From an early age, we are told we should go to college after high school. Most of us become conditioned to believe going to college for a four year degree and then some, like getting your MBA, is what needs to be done to have a successful, happy life.
So, off we go – following the pathway our society has laid out for us oftentimes not even knowing what we really “want to be when we grow up.” We then progress through our careers never truly being satisfied or even worse, suffer job burnout. Even those who always knew what they wanted career wise may become disillusioned somewhere along the way.
Then there is the matter of “getting ahead” in your career. Climbing the corporate ladder or governmental ladder or any other sector’s ladder is competitive and can be downright cutthroat. There’s politics. There’s brownnosing. There’s bending over backwards to please your manager. There are long hours and “selling your soul” sacrificing quality time spent with family, friends, or other worthwhile pursuits.
It is a tough price to pay to distinguish yourself from the competition in the hopes of moving up. Frustration may set in when others around you get the promotions and advancements (LinkedIn can be bad for rubbing this in your face).
Is there something you should have done differently? For me, I often wonder if that’s not the case.
Skipping College: My Aha Moment
I was catching up with a good friend of mine one day and she informed me she was dating someone. The courtship had turned serious enough for her to introduce him to her parents for the first time. We chatted a little longer and I asked what he did for a living. My friend is highly educated, she has her MBA from a top university and she is also a CPA, and she has been in mid-level corporate management for a while so her answer surprised me a bit: he was an assistant manager at an automotive repair shop.
She went on to inform me that he had only been with this national automotive servicing chain for about 5 years and had no prior experience in the industry. He had bounced around doing random things prior such as working at an amusement park. Now he was in the management trainee program at this national chain and would promote to store manager within the next year. Then she told me the real shocker: store managers easily make a multiple six figure income!
The next day at work I was mulling over the conversation I had with my friend and I gazed around the office at my co-workers. Around half of them had their MBAs. They all had impressive experience on their resumes. They were all highly intelligent and were gurus with the software programs we used. And, while we were all on friendly terms, they were ultimately my competition. I started to seriously ask myself, “Did I do this all wrong? Would I have been better off doing something similar to what my friend’s boyfriend had done?”
Better to be a Big Fish in Small Pond than a Small Fish in a Big Pond
I know the grass is not always greener on the other side, but humor me for a moment. What if skipping college in favor of a career in a technical or trade field was a wise career strategy?
First, I should preface who I am referring to when I ask that question. I am not talking about those who did not have the aptitude for college and would have gone to a technical or trade field as a matter of default. I am talking about those who were academically gifted enough to be college bound. It is these folks who perhaps could be better off by skipping college and becoming an automotive technician, plumber, HVAC repairman, etc.
- Easier to Distinguish Yourself – The main idea around skipping college to work in a technical or trade field is to be a “big fish in a small pond.” Do not get me wrong – I am not being condescending to anyone in technical field. There are some extremely smart, capable folks in trade vocations. What I am getting at is that if you have the aptitude to attend and excel at college, then you could parlay that potential to stand out from the competition in a technical field. Instead of spending 4+ years getting a degree and then toiling for years with equally educated and capable co-workers in an attempt to get ahead, what about taking your drive and talent to a technical career field where you could more easily distinguish yourself? My friend’s boyfriend (now husband) did just that even if he took the long way to get there. The husband of one of my wife’s friends took a similar route but in the IT field. He self-taught himself some programming languages and now makes near multiple six figures – all without a single college course credit!
- No Student Loan Debt – When you graduate from college, chances are you are going to have at least some student loan debt. If you didn’t properly calculate your ROI on those student loans in advance, you could be in a world of hurt. With a career in a technical field you could conceivably have zero student loan debt. Yes, there are technical and trade schools out there and those can cost a pretty penny. However, there is less barrier to entry for technical jobs when it comes to not having a formal education in the field. In other words, good luck getting a job at an accounting firm without a bachelor’s degree in accounting. It is extremely possible to get hired on as a plumber’s apprentice or an entry level auto mechanic without much, if any, school. How nice would it be to start earning a living without already being thousands upon thousands of dollars “in the hole” from student loan debt?
- No Opportunity Cost of College – After graduating high school, you can start right away in a technical field. When you go to college, you spend at least four years in school. That is four years of not earning an income (part time side jobs notwithstanding). Thus the opportunity cost ( While it may be tough to get hired without some initial experience, another added benefit of a technical job is the ability to start earning right away.
Do not get me wrong. I am not implying an “easy life” by skipping college in lieu of a technical/trade job. No matter what you would still have to work hard, deal with some element of politics, etc. In other words, you would still have to pay your dues like any other career. However, the time and money saved by skipping college combined with the possibility to more easily stand out from the crowd and, in turn, earn a high income is, in theory, quite enticing.
While it is never too late to make a career change and we are all empowered to make our own life choices, I would not truly consider making a change at this point in my life. It is a notion that has twirled around in my mind recently though. I cannot help but wonder, if I had the opportunity to “do it all over again”, if skipping college and going the technical or trade route would have paid bigger dividends in the long run.
If you could do it over again, would you consider skipping college to instead go the technical or trade route? Do you know someone who has done this instead of taking the traditional college path? Parents – how would you feel letting or even encouraging your soon-to-be out-of-the-nest kid(s) to forego college for a technical job?
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