Sick of pursuing a bachelor’s degree – and thinking about what kinds of alternatives to college might be out there? 

High school graduates are often pressured into attending college to earn their bachelor’s degrees. Unfortunately, earning a college degree isn’t right for everyone, and this pressure is part of the reason why college dropout rates are so high – and so are student loan default rates for that matter, too.

The good news is that the job market is absolutely loaded with options for students with no college experience – often, going to trade school or gaining some hands-on work experience is all you need to get a job. 

Four year college isn’t for everyone. There are more options out there than you might be aware of – many of which could set you off on the right track toward a rewarding lifelong career path.

So, what are the best alternatives to college? Here’s what you need to know!

College Alternatives

What Else Can I Do Instead of College? 11 Options

There are plenty of reasons to go to college, but there are also many reasons people consider an alternative instead. College is expensive, being able to save enough to pay for college without going into major debt can be a big challenge for many. Then there’s the pressure and stress that college can add between getting a good GPA and balancing your mental health and social life. No matter you’re reasoning though, there are choices out there that can be solid alternatives to the normal college route.

So, looking for reasonable alternatives to college – that won’t make your parents grimace every time you bring them up? Here are several popular alternatives to earning a bachelor’s degree – many of which can be pursued for little to no cost to you. 

1. Trade Schools

The trade school is one of the most financially lucrative alternatives to attending college. Most technical and trade schools offer vocational training for all kinds of skilled careers. The good news about attending trade school? America has a skilled labor shortage – hundreds of thousands of jobs in fields like carpentry, electrical work, and cosmetology are going unfilled because students don’t have the skills or education necessary to pursue them.

Trade schools tend to be quite affordable – many trade programs can be pursued while a student is still in high school. Plus, these jobs have high earning potential – often, graduates from trade schools earn much more money than college graduates. You shouldn’t have any kind of problem finding a program that suits your needs and interests – there are even trade schools in the health care path!

Alternative To College - Trade School

2. Apprenticeships

If a traditional education isn’t what you have in mind, but trade school also seems too formal of an education option, you might want to forego the idea of formal education altogether – and pursue an apprenticeship instead. 

Apprentshcips or fellowships are great for individuals who want to skip college and pursue work. You could look for an apprenticeship with a local contractor or craftsperson or you might enroll in a fellowship opportunity like the Peter Thiel Fellowship or Echoing Green.

3. Community College

If a bachelor’s degree isn’t exactly what you have in mind, have you considered that there are plenty of associate degrees for you to choose from, too? Many high school graduates jump instantly to the thought of attending a four-year college, forgetting that they can take a baby step and pursue an associate degree first. 

In fact, if you’re looking to avoid student loans, then a community college might be a smarter way to go to college. Community colleges often offer generous scholarships to resident students (particularly those who have done well academically) and may be able to significantly lower the cost of attending college for you. 

Consider a community college if you aren’t sure that a four-year school is the way for you – even if your high school guidance counselor says otherwise, an associate degree from a respected community college is often all you need to get a great headstart on your degree. 

4. Coding Boot Camps 

A new trend in education for students who aren’t interested in traditional education – but still want to build marketable skills – is to consider a coding boot camp. Online coding courses and boot camps, such as Codecademy, are designed for people who want to learn more about coding and related technical disciplines. Although these boot camps aren’t the traditional college-level programs or credit-bearing courses you might be familiar with, they’re great for giving you the headstart you need toward a successful career. 

Alternative To College - Coding

5. Volunteer

If you’re looking for an alternative to college that will lend you immense personal satisfaction, you might want to consider volunteering. Volunteering, even for just a year or two, is a great way to build character and grow your skills, all while learning the value of service and hard work. Consider pursuing an option through an organized program like the Peace Corps, Americorps, the Conservation Corps, and Global Routes. 

6. Take a Gap Year

“I want to take a year off before I go to college” – that’s not a phrase that parents always like to hear, but for some students, it’s the best option. After all, college is expensive, and there’s no reason to enroll now and spend all kinds of money if you aren’t even sure what you want to study.

A gap year can often be pursued by deferring admission and entering as a freshman the following year. Often, all financial aid and scholarships you may have qualified for will still remain intact, so you don’t have to worry about reapplying or finding new ways to keep student debt low. 

When you take a gap year, there’s always the option of pursuing a paid or unpaid internship – or a full-time job, too. You can go right into the workforce to help you build your skills and figure out exactly what you might want to do with the rest of your life. 

