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Personal Development

Should I Go Back to School to Get My Dream Job?

Should I Go Back to School to Get My Dream Job?

10 Minute Read

Do you ever feel like Garfield on a Monday morning? Miserable that you have to get out of a bed and spend the next five days at a job you hate—or in Garfield’s case: a life you hate?

Hey, you’re not alone. Seventy percent of Americans are unhappy with their current work situation.1 They’re just working a J-O-B to get by.

If they’re so dissatisfied, why don’t they just pursue a different career? It’s usually a combination of barriers like fear, doubt and debt that hold them back. Too often, people also believe that changing careers means dropping everything and going back to school.

I can see why the idea of going back to school would hold someone back from pursuing a career they’d love—school is intimidating! But you might be surprised to know that when people ask me if they should quit their job and go back to school to step into their sweet spot, my answer is almost always not necessarily.

Because the truth is, you should only go back to school if you have to. Every job requires skills and knowledge, but not every job requires a degree or certification.

Should I Go Back to School?

When I decided I wanted to go into broadcasting, I knew I couldn’t just drop my full-time job and enroll in college—I had a family to feed!

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So, I found an eight-week intensive class at a local broadcasting school that would teach me the basics before I went out to practice in a work setting. I had done my research, and I knew if I could just make the right connections and prove my talent, my degree wouldn’t matter.

Don’t just assume you have to go back to school to do the job you want to do. Do your research. And if you’re still not sure what’s required, don’t look to a job posting or a well-meaning neighbor to tell you what you need. Talk to professionals who are already working in that field or the ones making hiring decisions.

"Don’t just assume you have to go back to school to do the job you want to do."

—Ken Coleman

Because in case you haven’t noticed, HR culture is changing. More and more companies are dropping any form of degree requirement from their job postings.2 That should give you hope!

Now, there are still some dream jobs out there that do require going back to school. Let’s take a quick detour to talk about the few careers that do require an advanced education.

What Should I Go Back to School For?

Some of the professions that require a degree—and for good reason, probably always will—are careers like:

  • Doctor
  • Pharmacist
  • Lawyer
  • Physical Therapist
  • Psychologist
  • NASA Astrophysicist

Do you see where I’m going with that list? It’s the highly technical, highly specialized careers that require many years’ worth of book knowledge (versus life or work experience) that actually require going back to school.

If your dream job is one of those that does require going back to school, let me give you some quick tips on how to do so the right way:

1. Find an affordable option and don’t go into debt.

Before you go searching for the most prestigious program out there, think to yourself: Have I ever asked my doctor where they went to medical school?

Of course you haven’t! You don’t need to attend an Ivy League school or move across the country to get your degree.

If possible, start with community college and then transfer to an in-state, four-year university. This will help you save the most money and keep you from taking on student loans. I promise your education will not suffer because you turned down the fancy school.

2. Consider delaying or going part time.

If you don’t have the money saved to go back to school (or other financial support), consider putting the dream on hold for a year or two so you can save up—not only tuition costs, but also living expenses.

You should also consider taking classes part time so that you can continue working your day job. It might take you twice as long to finish, but when you do graduate, you’ll be glad you own that degree (rather than owe Sallie Mae for it).

Okay, now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s get back to what I’m really passionate about: explaining why, more likely than not, you can get your dream job without stepping foot back in the classroom.

What Types of Jobs Don’t Require a Degree?

I recently spoke with a woman on my show who wanted to be a project manager. She called to ask me if I thought she should go back to school and get an MBA.

My answer? No!

Okay, I was a little bit nicer than that. But c’mon, getting an MBA might be impressive, but it’s not going to make you a better project manager than someone without one. If you’ve got the chops (you’re extremely organized, you know how to delegate and hold people accountable, etc.), then a degree shouldn’t hold you back from being the best project manager out there.

There are tons of other professions that you’d be surprised to know do not require going back to school. Here are just a few:

  • Accountant/Bookkeeper
  • Writer
  • Marketer
  • Event Planner
  • Human Resources Recruiter
  • Medical Assistant
  • Office Manager/Executive Assistant
  • Graphic Designer
  • Social Media Manager
  • Customer Service Representative
  • Dental Hygienist (only requires an associate degree)
  • Commercial Airline Pilot
  • Real Estate Agent
  • Software Developer

Does that list shock you? Unfortunately, we’ve been fed the lie for far too long that you need an education no matter what career you want to pursue.

