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Who’s right and who’s wrong? Do a quick search online and you find ample arguments on both sides about the value of a college education. Some say college is overrated and not necessary. Others say you’re unlikely to succeed without a college degree.

College is not a guarantee of anything. Ultimately, your success in life is a result of many factors, and the majority of those are things colleges don’t teach.

Putting a Diploma Into Perspective

A college degree can be nothing more than a very expensive piece of paper. It’s simply a certification that you met a specific level of scholastic achievement.

While it’s true that you do have the opportunity for practical learning, most of college is about theory. You’re acquiring the knowledge of how things work, but you may not actually get to put that knowledge to practical use.

Many graduates discover what they learned during their college career hasn’t prepared them with practical knowledge and experience for real-world jobs.

College Degrees and Employment

Spending four years and the money for a liberal arts college degree has become more of a risk than an investment. Technology has turned many industries upside-down. Automation and outsourcing has eliminated millions of well-paying jobs.

It’s no longer a slam dunk that you’ll find gainful employment as a result of your college degree. What’s more, the idea that people with college educations earn more than those without a degree is no longer valid.

So, if college degrees are no longer the pathway to employment, a good salaryand a career, what do you need instead?

On-the-Job-Learning

You still need education, but what you learn should provide you with marketable skills. Your degree is a certificate of academic achievement, but it offers a prospective employer no evidence of the practical skills you need to do a job.

In many cases this proof is in the form of a professional license or certification. And there are just as many career paths that do not require a degree. What these non-degree job opportunities have in common is a substitution of specific training and on-the-job learning.

This particular combination is often offered in the form of an apprenticeship. Plumbers, electricians, and HVAC technicians follow this path. They will undergo a period of education just like college classroom time—but it’s paired with working right alongside of skilled professionals who keep a watchful eye as you put what you’ve learned into real work.

If you can afford it, and if it will truly contribute to your career, a college degree is an excellent four-year investment in your future. But, if you’re thinking that success is only going to happen if you go to college, dig a bit deeper and challenge that assumption.

Success is the result of the actions you take because of what you learn. There are many opportunities, including careers in the trades, which don’t require a college degree. These jobs pay well, and you earn while you learn. There are even scholarships available for the much shorter education period it takes to get underway. Learn more about how you can fast track your way into a job as a plumber, electrician, or HVAC tech here.