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Let me ask you a couple questions: how many of the people you know will be paying off their college loans for a long time? And how many of them earned degrees but still don’t seem to have a clear career path and/or have very limited options?

My friend Nicole recently graduated from college with a nursing degree. She’s now working as an RN (registered nurse) at a very prestigious hospital in the Bay Area, probably making about 65k a year. Not bad for a 24 year old who was the first in her family to go to college, right? Well, she’s over $140,000 in debt. Even making a great salary right out of the gate and not having any additional expenses (besides going out every other week) it’s going to take her over a decade to pay off her loans! And she’s somewhat lucky. After all, no one would argue that the skills she gained in college are not essential to society, so getting a job shouldn’t be a problem.

This is not the case for many people, however. It may be hard to swallow, but many (I really want to say most) of the majors offered in college are either borderline useless or don’t prepare people well enough for them to be a productive member of the workforce and have a stable financial life. In high school or during your early years of college it may have not been evident, but one of the main purposes of the educational system is to prepare you as much as possible to be able to land a solid job and start a promising career. Plain and simple, isn’t it?

Well, we all know this is not really the case — at least not anymore. Most graduates don’t hit the ground running, they hit it limping and in debt, and very often the only thing there is to blame is the educational system. Things have gotten so bad that U.S. student debt recently reached the inconceivable total of $1,393,425,553,714That’s in the trillions! With a “T”! I’m not an expert in the subject of buying countries, but I’m pretty sure you could afford a couple with that amount…

Related: Secrets to obtaining 6 figure job offers from top tech companies within 2-4 years even if you have zero experience today! 

Anyway, my point is that our generation got absolutely screwed by the system. But we are not to blame, we were just young and naïve and thought that the educational system was going to adapt to the rapid pace of technology and knowledge. Now that we are putting things in perspective, it’s easy to see that this is basically impossible, don’t you think? Luckily, there are better ways to earn an education that can set you off in the right path to a secure financial future and a stable life.

Here’s a quick break down of top 5 entry-level IT careers that don’t require a college degree:

  1. IT Support Specialist

These people are in charge of everything regarding set up and installation, as well as troubleshooting software and technology. Additionally, they are often responsible for updating software and upgrading, maintaining and servicing all hardware. In order to land one of these jobs, people are required to have a high school diploma and some technical experience. However, some of these roles may require associate-level certifications. IT support specialists earn an average of $45,126, with salaries ranging from $30,104 to $65,129 per year, according to PayScale.

  1. Desktop Support Technician

These people are the first responders when problems arise with a company’s computers. They help restore customer’s computer working conditions either in person or remotely. Even though some companies require a bachelor’s degree for this role, technical certifications and significant hands-on experience should suffice. Desktop support technicians earn an average of $44,383, with salaries ranging from $29,470 to $58,988 per year, according to PayScale.

  1. Help Desk Technician

This is the person in charge of diagnosing any technical problems for customers. Their role consists of discovering issues so that more experienced people in the IT department can take action. Although some companies require a bachelor’s degree for this role, many of them only require a high school diploma and a technical certification. Help desk technicians earn an average of $38,078, with salaries ranging from $25,163 to $50,675 per year according to PayScale.

  1. Computer Technician

Computer technicians often have a broad understanding of IT. Their job requires them to be skilled in how computers are built in order to be capable of diagnosing and fixing hardware issues. Many of these people start out with technical certifications. Once they gain some experience they usually specialize in areas such as desktops, networks, servers and/or other technologies. Computer technicians earn an average of $37,426, with salaries ranging from $21,483 to 52,996 per year according to PayScale.

  1. Network Administrator

These people are in charge of the day-to-day operations of a network. They install, organize and support a company’s computer systems. Their responsibilities include managing local area networks (LAN), wide area networks (WAN), intranets, network segments and other communication systems. In order to land one of these jobs, a person must have technical certifications and relevant experience regarding several networking technologies. Some jobs could require computer science or computer engineering degrees, but that’s only because these are meant to provide specific foundational knowledge, and applicable hands-on experience. Network Administrators earn an average of $54,086, with salaries ranging from $37,564 to $81,020 per year according to PayScale.

The Bottom Line

Many IT roles only require technical certifications to start out. However, I’m quite sure that you’re not interested in just starting out, are you? You want to level up your skills ASAP and move up in the IT world. Unfortunately, most certifications out there are just based on paper exams and are very inefficient when qualifying people, which was the whole point of one of my recent posts called The Only IT Certification That Will Train You Like a Navy SEAL.

For instance, the popular CCNA certification forces you to place emphasis in a specific area of IT, but what if you don’t like it? What if you get into routing and switching and then want to get into cyber security? You don’t want to go through another CCNA, cover the cost and take the risk of perhaps wanting to try something else later on, do you? Similarly, CCNA’s don’t certify that you can perform real-world tasks. You can actually earn that title without ever touching a real piece of equipment! There’s nothing wrong with that—just kidding. There absolutely is something very wrong. The truth is that not having hands-on experience will significantly delay your career from taking off, which could leave you stuck in a boring job for many many years.

If you’re in the early years of your career or are looking for a career change, the best certifications of all are those that train you on the full-stack of networking and give you real-world experience at the same time. This means that they teach you cross-functional skills across areas such as routing, switching, wireless, cloud, networking, architectures, voice over IP and more. Being skilled in all these areas will allow you to better understand how everything in a network works together, it will give you a broad range of career path options that you could pursue as you move through your career, and it will empower you to hit the ground running way faster than conventional training. Not to mention that it is exactly what companies are looking for nowadays.

In the end, always keep in mind that the IT industry values people based on their ability to perform a job, not on paper titles. You can take advantage of this and prevent paying an astronomical amount of money for education that will not properly prepare you to succeed in the IT industry. Instead, you could simply get certified as a Full-Stack Network Associate (FSNA).