If you’re not making enough money, if you’re burned out in your current job, or if you’ve fallen in love with a different calling, you’ll be motivated to make a major career change. Unfortunately, most people aren’t equipped to make a sudden and complete career change without investing time into education and training.
One of the most straightforward paths to changing your career is going back to school to learn a new skill, but if you do this, you could end up paying tens of thousands of dollars for the privilege – or end up deep in debt.
So how can you start a career without taking on student debt?
Choose the Right Career Path
First, you need to choose the right career path. There are careers that universally require some kind of higher education; you may be required to have a four-year degree, or even an advanced degree, just to get your foot in the door. Others can be started with little to no formal training or education. Most exist somewhere in between.
For example, according to RealEstateU, you can attend online classes, study, and get your real estate license online, setting you up for a career as a real estate agent. You’ll spend a bit of money upfront, but you’ll have everything you need to start buying and selling properties. A college degree might help, but it’s not strictly necessary.
Do your research and choose a career path that’s accessible for you.
Attending College Debt-Free
Attending college could be necessary, or at least very helpful, in building your new career – so don’t rule it out just yet. There are several strategies you can use to reduce the cost of attending college and minimize the debt you’re forced to take on.
- Choose the right university. For starters, choose the right university. Obviously, you’ll want to choose an accredited university that can give you a good education, but there are countless options available within these parameters, and some of them are much more expensive than others. Going to a university in your state can help, and selecting a university with more reasonable tuition.
- Live off campus. Living off campus allows you to tap into the full resources of a university without spending tens of thousands of dollars every year on room and board. Even if you have to pay for an apartment, you’ll still probably end up saving money.
- Apply for scholarships and grants. Be on the lookout for scholarships and grants. These financial products essentially function like free money. Writing essays, filling out applications, and meeting with representatives of nonprofit organizations could eventually help you accumulate thousands for your education or even a total free ride.
- Get the most for your money. Think about how much you’re spending and how to make the most of it. For example, are you paying for a full semester, regardless of how many classes you’re taking? Consider taking extra courses to pack your schedule and get more value for every dollar you spend.
If you don’t attend college, there are many alternative paths you can try:
- Consider trade schools. There’s a massive shortage of skilled workers in the United States, which means there are plenty of job openings – and not enough people applying for them. Depending on the career path you envision, you could get your start in this area by attending a local trade school. After just a year or two, you’ll be in a position to take on an entry-level job and refine your skills. As you become more experienced and more knowledgeable in your chosen trade, you’ll gradually get access to a wider range of potential opportunities for development.
- Sign up for an apprenticeship. Similarly, you could sign up for an apprenticeship. In a traditional apprenticeship, you’ll work directly with an experienced master of a particular craft. You’ll shadow them, learn directly from them, and have ample opportunities to refine your own skills. Depending on the nature of the arrangement, you might even get paid for the duration of your apprenticeship.
- Find a mentor. You could also work to find a mentor, even if you take some of the other paths in this guide. Your relationship with your mentor will be similar to that of an apprentice, except the arrangement is much less formal, and you probably won’t be paid for shadowing. That said, you’ll be able to learn directly from somebody who’s highly experienced in a particular area. Your mentor may also have connections to resources and potential employers; once they get to know you better, they may be able to refer you for a specific position.
- Start at the bottom. You won’t need any education or formal training if you start from the bottom in a given organization and gradually work your way up the ladder. This isn’t possible for all careers, since even entry-level positions may require a degree. However, if you’re patient and willing to search, eventually you’ll be able to find an organization with integrity that reliably promotes from within. You can learn new skills and master your abilities as you’re working, networking and developing yourself along the way.
- Teach yourself from scratch. Of course, you could also teach yourself almost anything completely from scratch – and start your own business if you have trouble getting hired. Thanks to the ubiquity and accessibility of the internet, it’s ridiculously easy to find videos, books, and other sources of content on almost any topic you can imagine. If you do a little bit of digging, you can probably learn everything you need to know to get started with a wide variety of different careers.
If you can start a new career without taking on massive amounts of debt, you’ll be in a great position to reorder your finances – and create a bright future for yourself. It’s not going to happen overnight, and you’ll face significant challenges along the way, but landing a career you love will make it worth the effort.