21st Century Alternatives To A College Degree

College degree

We see a college degree as light at the end of a 4-year long tunnel, and rightly so. Having a college degree opens up opportunities for you. Sadly the nature of these opportunities are predetermined and very much out of your own control. I’m sure you’re familiar with the drill.

Typically, kids with higher scores and extra-curricular activities have a higher chance of getting through a decent (and sometimes even desirable) placement. The ones in the lower tier have to make do with jobs that don’t provide an adequate environment for personal and professional growth.

There is no doubt that a college degree is a ticket to securing a job. Since we have established that, let’s follow that up with a more burning question: Do you really need to spend three to four precious years in time and money to secure a job and jumpstart your professional career?

The answer to that, based on empirical evidence, is no.

Don’t get me wrong, going to university is still very crucial for anyone who wishes to make it big in academia i.e to contribute to the world with academic and scientific research. This includes fields like medical, psychology, engineering, linguistics, anthropology etc. It is, in fact, a very noble endeavour to take up. Reality is, most of us don’t want that, we just want to lead good, respectable lives with an abundance of money and resources at our disposal.

It’s not surprising as the system we study in today is failing us. It was designed for the industrial age, and not the information age. It is based on linearity, conformity and batching people as standardized products. Universities were more significant when they were the only places with access to knowledge and wisdom. Today you can find the same knowledge and wisdom in a Youtube video.

We don’t live in the age of standardization anymore, we live in the age of personalization and customization.

So, what’s the alternative to this?

The answer, in a nutshell, is self-education.

It is possible for us to design our own unique education today. It does not mean learning everything by yourself, it simply gives you the power to steer your learning based on your interests and strengths.

A lot of high paying jobs in the market today, were unheard of in the last 5-10 years. Jobs like

  • Big Data Analyst,
  • Vlogger,
  • Digital Marketer,
  • Cloud Computing Specialist,
  • 3D printing professionals,
  • Social Media Marketer,
  • SEO Specialist,
  • UI/UX Designer,
  • Drone Operator,
  • Chief Listening Officer and so many more.

All of the skills required for you to start these jobs could be learned within a years’ time. Here is how you can ensure you are more educated and skilled than your university going peers.

Learn an in-demand skill

People don’t become wealthy because of knowledge. They do with the right application of that knowledge.

Having knowledge is one thing, but having a quantifiable skill against it gives you the confidence of never running out of employment opportunities.

You can acquire these skills through online courses or through certified courses in your city. EdX and Coursera have courses from the best of universities like MIT, Harvard, Wharton etc.

While certified courses in your city can help you learn with the same guidance you get in universities for a fraction of the cost and time. Plus, they also add a level of practicality in the learning while also giving you access to job/internship opportunities.

Intern & quit

Interning is the best way to get hands-on experience in any field. With the startup ecosystem booming in India, internships have become easier to find. Everyone wants a capable intern who can make work easier for them.

It’s best to intern at multiple places because it gives you a firsthand experience in working with different kinds of people. My suggestion would be to intern in multiple job profiles.

To be able to do that, it is imperative that you learn to quit at the right time. Most people look at quitting in a negative light but truly there is a fine line of difference between giving up when things get hard (which is a bad habit) and giving up because something isn’t meant for you. The latter requires courage.

Another rule of thumb while picking internships is to not necessarily choose the place that pays you this highest, but instead with the place that fosters the best learning environment.

Work with people you want to work with, find a mentor whose vision you believe in. Such experiences are a hit or miss in universities, as you are not always in control of who you get to learn from. You are more or less stuck with the same prescribed syllabus for 4 years.

Find a tribe

Self-education can sound lonely, but it doesn’t have to be. Certificate courses for digital marketing, filmmaking, coding, design and whatever else, not only get you equipped with the right skills, but they also connect you with like-minded individuals with similar interests as yours.

We all have social needs. Going to university comes with a promise of making new friends and being part of a group, but there are so many ways of going about it.

Another way is to attend events, meet-ups, workshops, and summits that cover your topics of interest. Today with access to the internet and a plethora of event portals, you can find communities with similar passions as yours very early.

You are bound to build a relevant network through these.

Read, Watch & Listen

This is ancient wisdom with a modern twist and probably the most important step.

Reading is an age-old proven method to become smarter. Reading makes you more self-aware about yourself and the world you live in. Continuous reading activates new neural networks in your brain, opening up new perspectives and helps you to make better life decisions.

Every workplace in the world today needs more knowledgeable people. Knowledgeable people make fewer mistakes, as they simply know better.

But today, reading isn’t the only way to expand your knowledge. Thanks to the digital age, we have access to platforms like YouTube, and Podcasts that allow you to be stimulated with content that’ll help you grow your expertise and create your own opinion on the go.

Staying stimulated with content is an involuntary action in the 21st century, the key is filtration.

Become financially literate

Financial literacy isn’t a skill, it is a lifestyle.

This is something even business schools fail to teach their students. Understanding finance and money is essential to any and everybody, regardless of what your professional field is.

Learning how to manage your money through savings and investments is a boon, and will help you plan your life better. It’s important to be savvy with your money. Again, you can do this through a variety of courses online and offline.

There is this great TED talk by Curtis “Wall Street” Carroll, an ex-felon in the United States, who taught himself to read, write and trade in stocks all by himself.  What’s special about him is he managed to do it in prison.

If Curtis could teach himself how to become a successful stock market investor in prison, without any educational foundation; imagine what you could do with your existing education with all resources at your disposal.


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