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Good News: You Might Not Need That College Degree After All

By Maurie Backman - Oct 12, 2018 at 8:36AM

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Before you rack up loads of student debt, see what job opportunities are out there.

If college were free or even moderately affordable, we'd perhaps see an uptick in graduates. But the fact of the matter is that college keeps growing increasingly expensive by the year, and until that bubble bursts, a large number of adults will no doubt pass on the idea of getting a diploma to avoid the burden of student debt.

And make no mistake about it: That debt can be devastating. The average Class of 2017 graduate, for example, came away $39,400 in the hole, and for those who are forced to borrow privately for college, obnoxiously high interest rates can only compound the problem.

Graduation cap next to rolled-up diploma.


Still, we're often told that college ultimately pays for itself in the form of higher lifetime earnings for graduates compared to those without a degree. Case in point: The average yearly salary for a college graduate with a bachelor's degree is $57,026, compared to just $34,197 for someone with a high school diploma alone.

But new data from Robert Half reveals that a college diploma might not be necessary after all for certain functional areas within the financial and accounting fields -- industries that tend to boast reasonably competitive salaries. And that could spell a huge dose of relief for the many Americans who don't want to resign themselves to a decade or more of college debt.

Achieving success without a degree

There are many fields in which employers pretty much insist on hiring people with college degrees, even if those degrees don't necessarily render candidates any more qualified for the roles in question. But in the aforementioned study, the following roles were identified as ones for which a four-year degree often isn't required:

  1. Accounts payable
  2. Accounts receivable
  3. Credit and collections
  4. Payroll
  5. General accounting
  6. Budgets and analysis
  7. Finance
  8. Cost accounting
  9. Tax
  10. Internal audit
  11. International accounting

Of course, this isn't to say that you won't earn more money working in one of these roles with a degree than without one. But if you're worried that not going to college will wreck your chances of finding a respectable job, you might want to rethink that.

Remember, too, that experience plays a big role in the salary you're ultimately able to command. If you start as a low-level accounts payable clerk and eventually work your way up to the managerial level, you stand to grow your earnings substantially.

Of course, just because you start off your career without a degree doesn't mean you can't pursue one after the fact. Many people opt to work for a few years, save money, and use their earnings to pay their tuition bills as they go along rather than rack up debt. And don't discount the possibility of getting your employer to pay for that diploma, because 63% of companies claim that they're willing to provide tuition reimbursement to workers who go back to school.

There are plenty of good reasons to obtain a college degree, but don't make the mistake of assuming you'll be unemployable without one. If you're good at what you do and take steps to grow your skills on the job, you can more than compensate for that missing diploma, all the while avoiding the vicious debt trap so many people fall into.

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