6 Alternatives To Traditional College

Classrooms Team

Dec 31, 2020

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As a high school senior, the pressure to make decisions about college and careers can feel suffocating. You’re only 18. How are you supposed to know what you want to do for the rest of your life?

Well, the good news is that you don’t have to. Roughly 33% of high school graduates don’t immediately attend college. Maybe they’re tired of school and want to take a break, or maybe they want to get a job right away. Either way, they’re finding alternatives to a college education.  

Until you know what you want to study in college, you would be wise to follow in their footsteps. Choose a more unconventional path and discover your passions and interests along the way. 

1. Military

Whether you eventually want to attend college or never see yourself in a lecture hall again, joining the military for a few years after high school may be a good idea. With six branches to choose from, there’s bound to be one of interest to you. Plus, you can join the reserves and serve part-time. 

There are also many benefits to joining the military. On top of earning a paycheck and cash bonuses, you’ll also enjoy special home loans, travel opportunities, and health and dental care. The military can even help you pay for college if you do decide to go. 

If you don’t feel the military perfectly fits your ideal, you have similar options like reserve components and civilian branches. You could join the national guard or, if you’re interested in spending time at sea, become a merchant marine.

2. Trade School 

More young adults are attending college now than ever before, creating a more competitive job market. Even after you graduate, there’s no guarantee you’ll get a job. Meanwhile, thousands of available trade jobs go unfilled. 

Sure, your parents may have discouraged you from becoming a plumber or electrician, but these jobs might pay even more than one you’d score with a bachelor’s degree. Plus, most trade schools are cheaper than universities and many have programs that take only two years to complete. Thus, if you’re looking to save time and money, you might consider earning your degree from a trade or technical school.

3. Apprenticeships

An apprenticeship or fellowship might also be a profitable alternative to attending a traditional college. These programs involve both classroom-style instruction and on the job learning. In most cases, a professional will teach you essential industry skills and pay you a decent wage that increases along with your skillset. 

A wide variety of fields offer apprenticeships, including finance, telecommunications, transportation, and manufacturing. Nationwide, there are currently more than 633,000 apprentices. Their training will last for one to six years and, upon graduation, they’ll likely continue working for their employer. Others will go on to start their own businesses and train apprentices of their own. 

4. Gap Year 

Taking a gap year between high school and college has become more popular in recent years. Last year, 40,000 students took a year off to pursue their passions and take a break from academics. Gap years are most beneficial if you have a plan or goal in mind. 

For instance, you might consider working or traveling abroad to immerse yourself in a specific language or gain valuable experience in a different culture.  Likewise, you could volunteer with an organization close to your heart to discover new skills, interests, and capabilities. 

5. Coding Bootcamp

Many professionals consider coding bootcamp or coding school the fast-track to a well-paying tech job. Training only lasts for about 14 weeks and costs thousands of dollars less than a bachelor’s degree. Most importantly, you’ll likely earn more than your friends who decided to attend university. On average, bootcamp graduates earn $70,000 at their first job and enjoy 25% pay increases as they progress in the industry. 

If you do decide that a career in coding is right for you, prepare for an intensive, fast-paced program. In just a few short weeks, you’ll learn a wide variety of digital skills like web development, data science, digital marketing, UX design, and cybersecurity. As long as you have an open mind and a strong desire to learn, you’ll likely succeed in the program. 

6. Entrepreneurship

Do you dream of opening your very own shop one day? Maybe you want to turn your hobby into a business. Make those dreams a reality by becoming an entrepreneur. Pursue your passions, become your own boss, and join the ranks of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and other prominent self-starters.

Of course, attending a few online marketing courses and learning a thing or two about business management may help jumpstart your business. However, just about anyone can become a successful entrepreneur as long as they are committed and hard-working. Network with other small business owners and self-starters in your community to get a better idea of what it takes to become a successful entrepreneur.

Finding Your Passion

As you explore these alternatives, keep your mind and heart open to new opportunities. Don’t be afraid to change your mind and try new things along the way. You might just discover a passion for an industry or occupation you wouldn’t have otherwise.

Looking for more guidance as you consider alternative options? Check out these helpful picks from our reading list:

A New U: Faster + Cheaper Alternatives to College (Amazon) by Ryan Criag and Allen Blue

But What If I Don’t Want to Go to College?: A Guide to Success Through Alternative Education (Amazon) by Harlow Giles Unger

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