There are hundreds of jobs that work off the "licensing" or "certification" method of education. Massage therapists, therapeutic riding instructors, daycare professionals, and healthcare professionals all fall into this category. Then there are professionals who work from the "experience" spectrum, like animal trainers, salespeople, office managers, and freelance writers. Most professions ¾ photography, for instance ¾ sit right on a figurative threshold, when the option to obtain a degree is available, but not required. Still, your career choice may require continuing education; doctors, lawyers, veterinarians, psychologists, public school teachers, and scientists must all hold four-to-six-year college degrees.

Perhaps the best view of college education is found in Ralph Waldo Emerson's reflection, "The things taught in schools and colleges are not an education, but the means of an education." Alternatives to college include apprenticeship, volunteer work, self-directed learning, enlistment in various branches of the military, internships, and paid work. According to education evaluation expert Marty Nemko, the students who may want to sidestep a college education are "smart self-starters", or motivated people who don't need a college degree to sell their talent. Nemko also counsels against going to college just to find out what you want to do in life. It's better to wait and pursue a direct course of study rather than select a major on a whim or because you did well in a class for one semester. "Dabbling" in various courses is like taking a road trip without having a destination in mind ¾ it's possible, but not always practical. Unless you have unlimited amounts of time and money to spend, don't go to college until you know that being there will help you achieve your career goals.

If you do decide that college is in your future, don't be afraid! It's easy to be overwhelmed by the vast amounts of research, record keeping, and testing that supposedly "must" be done. In reality, applying for college is just like applying for a job; your goal is to prove that you will be a welcome addition to their team.

From Community College to Ivy League (and everything in-between)

Students and parents often look for a specific answer to the following question: If a candidate presents A, B, and C, will he or she be admitted to college? Because so many issues factor into the selection process, the answer to that question is almost impossible to provide. However, the fact that there are an immense number of colleges and universities across the nation practically guarantees admission for any student with decent grades. The real question should not be "Will I be admitted to college?" but "Will I be admitted to the college of my choice?" To answer this question, we go to three schools that represent various levels of the college field ¾ Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, one of the oldest universities in the United States (with a 2003 student body of 11,385), Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina (serving approximately 5,000 students), and Black Hawk College, an Illinois-based community college with over 11,000 students.

According to college records, over three-quarters of the students who apply for admission to Yale are qualified to study there. In fact, about three hundred students each year are so academically strong that their admission is almost guaranteed. But the rest of Yale's students are admitted because their detailed transcripts attest to a strong educational work ethic. At Yale, there are no cutoff scores on standardized tests. The median scores for admitted students generally fall in the low-to-mid 700s on the verbal and mathematical portions of the SAT, but successful candidates present a wide range of test results. And while there is no hard and fast rule, it's safe to say that the Yale admissions committee will often consider educational performance above test results. A very strong performance in a demanding college preparatory program may compensate for modest standardized test scores, but it is unlikely that high standardized test scores will persuade the admissions committee to disregard an undistinguished secondary-school record. The students who seek admission into Yale must be motivated, intellectually curious, and able to handle a broad range of challenging courses.