How to have a great career without a degree

I got halfway to earning my Bachelor’s degree when I realized I needed to work more than I needed to be sitting in a lecture hall. Thankfully, despite what many may tell you, leaving college after two years didn’t keep me from building an amazing career.

Here’s how I did it.

I took on jobs that weren’t in my industry to make ends meet

I worked at Whole Foods before entering the media industry.

I feel really fortunate to be working as a writer and editor full-time now, but I didn’t just walk into this industry. Throughout college and the years after, I worked at Whole Foods, a post-production agency, and even a non-profit to ensure I could still pay my rent and put food on the table.

It may seem like the skills I learned in those places were irrelevant to my present job, but the fact that I was willing to work and had done so consistently for years prior to getting into this industry showed I was a solid and reliable employee.

I was willing to start at the bottom

When I did manage to get a part-time job in the media industry as a copyeditor, I was making peanuts for putting in long hours and I still had to take on other jobs in order to make a living wage. I don’t think this is something everyone should have to do or something that everyone could, but I saw the experience as valuable for my resume so I took it on.

My willingness to come in and do the work that everyone else seemed to be neglecting and/or had no interest in made me valuable and allowed me to improve my editing and writing skills — both of which served me well in my future endeavors.

I made sure to network

I made sure to build contacts where I worked.
Monica Schipper/Getty Images

Wherever I worked, I made sure not only to be friendly, helpful, and polite but to make my ambitions clear without being over-the-top about it.

When I was asked what I’d like to be doing in five or 10 years, I’d find a way to parlay the skills I was utilizing at that job into talking about how they applied to my future goals. Because I built good relationships at past jobs, I kept those contacts when I went onto new ones, and many of those connections I built came in handy both as references and professional mentors.

I was willing to work hard

There’s no way you’re going to get ahead in any industry if you’re not willing to put in the hours. Sure, work isn’t everything, but if you’re passionate about something, sometimes it really doesn’t feel like work.

When I was starting out in writing and editing, I often put in 12-hour days, staying on longer and later than many of my colleagues in order to get further ahead and get more accomplished. While I knew this was something I couldn’t do forever — burnout is real and we all need a breather — I figured it would pay off in the interim, and it totally did.

I got lucky

Getting to where I am today is partly due to good luck.
AP/Andre Penner

At the end of the day, I believe a great career is 80% hard work and 20% pure luck. I’ve applied for jobs I know I would’ve done really well at but was passed over for another candidate. This wasn’t because I wasn’t as good as the other candidate but because it just wasn’t my turn. The same goes for the jobs I have been given; I know there were probably dozens of other totally qualified and even stellar applicants, but for some reason, I had something that the company was looking for.

I consider myself very lucky to be working in an industry I love with a lot of opportunities to expand my skill set and share my passion for writing and editing. I’m proud of myself for the hard work I put in to get here, but I know without a little luck mixed in, I probably wouldn’t be in this position.


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