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Americans are skeptical about the importance of higher education

The survey also revealed that 56% of Americans think earning a college degree is a bad bet, since graduates often find themselves floundering in the aftermath without specific job skills and a large amount of debt to pay off.

This skepticism seems to be strongest among those aged 18 to 34, which could signal an important turning point in the sustainability of higher education for future generations.

Undergraduate college enrollment dropped 5.7% from fall 2019 to fall 2022, according to a 2023 report from the National Student Clearinghouse.

Ted Mitchell, the president of the American Council on Education, told the Wall Street Journal the survey’s findings indicate higher education institutions need to adapt to the changing labor landscape.

“These findings are indeed sobering for all of us in higher education, and in some ways, a wake-up call.”

He points to the $1.7 trillion owed in student debt for causing this general shift in attitude. Borrowers also typically take 20 years on average to pay off their student loans, according to research group Education Data Initiative.

The 64% graduation rate at four-year colleges might be giving Americans some pause as well — not everyone who attends college actually finishes their degree.

In addition, some employers are doing away with the four-year degree requirements altogether in their job descriptions to cope with the tight labor market. Even big businesses like Google and IBM have been focusing on skills and experience rather than college credentials in some of their entry-level job postings.

Here’s how to use your skills and experience to stand out.

Read more: This millionaire YouTube star says making $200K should be easy 'if you are smart about it' — 3 simple ways to actually boost your income

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How to get the job without a degree

1. Polish up your resume

Your first step is to clean up your resume to impress recruiters. Update your LinkedIn profile, and tailor your resume with key words and highlight relevant experience to best meet the job posting you’re applying for.

And while toiling away at college for four years might not be your thing, look into certificate programs, vocational education and trade schools and any other resources that may be available.

Consider getting some volunteer experience in the industry of your choosing as well — you’ll gain some useful skills and perhaps some industry contacts to build your network too.

2. Start networking

Another important step toward securing your dream job is to build your network of contacts.

If you are a veteran of your industry, make full use of the contacts you have if you find yourself back in the job market.

Networking will expose you to potential opportunities, enhance your visibility to potential employers and help you gain useful insight into the industry or role you are interested in.

This could be as simple as sending someone a LinkedIn invite, or attending industry events and job fairs.

And sustain your relationships with former employers, mentors and coworkers. This can be incredibly useful if you’re in need of a reference or recommendation.

3. Do some job shadowing

One of the best ways to learn is, of course, on-the-job. Reach out to an industry professional or a company you’re interested in working at, and politely request to shadow an employee for a short period of time.

Some companies may feature a job shadowing application form on their website, or you can find a company representative to email.

And don’t be afraid to ask questions as you shadow the employee — like asking them to describe their typical day at work, what they like or dislike about the job or what opportunities for growth are available.

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Serah Louis is a reporter with Moneywise.com. She enjoys tackling topical personal finance issues for young people and women and covering the latest in financial news.

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