Is Being Self-Taught The Better Route Than Getting A College Degree?

For a lot of us, college was naturally the best-given option. Sometimes, it was the only option we knew. College is as natural as creamer is to milk. For a lot of us, it’s the most logical next step.

I don’t have any issues with the traditional college degree, after all, I’m finishing up my own master’s degree currently. However, I am interested in the path least taken. The untraditional path, not paved by a paper you receive, or class schedule nicely structured for you. I’m interested in the opportunity of abandoning the structure of college and finding success on your own.

My husband is a software engineer working at a tech company in Los Angeles. He was pursuing his B.S in Computer Science but dropped out. He is completely self-taught in his field and his career was growing faster than his education. So, he took the risk and put his success in his own hands. He learned as much as he could from his job and found learning platforms online. He was able to grow in his role on his own, without a college education. Even though he works alongside engineers who do possess a degree, he is constantly learning as much as he can to keep up.

So, while there are a ton of statistics out there on how you can earn more money over your lifetime with a college degree; I want to challenge it. I personally think college is worth it for several reasons when: (1) you are going into a VERY specific field that requires a degree, (2) you really want the college experience, (3) you want to be exposed to a different learning environment that can challenge you. I personally think with the rising cost of college, a lot of these experiences can be found elsewhere for much cheaper.

So, let’s say you are considering a path outside the college route. What are some ways you can be successful without doing the traditional route?

Research, research, research

Remember, in most companies, not having a college degree can be a barrier to entry. That’s the truth. So, before you go and decide to drop out, be realistic. What industry do you want to work in? How much do you want to make? What kind of schedule do you want to have? I’m not saying you can’t create that on your own, but it can be challenging. Look up your desired job title and check out online postings. Browse if they even require a degree to apply.

Careers you can do without a degree

After some research, I’ve narrowed down some careers you can do without a degree.

  • Software engineer, coding, and anything in that arena – There are a lot of coding academies (Ironhack, Appacademy, Flatiron School, Bloc, and General Assembly) that are willing to teach you what you need to know to succeed. Most programs vary in length and cost, you have to do some research and see what’s best for you. Flatiron School does offer scholarships to women in tech.
  • Paralegal Assistant – A lot of community colleges offer certificate programs for this field. This is another great field with an impressive salary and a lot of growth. Also, starting as a paralegal might expose you to the industry and open up more opportunities in the legal market.
  • Hairstylist – Typically requires some certification and training (depending on where you live). The sky is the limit with income potential as stylists have a lot of avenues where they can work.
  • Real estate agent – Requires some courses (depending on where you live) and licensure. Another very exciting field with a lot of upward mobility.
  • Entry-level jobs – If you want to do HR or be a clinic manager, you can start in a smaller role within a company and grow your way up. I had a clinic manager at a previous job who had no degree and just worked her way into her role. I also have a friend who does marketing for law firms who shares you can get a start in higher-level administrative roles by applying for a receptionist position first. She also said you can apply directly to those roles as well, based on your experience and what the firm is looking for.
  • Your own business – If you have a product or service to offer, you can scale your business. A lot of skills are offered online for either free or low-cost. For example, if you want to learn how to market your product/service, one quick YouTube or google search and you have a treasure chest of information.


Find a career mentor you trust that can advise you on the best path for you. This can be a friend or someone you work with. Join a women’s business group on Facebook or a Meetup business group (preferably done virtually right now due to COVID). Also, might be worth investing in a life coach or career coach who can help guide you on the right path. Together you can make a pros/cons list of your choices, explore new careers, and brainstorm options. 

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