Do I need a degree to be a digital nomad?

University Degree: do I need one to be a digital nomad?

Buckle up, because today we’re going to talk about major life decisions. A battle just as intense as cats vs dogs, tea vs coffee, ketchup vs mayo: university vs skills. First, a little disclaimer: this isn’t going to be a dissing post. So, to any professor who’s feeling triggered right now – breathe, make some tea and rest assured I’m not here to diminish your job in any way. However, as someone who went through the whole university experience before taking up remote working, I feel like I’ve piled up a bunch of helpful evaluations.

Are you about to say that going to university is useless?

Is University a waste of time?
Is university a waste of time?

Hold on, right there; I’m not telling you to shove this post in your parents’ faces, pack up and slam the door behind you with a solemn “I told you so!”. Nor is this the textual equivalent of a Magic 8-ball meant to solve your dilemma on whether you should or shouldn’t sign up for university. Let’s clarify this point before moving anywhere beyond it.

It’s university useless?

Absolutely not. Well, absolutely not, provided that your educational experience can count these three following elements:

  • a university with a functional, engaging, organized environment;
  • teachers with passion and competence;
  • your wholehearted dedication as a student.

Besides that, any educational path leaves you with a set of notions that will prove useful along the way. Even if you end up struggling to find a practical application for what you learned, everything you encapsulate during your studies enriches your knowledge and potentially broadens your perspectives. Not to mention that a degree always looks pretty darn good on your résumé. As you can see, the desire to write this piece did not stem from a hidden grudge I’ve been holding against my professors; although in hindsight, I’ll admit, I would have done some things differently. But I carry more gratitude than regrets.

So what’s all the fuss about?

If I have to advance a criticism, university did not truly prepare me to face the real world – and being a nomad is all about getting real. True, we could debate on the actual role of the educational system; but I’m not complaining that my university didn’t teach me how to cook an omelet or pay my bills. My many years of studies left me completely clueless as to how I should deal with the job market and offer actual services to any kind of workplace.

Obviously, the issue doesn’t apply to all types of degrees – I wouldn’t want my brain surgeon to cut my head open following a YouTube tutorial anyway. I also believe that university works out pretty well for those able to build a good network throughout their studies, and for anyone who decides to pursue a paid PhD. However, the challenge gets harder if, upon graduating, you’re left with nothing but theoretical notions and a slowly fading positive attitude.
This is especially true if you decide to follow an unconventional path such as the digital nomadism, which often requires pragmatic abilities of communication, negotiation, as well as marketable skills.

The bottom line is that university can be an incredible experience, but having a degree does not automatically guarantee you’ll have the abilities that a job requires. And yes, some courses can help your journey towards becoming a digital nomad – it may come in handy to study Journalism or Creative Writing if you aspire to be a freelance writer, for example. But it is not necessary to have a degree in order to get an online remote job.

As I’ve mentioned, digital nomadism is about nurturing specific skills and sell them to the online market. Luckily, this twisted but wonderful world gifted us with the most precious partner in crime: the internet! And just like that, self-education became possible on a global scale.

Great! I need skills to be a successful digital nomad. What now?

where to learn a skill?
Where to learn a skill?

The first thing you want to do is to make sure that digital nomadism is for you. Once that’s set, you can proceed with your quest for skills. If you’ve already spent entire afternoons googling about digital nomadism, at this point you probably know there are many career options allowing you to work remotely. Of course, each one of them requires a diverse set of skills; so how do you decide what to jump into? Before taking a look at how to acquire the needed skills, you should get an idea of what you’d like to do on a daily basis, while hopping between countries. If you’re still unsure, there are some exercises you can do to better understand your inclinations. You could try to divide all those remote jobs options you’ve found online into categories. Just to give you an idea:

  •  if you’re a technical kind of gal, you could consider a job as a developer or programmer;
  •  if you’re into strategy, you might want to check out positions as a copywriter, marketer or consultant;
  • if you have an artistic soul, maybe photography, designing, writing can be your thing;
  • If you have a knack for languages, why not trying translating or teaching.

You don’t need to reinvent yourself completely; at least, not in the beginning. The best thing you can do is to assess your current situation and self, and start from there.

You found a couple of things that might be for you, but you’re still in doubt? Well, our magical internet is full of free courses to try out, so you can get a taste of what you’ll be dealing with.

Can you tell me how to get those skills now, please?

CreativeLive: an online education platform
CreativeLive: a great online education platform

You heard me: online courses. With a bit of digging, you’ll find numerous platforms that provide specialized classes. These services are called MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses). Today, many universities offer online blackboards where students can watch videos of lectures they skipped or missed. The MOOCs follow the same logic. While some MOOCs won’t release a certificate once you completed a course, remember that you’re on a quest for skills, not for titles. Here are some of the most used learning websites:

All of them are legit, and all of them offer either free or to-pay classes. However, before you proceed to book a course, a little warning for you. Although these platforms are legitimate, I advise you to pick your course carefully. You can easily check the quality and modalities of a course by simply looking for reviews online; this will prevent you from spending money on a class that might not appeal to your learning methods. Be picky: you want to invest your time and money in a valuable course.

I would like to make one more honorable mention: YouTube. Yes, you heard me right: the same YouTube you use to watch ASMR videos and make-up tutorials. YouTube hosts millions of capable creators who just like to share their knowledge with the world. It might be difficult to navigate if you’re looking for in-depth courses, but it’s worth a shot – and if anything, it’s a great place to get feedback and details on the various nomadic jobs.

Furthermore, make sure to join online communities of both learners and experts in your field of interest. That way, you can always share your fears and doubts with other beginners, or seek advice whenever in need. Reddit and LinkedIn gather hundreds of users, all channeled into specific categories, all there for you. I promise you: the world is full of nice people who just want to help.
Lastly, if you pick up a skill of preference and you’re fully into it, consider investing in manuals or extra readings.

Thousands of digital nomads started their journey just like this. With a bit of passion and commitment, mastering skills will bring you places – for a price way lower than university tuition fees. And if you ever find yourself brooding about the thought of university, know that online degrees are now a thing. With more and more people unable or unwilling to physically attend classes, online degree programs have boomed throughout the years. If you organize your time properly, you’ll be able to learn new skills, be on the road and still get a degree regardless of where you are. Be careful though: the web is packed with scammers. Verify what an online degree really entails, and check the educational accreditation that a program provides.

A final note: nothing comes easy I hope that it’s clear by now: I’m not downplaying the conventional school system. Skills learning is a good alternative for those interested in digital nomadism. It’s definitely a cheaper and more straightforward way to acquire the tools you need. But I can’t tell you what’s the better path for you. If you think that skills learning is the easy way out, you’re in for a big disappointment. Nothing comes easy: both routes require effort. You need to study hard to get a good grade, and – surprise, surprise! – you need to study hard to master your skills. Whichever choice you make, motivation is key; don’t misjudge something as pointless if you haven’t given it your best shot first. Hard work and passion are always behind a successful outcome.

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