It's no wonder that some of the best shows and films about adolescent and young adult life take place in an educational setting. By the time most kids enter elementary school, they can expect to spend the majority of their waking hours of the next decade or so in school.
But even though college can be a pivotal time in the lives of many people, that experience isn't one most Americans actually share: Last year, the Census Bureau found that just over a third of Americans 25 or older had completed a bachelor's degree or more. A chief reason for not going this route is that college "remains an unaffordable goal" for many people in the U.S.
As Maxine A. Mitchell, the founder and CEO of Double M Coaching, tells Refinery29, "the vast majority of job seekers and employees are navigating their job searches and their careers without a college degree," so providing resources for them is crucial. Here are three main ways to job hunt without a bachelor's.
Look For Jobs That Don't Require A Bachelor's
Mitchell says many of her clients who don't have a bachelor's degree couldn't afford college or couldn't finish. (Often because they had to start working.) If the cost of a four-year degree is too high, going for a two-year associate's degree in a specialized field can often lead to success — and a solid salary.
U.S. News' roundup of the 25 best jobs that don't require a college degree includes medical technologists, paralegals, and even web developers. Many of these options are in the health and medical fields, likely because that is a fast-growing segment of the economy, but not all of them require hands-on work with patients.
Networking is often talked about in a schmoozy, gross way that makes it seem like you can only engage with people if you meet certain qualifications. But everyone has a network!
Whether you have a college degree or not, the mechanics of meeting with people are largely the same, Mitchell says: "Find out where friends work and see if they're able to make introductions. Also, search for your target companies and use LinkedIn to see if there are any individuals in cool roles you'd like to learn more about."
Reframe Your Experiences
Mitchell says she hasn't had many clients seek her out for coaching in hopes of learning how to combat bias because they don't have a bachelor's degree. In part, she says that is because those clients "had enough experience within a particular industry or several industries that their lack of a degree doesn't stand out to employers as a glaring fault." It's natural to anticipate some pushback, but don't assume everyone will react the same way.
FlexJobs advises that applicants "apply to jobs your skills, expertise, and experience qualify you for even if you don’t meet the educational requirements." When crafting your résumé, highlight your knowledge of those areas, paying particular attention to how the job listing makes those asks.
Consider how you might talk about your experience if you were granted an interview. Similar to how people who have been laid off or fired should cultivate a not-defensive way of talking about that situation in an interview, there are honest ways to combat potential stigma in a conversation about your education experience. There may be a specific reason an employer wants a hire to have a certain degree. If you understand what they really want when they make that stipulation, you may be able to show that your skills speak for themselves.