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This year, millions of young people will graduate from high schools throughout America. At their graduation parties, these grads will be asked a common question over and over again by aunts, uncles and other well-meaning adults: “Where do you plan on going to college?”

While a four-year degree from a college or university makes sense for many, it’s not necessarily the best plan for everyone. University tuition and room and board expenses have skyrocketed in recent years, while many of the beginning salaries offered to new college graduates have stagnated. It’s led many to question the assumption that a bachelor’s degree is the only path to a fulfilling career. The reality is that there are many ways to find personal fulfillment and a satisfying salary without a college degree.

Be an Entrepreneur

What do Russell Simmons, Richard Branson and Ralph Lauren have in common? In addition to being world-changing business icons, none of them graduated from college. Instead, they pursued their dreams and got a jump-start on their competitors. Today, they are legends. A simple search online can help you determine if you have what it takes to be an entrepreneur.

If you’re thinking that a normal high school graduate couldn’t possibly reach the levels of success as Simmons, Branson and Lauren, here’s another name for you: Levin. Rachel Levin, to be specific. As a young girl, Levin began posting YouTube videos about the topics that interested her, including beauty trends, boyfriends and relationships. As it turns out, millions of other young girls were also interested in the same things and flocked to Levin’s YouTube channel. Before she was 20 years old, Levin was earning hundreds of thousands of dollars a year doing what she loved. (Full disclosure: Levin has since enrolled in college at Penn State University, but the point is that she didn’t have to go to college to be successful.)

Serve Your Country

Serving in the U.S. Armed Forces is a great way for young people to get world-class training outside a college classroom. Commercial airline pilots, air traffic controllers, health care workers, law enforcement officers, commercial shipping captains and many other highly successful professionals got their start in the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard and National Guard. In addition to the fulfillment that comes with serving their country, it’s also possible for members of the armed forces to take advantage of the GI Bill, which helps active military personnel pay for college when they leave the service.

Learn a Trade

There are still thousands of jobs in America that can’t be outsourced. Automobile mechanics and technicians, welders, truck drivers, electricians and health care professionals are just a few of the careers that are in high demand and don’t require a four-year college degree.

The important thing to realize is that most any career path can be both rewarding and lucrative if a worker puts his or her heart and soul into their chosen field every day. Think about the wealthy owners of auto repair shops and welding contractor companies. These successful businesspeople might have started out in the field of their choice and grew their passion into a successful enterprise – often without the benefit of a four-year college degree. This is one of the surprising findings of the best-selling book, “The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America’s Wealthy,” by authors Thomas Stanley and William Danko. Stanley and Danko show how those who forgo college and instead learn a trade and start a business relating to that trade can actually end up with a greater net worth than professionals like doctors and lawyers who engage in a more “high-consumption” lifestyle.

Embrace the Future

There are thousands of career paths people can choose from that don’t involve a four-year college degree. In fact, for many professions, a two-year or an associate degree may allow for the training and education one needs to get into the working world quickly.

With technology progressing more rapidly every day, jobs will exist in the future that can’t even be imagined today. An advanced education is a great thing, and the college experience, specifically, can certainly open doors and create opportunities for young people. But enthusiasm, passion, ambition and a desire to grow are just as important when it comes to achieving life goals, and they’re tuition-free!

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