It’s simply not true. There are plenty of great paying jobs out there where the knowledge and training needed can easily be found in the real world.

How to Get Your Dream Job Without Going Back to School

So, you’ve done your research and realized you don’t need to go back to school to change careers. But now you’re asking, “How exactly do I get my dream job without having any experience?”

I’m so glad you asked.

It all comes down to the Proximity Principle: In order to do what you want to do, you have to be around people who are doing it and be in the places it’s happening.

You just start learning, doing and connecting. Here’s what that looks like:

1. Alternative Education

Maybe you don’t need a four-year degree, but there is some education required for what you want to do. No problem. Consider if you can learn the new skill through:

  • Trade schools
  • Online courses
  • Certification programs
  • Webinars
  • Free content, like podcasts, books and blogs
  • Conferences or seminars

A great example of someone who should consider this is a software developer. Going back to school to get a degree in computer science would be a waste! A 2018 study found that 65% of developers are at least partially self-taught, and one-third are completely self-taught.3  

Find a three-month coding boot camp and save yourself four years of nonessential courses. Trust me, you’ll do yourself a favor to think outside the box.

2. On-the-Job Training

Our culture underestimates the power of the entry-level job. We glamorize the big shots in the business without considering the years these folks spent working their butts off from the ground up.

We all have to start somewhere. It’s about what you do with your time that matters.

So, don’t be afraid to take on an entry-level job, even if it feels like a demotion. Entry-level positions are the best place for you to learn, practice, perform (the craft) and grow.

While you’re working that job, keep these two things in mind:

  • Even if you’re starting from the “bottom” of a company, make an effort to get in close proximity to people who work in the position you want. Tell them you want to learn from them and offer to take small projects off their plate. Find a way to help them while getting experience in the process. It’s a win-win! 
  • Did you know that you can get paid to learn how to do the job you want to do? More and more companies are launching last-mile programs.4 These are boot- camp-style intensive programs where employees can learn the exact skills needed for the job they want to move into while working in entry-level positions at the company.

Growth takes time. Be patient while you do what you can with what you have.

3. Making Connections

Creating purposeful connections with people who are in the position you want to be in might be the most important step you take toward getting your dream job.

I actually work with an accountant who has a degree in exercise science. That’s not the type of degree you’d expect an accountant at a large company to have, right?

Ryan was working as an aquatics director at a local YMCA when he realized working with numbers and computers was his real passion. It just so happened that one of the regular swimmers at his YMCA was a finance professor at the local university. Ryan taught himself Excel by watching YouTube videos, and eventually, that professor helped him land a job in finance at the university.

There’s a reason people always say, “It’s not what you know—it’s who you know.” But if you want to build a powerful web of connections, it’s not just about who you know, but also who they know.

You can build a web of connections by:

  • Informing your inner circle (close family and friends) about what you want to do and where you want to go.

  • Asking your inner circle to think about people they know or places they have access to that they would be willing to connect you with.

  • Compiling a list of your own personal connections, like former coworkers, former classmates, church members and even people in your recreational sports leagues.

This web of connections is useless unless you actually meet with them. I know meeting with these people in person can be intimidating for the introverts out there, but you just have to accept that it’s part of the process.

This doesn’t have to be formal—it can be really laid back—but it should be in person. Approach every meeting as if you were building a meaningful relationship, and follow these three rules:

  • Listen and learn.
  • Be humble.
  • Add value.

Oh, and if you end up making a connection with someone who works at the company you want to work for, make sure you include their name on your resumé when you submit an application. Remember, a resumé without a relationship is worthless. Check out my resumé guide for more tips on how to write the perfect resumé.

Folks, I’m willing to bet that the majority of you don’t need a degree to step into your sweet spot. I want to encourage you to find another way to learn the skill, look for entry-level positions that will teach you while you work, and build that powerful web of connections while you’re at it.

I’m confident you’ll be stepping into that sweet spot—and loving Mondays again—in no time.

About Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman is the bestselling author of The Proximity Principle and national radio host of The Ken Coleman Show.

Pulling from his own personal struggles, missed opportunities and career successes, Coleman helps people discover what they were born to do and provides practical steps to make their dream job a reality.

Listen to The Ken Coleman Show on SiriusXM, your local radio station, or wherever you listen to podcasts—and connect with Ken at kencoleman.com.