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May 25, 2001
Wanted: Experienced Freelance Professionals - College Degree Not Required
By Sherril Steele-Carlin

Our economy is changing, and so is our workforce. As the economy rearranges, more freelancers are entering the independent contracting market every day. That means more people with every level of experience will be looking toward freelancing as their sole employment. What happens if these freelancers don't have a degree? Will their career as a professional contractor suffer because they haven't completed a Bachelor's or advanced degree?

Of course the answer varies, according to who you're talking to. Ask almost any educator, and they will say "of course, you need a degree to get anywhere in life." There are other viewpoints, however. In his article, "To Degree or Not to Degree," Darrell W. Gurney says a degree is "As important as you make it. . . an individual without a degree is not any less "hot" than someone with one (or more)." Fortune Magazine's "Ask Annie" column quotes Kenneth Gray, a professor of education at Penn State University, who says "College has become a default decision. Too many unprepared high-school graduates are shoveled into four-year colleges."

There's also a book on the subject, Success Without College by Linda Lee (Doubleday, $19.95, or try your local public library). Author Lee says at her web site "Peter Jennings didn't even graduate from high school. Bill Gates, the richest man in the world, dropped out of Harvard. Plumbers and electricians make a great deal more than schoolteachers. And a hair colorist I know makes $500,000 a year."

In the Free Republic, Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr. says in his article "Why College?" "In market-driven professions, smarts are what lead to higher incomes -- not for everyone, but most of the time -- and the brainy can choose from a wide range of occupations, as the ranks of dot-com millionaires demonstrate."

This is good news to anyone who's thinking about freelancing, but are worried that they don't have the degree necessary to be considered a professional. One of the best things about freelancing is that you are most often judged by the work you accomplish. In the world of freelancing, experience is often more important than a higher education. If you have ten years of experience in your field, you very well could land a freelancing job instead of an applicant that has a college degree, but little or no experience.

Freelancers also often have something other than on-the-job training. They have extensive training in their particular field, either from their own desire to learn more about their particular craft, or from training courses and seminars they received while working nine to five. For example, a person interested in freelance writing might take specific courses geared to creative and journalistic writing and publishing. A computer programmer might take specialized courses in computer languages and coding. They may not have a degree, but they have targeted and specialized knowledge about their particular profession. Along with their experience in the field, this can make a dynamic combination.

Here's a key in the "is college necessary" debate. It depends on the job, and also how much in demand the job is. In many professional jobs, a degree is necessary. Doctors, lawyers, teachers, and many other professionals need a degree to perform effectively and competently. Most people wouldn't want to be operated on by a doctor without the proper degree and credentials.

However, there are many, many examples of highly successful entrepreneurs and business people who have no degrees, or even attended college. Bill Gates has already been mentioned as the shining example of a college dropout turned into multi-millionaire. There are many others though, who have created brilliant careers, without the benefit of higher education. The ultimate freelance drop-out would probably be Tiger Woods, who left Stanford to pursue professional golf -- and we all know what's happened to him! Author Fran Lebowitz is another example of a freelancer without a degree, she never finished high school, but it hasn't stopped her from writing best-selling novels.

While college is a viable and necessary tool for many professions, freelancing is a career open to just about anyone with talent and persistence. As an anonymous author once said, "Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful individuals with talent. Genius will not; un-rewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education alone will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and Determination alone are omnipotent."

Sherril Steele-Carlin is a full-time freelance writer from Reno, Nevada. She's published numerous articles in print and online publications. She's also the author of the new e-book "How to get a Life by Living and Working in a National Park."
Visit her website at

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