In 2019, the amount of collective student loan debt in the U.S. climbed to a record high of $1.4 trillion. According to Experian, that’s a 116% increase over the last 10 years. Needless to say, the last thing you want to do when you realize you need a career change is to go back to school and fall even deeper into debt.

But how can you successfully shift careers after college without going, well, back to college? Here are a few ways you can get the knowledge you need to change careers without digging yourself a multi-thousand dollar hole.

Talk to people in the field you want to go into

Oftentimes, you’ll hear people say they wish they never went to college because it turns out they didn’t even need a degree to get to where they wanted to go. Others will say they wish they had listened more in their classes because it turns out certain subjects were more relevant to their careers than they thought at the time. By talking to the people who are in the field you want to get into, you can get a better understanding of the steps you need to take to get there yourself.

Seek out a career coach

If you know the career you went to school for just isn’t working out for you, but you’re not sure where you want to go next, it may be worthwhile to talk to a career coach before making any big leaps. About 70% of people who receive coaching benefit from improved work performance, relationships, and more effective communication skills, according to the Institute of Coaching. 

Career coaching enables you to set goals for yourself and build a roadmap in the direction of your objectives. It also helps you make more informed decisions, build confidence, and create a relevant resume for the job you want.

Take courses online

You don’t necessarily have to go back to school to get the information you need to go into a different field. For instance, in 2020, spending on IT services is expected to amount to $952 billion worldwide. If you’re interested in going into IT services, web design, web development, and other computer-related services, you can learn a lot from online courses that are either free or inexpensive. Part-Time Money provides a quality list of online training sites where you can start learning different skills from the comfort of your home.


As a working adult, you probably can’t afford to take the time to do an unpaid internship. You may not even have the spare time to do an internship. Fortunately, certain careers offer opportunities for you to dip your toes into the field by volunteering. For instance, the NFPA estimates that there were 1,115,000 volunteer and career firefighters in the U.S. in 2018.

Learn how to turn volunteer opportunities into a job. Even if it turns out you don’t like the specific job you’re volunteering in, you can use the volunteer experience to build up field experience for the industry you’re interested in.

When it turns out the career you went to school for just isn’t for you, your first thought may be to go back to school to get a different degree. But it’s important to remember that a degree isn’t the only way for you to get into a different career. By following the tips above and being strategic with how you gain field knowledge, you can make a career shift after college without going back to school.

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