Classroom study students“I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” Those words were spoken by Mark Twain.  “Schooling” and “education” have never been synonymous, but sometimes people find it hard to distinguish the two, particularly when it comes to higher education. A college diploma is often seen as indispensable and impossible to substitute.

Earning college degree certainly has its advantages, but obtaining the almighty degree has caused student loan debt to become a crushing burden for millennials. As of 2013, the average college graduate ended their college career with a total of $30,000 in student loans. Total student loan debt in the United States has now surpassed total credit card debt.  At the same time, average starting salaries for college graduates is falling as the number of total graduates is increasing, thanks to government programs designed to make college more accessible to all of society. It is a vicious cycle, an economic bubble that many analysts predict will end in the same disastrous way that the housing bubble did in 2008.

Fortunately, there is a growing number of alternatives to a college education that are more affordable and, in some cases, open up similar or even better opportunities. For example, while millions of people today are out of work, there are thousands of businesses that are struggling to fill positions that require knowledge of a specific trade, such as machining. Both young people entering the workforce and experienced adults alike are starting to catch on to this, in part thanks to people like Mike Rowe of the Discovery Channel’s “Dirty Jobs”.

However, brick-and-mortar colleges may soon become obsolete, even for those professions that require a college education such as technology. A company called Udacity, co-founded by Google Fellow and developer of the Google driverless car, Sebastian Thrun, is offering what amounts to a four-year degree in computer science, without all of the liberal arts fluff. This is available strictly online and for a tiny fraction of the cost of a traditional four-year college education. Students pursue what Udacity calls “Nanodegrees,” which are small, highly targeted curricula representing a specific, marketable skill in the Information Technology field. Udacity courses are developed by companies like Google, Facebook and AT&T so while it’s not an accredited university, Udacity’s name carries some weight in the industry.

If you’re one of the many millennials still trying to find your way in the job market, step back and ask yourself some basic questions:

  • What do I enjoy doing?
  • What am I really good at?
  • What sorts of skills are in the highest demand?
  • What is the most affordable way to obtain those skills?

Depending on your answers, you may find that you can get the required education without all of the expensive schooling! What other advice do you have for the job-seeking millennials? Please let me know in the comments below!

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