For many students, attending college is the next step after high school. However, that’s not always the case, with only around 62% of high school students enrolling in college after graduating. Whether you have personal circumstances to take care of, or you just don’t see yourself attending university, not having a degree shouldn’t disqualify you from job opportunities.
Let’s discuss some next steps to take if you don’t have a college degree and what you can do to ensure that you land a job.
Attend Free Classes or Vocational Programs
Although you don’t have to attend university, learning the skills in the field you want to pursue can be an amazing resource. From accelerated programs to mini sessions, there are tons of resources out there for anyone who wants to learn a new skill. For example, Rice University offers a 24 week program to learn coding, without any prior experience. Of course, there are free resources as well, such as Stanford’s free online courses taught by actual professors.
However, when you do look for programs, make sure to do your research. There are many scams out there regarding “boot camps” for popular fields such as marketing and product design. Although they may seem professional, if the program isn’t accredited or if there isn’t a way to directly translate your experience to a job position, such as making a portfolio, then the program may be a red flag. Look at student reviews online and do your research, because once you do find a program, it can be an amazing start to a flourishing career.
Build Your Portfolio
Even if you do attend college, the #1 thing you need to do is to build your portfolio. Whether it’s through class projects or campus activities, your portfolio is much more important than the classes you attend or the grades that you get. The same advice goes for job seekers not attending university, even if the situations are a little different.
To build your portfolio, look for internships that don’t require proof of being a university student. Of course, that’s harder than it sounds, but with online resources such as PathMatch’s free internship board, it can be accomplished. Or, if you want something more personalized, try offering your services as a freelancer on sites like UpWork or Fivver. The main point is to publish and showcase work that shows what you are capable of to a potential employer. If you have the skills and the evidence to back it up, it’s quite possible no one would even glance at a lack of a degree on your resume.
In many ways, the main point of attending a university is to network. Between classmates, professors, and other university staff members, getting those connections can be what makes or breaks a valuable university experience. Since you aren’t getting a degree, networking would be one of the biggest things you're missing out on. However, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.
Take initiative by reaching out to professionals in your field, by using LinkedIn or attending in-person fairs and conferences. After attending classes and getting certified, as well as building a portfolio, you’re already a much more attractive candidate compared to first or second year students competing for the same internship. Research some companies that may be more open to people with a non-traditional background, such as start-ups, and ask an employee there for a coffee chat. Be confident in your skills and the unique value you can provide, and be open to various opportunities such as contract work or mentorship programs.
If you don't have a degree, or just don’t know what you want to do, don’t worry. There are many others in the same boat as you, and you shouldn’t feel unaccomplished for not having a degree. Attending university is just a means to an end, and if you can do these steps, it’s 100% possible to be in the same boat as university students, or possibly be even further along in your career by the time others graduate.
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