Marketable Skills You Don’t Need College to Learn

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By Ann Lloyd, Student Savings Guide

There was a time when a college degree was considered a sure ticket to success for some. Now, that’s no longer the case, even among populations that once benefited from that model. The cost of a college education has skyrocketed (by more than 25% from 2008 to 2018), putting it out of range for many and creating heavy loads of student debt for others.

At the same time, higher education isn’t giving graduates the kind of leg up they may wish for: A 2019 study by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that more than a third (33.8%) of all college graduates were underemployed, and 41% of recent grads were working in jobs that didn’t require a college degree.

Reform is needed in our higher education system. But the silver lining is that there are plenty of other avenues people can take toward making a living (and a good one), none requiring a college degree. Here are just a few of them.

Technical proficiency

You can improve your skill set in almost any field imaginable by taking web courses or tutorials and doing research online. This kind of do-it-yourself approach wasn’t available 20 years ago, but today it means you can gain a high degree of proficiency without ever setting foot on a college campus.

Check out Massive Online Open Courses, or get college-level instruction through Coursera and EdX, which offer users access to technological curricula from some highly regarded colleges and universities.

  • Coding — The computer languages used to create and run websites, apps, and software — like HTML, Java, and CSS — are easier to learn than a foreign language.
  • Graphic design — Useful in a variety of fields, including marketing and advertising (ads, emails, blog posts, social media graphics, and even menus). It’s also indispensable for publications, packaging, and branding, so the opportunities are vast.
  • Search engine optimization (SEO) — Getting your website noticed at the top of a search is more than half the game these days. Keywords, links, headlines, and metadata — and how you use them —  are important factors in content writing and placement.
  • Data science — A field that gleans info from different sources and uses statistics, mathematics, algorithms, and other information to analyze the data and reach conclusions. The Harvard Business Review called it “the sexiest job of the 21st century.”

Specialized skills to monetize

Numerous skills can make you more marketable to a company, or you can monetize them for yourself if you’re working independently. For instance:

  • Like to cook? Plenty of entrepreneurs have made their fortunes baking up treats ranging from Famous Amos cookies to Krispy Kreme Doughnuts. Or you can go to cooking school and put your culinary skills to use at a fine dining establishment.
  • We all want to be adept at handling our personal finances, but if we become experts in the field, we can market our investment skills by interning and gaining experience in the financial services industry.
  • In a related specialty, knowing how to maximize credit and take advantage of interest rates for retirement funds can set you up for a career as a financial adviser.
  • Knowing how insurance claims work and what to do in the wake of a car accident can give you the background you need to get into the insurance industry, either in sales or as an adjuster.
  • Learning CPR and other lifesaving techniques might pique your interest in the medical field. Positions include nursing, certified nursing assistant, paramedic, pharmacy tech, and dozens of others.
  • Are you a great listener with an ear for detail who can repeat back a riveting story? Do you enjoy the ins and out of law? You don’t have to become a lawyer. Consider a career as a court reporter.

General professional competency

A number of skills can prove useful regardless of the profession you choose. You’ll need solid communication skills — both verbal and written, and in a variety of contexts. Courses and training opportunities exist to improve your grammar, public speaking, PowerPoint presentations, and debate skills.

It’s also a good idea to master time management and collaboration, and learn how to accept feedback constructively, with an eye toward improving your performance.

Many of these skills are taught in college. Even the ones that are, you don’t need a classroom to learn. You can gain those skills right in front of your computer.

There’s still value in a college degree, but it’s far from the only game in town. Research the educational requirements of any field you’re interested in, see where you can get a foothold and make a plan for progressing, then set out to pursue your dreams. —


Ann Lloyd


My name is Ann Lloyd and I’m a newly enrolled MBA grad student. I’m getting my degree online and working as a marketing intern on the side. In my spare time, I’m hard at work on the Student Savings Guide, my blog about living a budget-conscious life. The guide caters to students and recent grads, but anyone can use these tips to get by.

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