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Despite the amazing opportunities further education can provide, it isn’t for everyone. College costs significant amounts of both time and money. Committing to a four-year program should be intentional with a clear goal in mind and not chosen because you feel you have to in order to succeed in life.
Doubt and uncertainty about your plans are common for students at the end of their high school careers. Choosing an occupation is a very serious and potentially scary decision. If you aren’t certain about your career path or feel like you don’t want to go to college anymore, it may be worthwhile to look at your alternatives.
1. Take a Few Courses
For many, the most significant barriers to earning a traditional four-year degree are the time commitment and money. Using college to explore your interests is extremely expensive if you aren’t sure what you like or want to pursue. Without a clear coursework plan, you’ll likely spend at least an extra year at school.
Instead of paying the cost of attending a university, try taking exploratory classes in a different format. Community colleges work well to test yourself in various fields and are much cheaper than a four-year institution.
Another option is to take online courses in subjects that interest you. Spend some time building your skills and perhaps earning some certifications to help you land your dream job when you’re ready. It’s possible to level up just about any skill online, but if you’re trying to get certified, make sure the institution you’re using is legitimate and accredited.
This time of exploration and uncertainty in your life is the perfect opportunity to give back to your community or to a cause you’re passionate about. You could take a part-time job and spend your extra time volunteering in your hometown or join a national organization that will likely allow you to travel.
Working for Americorp or the Peace Corps would bring fantastic opportunities to help others, network, and build new skills. Acceptance into those programs can be difficult, so you need to start building your resume as early as possible if you’re interested.
Another option is to sign up for a volunteering-based gap year program. In general, gap programs are easier to get into, but they typically have costs associated with them. These programs would almost certainly allow you to travel and give back. Room and board costs are also generally included, making arrangements a no-fuss experience.
Taking the time to travel before deciding what you want to do with your life can be a rewarding and eye-opening experience. You may even discover some hidden talents or interests. Paying for travel may seem impossible, but there’re several ways for you to make money while having a significant travel experience.
Teaching English abroad is one job that would allow you to stay long-term in a foreign country. You’ld need a TEFL certificate, which takes 120 hours of coursework — after that, finding a placement isn’t terribly difficult. Most courses are self-paced, so you can get through this certification at a speed that works for your learning style and goals.
If you have no desire to take any classes, looking for work as an au pair might be a good option. Families abroad are often willing to hire English speakers as caretakers for their children to improve their language skills. While there, you’ld build your language skills and get an immersive experience with another culture. As a bonus, future employers or college boards love to see that type of exposure.
4. Get a Job
If you really feel like you don’t want to go to college anymore, heading straight to the workforce may be ideal. Contrary to what you might think, many career paths don’t require a bachelor’s degree to get started. Especially if you’re willing to start at the bottom of an industry and work towards your dream job, more experiences will be open for you. On-the-job training and employer-paid certifications can help you level up.
With a high school diploma, you may even be able to land your perfect job right away. If you have an interest in sales or HGTV is one of your guilty pleasures, you may enjoy pursuing realty. All you need is a real estate license and some training. This job is just one of many you could start without a bachelor’s degree.
The military is a very popular option. If you’re willing to devote your time, joining can open opportunities for travel and give you a purpose. You may find you’re better equipped to make decisions about your career by the end of your service. The military will even help you pay for further education if it interests you.
5. Learn a Trade
Another possibility after high school is to learn a trade. With this option, you’ll still need some form of education, either hands-on or in a vocational program. Going into a trade isn’t any easier than attending a university, but it often works better for young adults who don’t enjoy traditional school experiences and who learn better by doing.
Trade schools often mix traditional learning for theory and practical education for skills. You’ll have access to more machinery and tools at a vocational school than at an apprenticeship, so your skills may advance more quickly. However, working as an apprentice gives you more experience and is a better way to network.
Both paths are viable options for learning a trade. You should consider your learning style and goals before deciding how to move forward. Also, be aware that not all apprenticeships are created equal. Do your research on a professional before agreeing to work with them.
You May Want to Go to College Later
Talk to your guidance counselor or trusted adult to discuss your future career plans. They should be able to help you decide what jobs may be a good fit for your interests and skills and determine what qualifications those careers often require. With that in mind, it will be easier to move forward.
You may not need a bachelor’s degree to land your dream job. If you do, you can always revisit the idea of college in a year when you feel like you’re ready. In the meantime, see if one of these other options feels right.