What's the right term/name for a person who is an expert eg. a smith, a plumber, electrician, a writer, clerk etc but he or she didn't went to college/university to study that particular course. And how should they describe themselves when writing a business/application letter?

  • They may be a member of a guild, or a trade association, or a professional body and may have letters to quote, for example John Smith, RICS. But most tradesman in UK go to college now, partly because it is illegal to practise some trades without a formal qualification. Aug 6, 2019 at 18:36
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    ...apart from that, you would sign it as, say, "John Smith, plumber." Aug 6, 2019 at 18:43
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    In most English-speaking countries there is some form of accreditation, even if it doesn't involve college. An apprenticeship, for example, is "learning on the job", but that will still result in some form of qualification, because it's the qualification that allows you to work on your own. You still need a piece of paper to prove your ability. However, a term like "Master plumber" might still fit that regime and supply the description you want.
    – Andrew Leach
    Aug 6, 2019 at 18:53
  • You can be an expert at something without any regard to your formal education. Einstein was an expert mathematician even though he dropped out of high school. So, please clarify exactly what you mean. Aug 6, 2019 at 19:44
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    @Barmar - The question explicitly mentioned going to college/university, but most of the example professions don't have corresponding university courses: smiths, plumbers, and electricians do apprenticeships plus trade school courses, not college. Writers don't necessarily have any kind of tertiary education, but quite a few do have a related degree.
    – nnnnnn
    Aug 8, 2019 at 1:06

3 Answers 3


I think the word you're looking for is self-taught

having knowledge or skills acquired by one's own efforts without formal instruction
a self-taught musician

One wouldn't usually use this term in a title, but you might mention it in a resume/CV, to indicate your initiative.

  • Also known as auto-didact.
    – vectory
    Aug 11, 2019 at 19:29
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    That works if you also want to sound pretentious :)
    – Barmar
    Aug 12, 2019 at 4:23

For most trade professions "master" is appropriate (as @AndrewLeach stated) like "master plumber", "master electrician", "master brick layer", "master jeweler", etc.

For other jobs the word "professional" works. Some examples are: "professional writer", "professional athlete", "professional clerk", etc. This doesn't alway connote a high level of expertise but for the purpose of using it as a signature it fits.

For some jobs that have organization which administer tests to become a professional the word "certified" or "licensed" is appropriate. Examples of that are: "certified public accountant", "certified management accountant", "certified public bookkeeper", "licensed real estate agent", "licensed professional counselor", "licensed attorney", etc.

This answer is not exhaustive but covers most of the more common titles for jobs.

  • "Professional bookkeeper" would not inspire confidence, it sounds weirdly defensive. Do you really think anybody would use the term "professional clerk"?
    – nnnnnn
    Aug 7, 2019 at 1:32
  • There must be a universal official term to proper describe these kind of experts in a best professional language.. so far I see multiple suggestions terms like - MASTER and PROFESSIONAL. Thank you all for your contributions, I hope will crack this one out.
    – BraMa
    Aug 7, 2019 at 5:57
  • @nnnnnn, true that term came up when I was searching professional. Let me fix that.
    – tk421
    Aug 7, 2019 at 21:01
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    How do any of these suggestions express the fact that they didn't learn the skill in a formal context?
    – Barmar
    Aug 7, 2019 at 22:03
  • I don't believe that there is a formal definition of a master in terms of craft skills any more. In the days of the guilds a master was someone who had completed his apprenticeship (and so become a journeyman), completed a masterpiece to the satisfaction of his guild, and then gone on to set up a workshop, employ journeymen and take on apprentices. This structure hasn't existed for about two centuries so there aren't any masters anymore. There are plenty of highly skilled craftsmen but, without an accreditation system, none of them can legitimately call himself a master craftsmen.
    – BoldBen
    Aug 12, 2019 at 1:32

The answer is in the title. Not the question title, but the trade title.

When discussing a trade, a person cannot claim the title until they are at least somewhat experienced at that trade. Someone who is in process of learning a trade is an apprentice, undergoing an apprenticeship, or else they are teaching themselves.

There's been suggestions that speak about mastery, but the question of expertise in a trade has more to do with whether a person has done certain things with the knowledge of the trade. I couldn't call an expert carpenter a master carpenter unless they have had an apprentice, as there is a relationship between master and apprentice in that you require an apprentice to be a master, and you require learning from a master to be an apprentice.

So, really, you are either, in order from least important to most:

  • Not a tradesman
  • An apprentice
  • A (novice, experienced, or expert) tradesman (plumber, carpenter, mason, etc.)
  • A master of a trade
  • In my humble opinion, mastery also requires skills of instructing an apprenticeship.
    – vectory
    Aug 11, 2019 at 19:32
  • Bill Gates dropped out of college. So he couldn't claim to be an expert programmer?
    – Barmar
    Aug 12, 2019 at 4:21
  • @Barmar I don't understand your question. I didn't mention college or what happens when you drop out of a course of study. Putting that aside for now, my comment on expertise was this: "...but the question of expertise in a trade has more to do with whether a person has done certain things with the knowledge of the trade."
    – psosuna
    Aug 12, 2019 at 21:20
  • Then how does this answer relate to the question, which is how you refer to someone depending on whether or not they've gone through formal education in their respective field? I don't think it's about different stages of mastery.
    – Barmar
    Aug 12, 2019 at 21:26
  • @Barmar That question is answered in the very first line of my answer. You call an expert in a field by their trade title. The rest of the answer details how you refer to that tradesman depending on their skill level. You're essentially missing the forest for the trees. Say a business card. As a doctor, you sign it with the name, "So-and-so, M.D." If you're a tradesman, you don't put M.D. or Ph.D. or J.D. or anything like that. You use your trade title. "So-and-so, Carpenter." You can add a sense of mastery to expand with. "So-and-so, Master Carpenter."
    – psosuna
    Aug 12, 2019 at 22:59

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