7. Travel

Want to see more of what life has to offer? Traveling can be a great way to gain experience and build skills while also seeing the world. Consider taking a year off before enrolling in your bachelor’s or associate’s degree so that you can get a better handle on all of the options that are out there. 

Alternatives To College - Travel

8. Become an Activist

For some people, becoming an activist might be a good option to consider as an alternative to a college program. Many college grads go out into the workforce, feeling lost because although they have the skills and education necessary to pursue a career, they don’t feel particularly attached to their chosen career paths. 

Consider becoming an activist for a cause you care deeply about – after all, you’ll never have as much spare time as you have right now. You can always work a few part-time jobs or take online courses if you want to be able to pay your bills while you’re pursuing a cause you care about, too.

9. Start a Business

Do you want to be fully in charge of the money you make – and your own schedule? If so, you might want to consider starting a business. Starting a business does require some experience in whatever it is you plan to offer up as your product or service – but a lot of entrepreneurs got their start as they pursued career paths that were alternatives to college. 

This is a decision not to take lightly – when you start a business, you will likely have to invest some money in your start-up costs. Plus, you’ll still need a way to pay your living costs and daily expenses, so you might have to take on side jobs in addition to running a business – that can be a grueling lifestyle to get used to, so make sure this is the path you want to take before you dive in. 

10. Get Creative

In the Internet age, there are plenty of opportunities for aspiring young entrepreneurs to consider as alternatives to a traditional college education. For example, you might pursue a career as a social media influencer. This will allow you to leverage your followers on social media (and your passion for your smartphone, too!) while also making a steady income. Of course, this can take some time and money to get off the ground and running, but it’s worth considering.

Don’t be afraid of getting creative with your alternatives to college, either. You might be able to find work in a more artistic discipline, such as writing and selling books or marketing materials, creating designs for websites, or taking photographs – there are all kinds of artistic careers out there that don’t require any college education at all. 

Alternatives To College - Get Creative

11. Military Service

Military service is a great alternative to a four year degree that you should consider. Not only can joining the military give you a new perspective on life and expose you to new career options, but for some, a period of military service can also provide significant funding to pay for a college degree later on.  

If you decide to join the military, be sure to ask about the resources that might be available to help you pay for a college education once you arrive back home. 

What Do You Do If College Isn’t For You? Things to Consider

Alternatives to a Bachelor’s Degree

Again, there are plenty of other ways to move forward in your degree without getting a  bachelor’s degree. A community college is an excellent choice for the student who knows that an education is a good idea for him – or is interested in a career that might require a college degree – but doesn’t want a bachelor’s degree. 

Of course, you can consider any of the other alternatives to college listed above, too. Going to a trade school, building skills through an apprenticeship, or even making plans to start a business is a great way to get a jumpstart on your career after high school. 

Bachelor Degree Alternatives

Is it the Cost?  

If you’re worried that you’re going to be saddled with student loan debt after attending college, take a pause to reconsider your decision not to attend college at all. Although many college graduates lament the fact that their degrees cost so much money, keep in mind that student debt isn’t always necessary. 

There are plenty of ways you can lower the cost of a college program, making it possible for you to go to college and get the full college experience without taking on hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of student loans.

Check in with your high school guidance counselor to see what scholarships might be available – lots of universities and other community organizations offer generous options for the best students. Of course, you might also qualify for need-based financial aid at your university. 

Finally, consider that the college route doesn’t have to be linear. You don’t have to follow any kind of specific plan as you pursue your degree. For example, you can attend a community college for your first two years before enrolling in a four-year degree. You can take on some side jobs while you’re completing your education and perhaps just take courses part-time. There are plenty of ways to make college more affordable, if that’s your only concern.

What About an Online College?

Online Class

Online courses are a smart alternative to college that will allow you to maintain all of your other life commitments without stressing about your courses. Most online programs make it possible for students to receive a more affordable education while also continuing to work, care for children or elderly parents, and so on. 

Although online colleges were once viewed by many professionals as “less than” traditional brick and mortar schools, the reality is that’s no longer the case. Online colleges generally offer degrees that can’t be differentiated on your diploma from those taken on-campus. 

Know Yourself: A 4-Year College Degree Isn’t Right For Everyone

Ultimately, going to college is not for everyone. If you don’t want to join the already saturated ranks of the country’s many college graduates, don’t worry  – there are plenty of jobs that don’t require a traditional four-year college degree. 

College is not for everyone, so weigh your decision carefully. It costs a lot of money and if you aren’t passionate about the path you follow, the experience simply won’t be worth it. Consider the many college alternatives above as you decide on the best option for you – and your goals.

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