How Important is University to Freelance Success?

Carolyne Njeri

In the years past, those who didn’t go to college were often relegated to menial jobs while the graduates enjoyed white collar positions. But in recent times, the relevance of a college education has been called to question, as more alternative ways of gaining skills (aka the internet) have gotten the limelight.

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The age old question, “Do I need to get a degree to be successful?” has been up for debate for years . But up until recently, the answer was almost always yes across many different fields. Even those that did make it without completing college, like Bill Gates, were “unicorns”, far and apart. 

In the years past, those who didn’t go to college were often relegated to menial jobs while the graduates enjoyed white collar positions. But in recent times, the relevance of a college education has been called to question, as more alternative ways of gaining skills (aka the internet) have gotten the limelight. Nowadays, you’re only one click away from learning a new skill thanks to platforms like YouTube, LinkedIn Learning, Coursera , etc, which is why it is being reported that more and more people, especially from the Gen-Z demographic are considering skipping college altogether.

Freelancing and College degrees

Unlike the traditional workforce that is rooted in academic qualifications, the gig economy marches to the beat of its own drum. From the onset, freelancers were “moonlighters”;people who offered services on the side for some extra cash or to fill up free time. However, as the popularity of freelancing increased, so did its legitimacy. People opted out of their regular jobs to become full-time freelancers (some earning more than they did while employed), hundreds of marketplaces were established, and jobs in mainstream industries like software development, law, project management and engineering were offered. So as the market became more “serious” people seeking to join the freelance economy found themselves plagued by the same question that nagged their 9-5 counterparts: Do I need a degree for this? 

Since the gig economy is based on skills and experience as opposed to academic background, some people are of the opinion that you don’t really need to have gone to school for four years to provide your services. In fact, most freelancing platforms don’t require you to fill in your education before you start working; they’re more interested in what you can do and what experience you have. So long as you have the relevant know-how and you keep improving your output, employers aren’t pressed about how your prowess came about. But don’t take our word for it- we scoured the internet to see what answers experts and statistics have to this question. We discuss what we found out in the remaining part of this blog.

  • The number of people enrolling to colleges is dwindling

According to a report by Standard and Poor, the number of students enrolling to universities in the US has fallen gradually in the past few years. The report showed that between 2019 and 2020, over 150 institutions of higher learning reported a 5% decrease in enrolment. Another report showed that the enrolment of international students in US universities decreased by over 43%.

One of the reasons for this decline, as per the U.S College Board,  is the increasing cost of tuition fees. It is estimated that by 2024, students in Ivy-League universities like Harvard and Yale, will pay more than twice what their alumni paid less than two decades ago. 

With high tuition fees making college education more inaccessible, it is no wonder that some are not planning on attending, in a bid to save themselves from the massive debt that students usually accrue.

 

  • Freelancers (even those with degrees) have to keep upskilling

This CEO is of the opinion that degrees are less relevant to success, especially to freelancers, than they were before. “University curricula are not currently addressing the educational and skill requirement individuals will need to succeed in the near future,” she said in an article published on CNBC’s website. 

A survey dubbed Freelancing in America echoes the CEO’s views, showing  that of the respondents, only 79% said that their university education was relevant to their freelancing careers, while an astounding 93% credited their success to their technical and professional skills.

Since the educational system is having a hard time catching up with the demands of the job market, whatever knowledge is being imparted to students now may not be relevant in the next few years. What’s more, 70% of the current high-demand skills are all new to the market. What all this means is that to keep up, freelancers have to keep learning new skills, their degrees not withstanding. The freelance market calls not for complacency (and a false sense of security that is often associated with being a degree- holder) but for hard work and dedication to remain at the top. This all but nullifies the necessity of a degree in the gig economy.

 

  • Non-traditional options for education are on the rise

Instead of college, a lot of other avenues for gaining skills have been on the rise in recent times. Packed with tutorial videos, practical examples, question and answer forums, even one-on-one sessions, (at significantly lower prices), these platforms may eventually phase out traditional colleges. With a smartphone, computer and internet access, you may as well be attending college. And at the end of each micro-course, the platforms offer a certificate that can be showcased on LinkedIn or your Ureed.com profile to wow your clients. So you don’t have to take four years to learn a new skill if you want to expand your range of services or move to a brand-new career.

The Verdict

As our research has shown, in the freelancing world, skills trump academic background. Since freelancers usually work in fast-paced fields like AI and software development, the need to keep learning is constant, and unfortunately, conventional education has a hard time keeping up. So if you’ve been waiting on the side-lines not sure whether you’ve got what it takes to become a freelancer, here is your sign- you do! So long as you’ve got the skills, you don’t really need to have a degree. And in this rapidly changing environment, even those with degrees don’t have all the answers.

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