time difficult? Yes. But was it worth it? Absolutely. I gained so much confidence knowing I was working through my degree while building an impressive resume and portfolio of work I was proud to showcase. I knew no matter which direction my life turned, I was prepared.
So, at the risk of telling you what to do (even though I told you I wouldn’t), don’t be so quick to limit your options, especially if you don’t yet have a clear vision for your future. Find an option that allows you to pursue education and experience at the same time. Your path will likely become pretty darn clear pretty darn fast, which will give you the confidence you need to charge head-first into your future, whether that means finishing your degree or not.
A former student counselor and Unbound student, Abigail is passionate about empowering others to achieve their goals. When she’s not dreaming with her friends, you can find her reading or singing Broadway songs. Loudly.Read more by Abigail