Career Development

18 Practical Alternatives To College

July 8, 2021

Traditionally, many high school students move on to four-year colleges. However, you may not be ready for college or feel like it's the right fit. You may have limited finances, family obligations or a desire to travel. Or, maybe, you might not feel ready to make long-term career decisions yet. Whatever the case, there are several attractive and practical college alternatives to choose from. Here, we discuss 18 practical alternatives to college to help you decide your next steps.

Related: College Degree vs. No College Degree: Advantages and Disadvantages of Each

18 alternatives to college

Here are 18 career paths to explore if you're seeking an alternative to a four-year college:

1. Get an apprenticeship

An apprenticeship is an occupational training program that combines on-the-job training with education. Apprenticeships help individuals develop in-demand skills while earning income, and are often found in most industries.

Read more: How To Find an Apprenticeship Program

2. Enroll in coding boot camp

Coding boot camps provide education in programming, offering valuable skills for the IT industry. Even those with little coding knowledge finish with a certificate of mastery. Many use boot camps as a way of transitioning into web or application development. By the end of the program, most participants find jobs in the field. Specific areas of expertise include WordPress, HTML and CSS, Ruby, JavaScript, GitHub, MySQL and many more.

Related: Learning How To Code

3. Start your own business

Starting a new business doesn’t need to be as difficult as you may think. Start with an idea. The idea for your business start-up can be as simple as a local restaurant or boutique. Many platforms allow individuals to set up shops online, selling their own goods and services. These platforms are easy to set up and use and handle transactions and other technical processes, while you focus on making and offering your product or service.

Read more: How To Start Your Own Business in 9 Steps

4. Go to trade school

A trade or vocational school is an affordable alternative to traditional college. Trade school programs often last two years or less and leave students ready for trade industry jobs with the appropriate skills. They teach courses for electricians, welders, barbers, farmers and more. They offer certifications and sometimes associate degrees.

Related: Top 15 Trade School Jobs

5. Enlist in the military

The military presents a wide variety of job options, making it a popular alternative to college. Depending on the chosen route, individuals earn benefits such as an annual salary and lodging. If veterans decide to go to a four-year college in the future, the military will pay for it.

Read more: Military Careers: A Definitive Guide

6. Take free online classes

Free online classes are hugely available and can provide valuable resources and teach career-specific skills. Not only do they provide essential education, but because they're free, students can experiment with them to determine what might be the best career fit. Free online classes are offered in nearly any subject that you may be interested in. However, it’s important to do your research first, to ensure you’re getting the most accurate education or training before signing up.

Related: Online Classes vs. Traditional Classes: Which Type Is Best For You?

7. Get your real estate license

Real estate—whether commercial or residential—requires little education and can be a lucrative career with the proper training and licensing. It involves helping clients buy and sell their properties. Real estate agents often set their own hours, and the better they are at selling, the greater their income potential becomes.

**Read more: How To Get Your Real Estate License in 7 Steps

8. Develop an online personality

Another alternative to college is becoming an online personality or influencer. If you like to write, you might start your own blog based on a specific interest or niche. As a blogger, you can earn revenue based on traffic to your site and through advertising with affiliate marketing.

If you prefer creating video content, you could choose to be a video blogger or vlogger. Popular video content creators or “streamers” can earn a substantial income. Similar to bloggers, they choose a niche area to specialize in and build a community of subscribers. They can also earn revenue through ads that play on their video content.

Related: How To Become an Influencer in Your Industry

9. Get an entry-level job

Individuals may not want college at this time in their lives, but jobs without college requirements exist as viable options. Entry-level jobs can teach valuable lessons in punctuality, quality work and overall work ethics. They also provide steady income, giving individuals the opportunity to save funds and to research other potential career paths.

Related: What Is an Entry-Level Job? Benefits and How To Get One

10. Enroll in a work college

If tuition stands as a barrier, a work college may offer a solution. Students are required to work 10-15 hours a week while attending classes to pay off their tuition. This often results in smaller tuition payments if any at all. Work college programs provide the expected college experience without the additional stress of loans. Additionally, students learn valuable skills and experience while working, creating a more competitive resume by graduation.

11. Volunteer

If you don't need income right away, you might consider volunteering for a cause you’re passionate about. Working as a volunteer provides a unique learning experiences and can sometimes teach job-specific skills. Volunteer work exists in most places around the world, including local neighborhoods.

Read more: 7 Reasons To Consider Volunteering

12. Gap year

A gap year can provide additional time to find out what you want to do after high school and for your career. While it might overlap with one of the alternatives above, it is more specifically about taking a year off from education—with the intention of starting college a year later—to focus on any and all of the above interests to figure out in what direction you want to go and the career that might be right for you.

Taking a gap year is a popular route and not always perceived positively, but as long as you spend the time conscientiously, it can be extremely helpful in planning your future. Moreover, even if you have already been accepted at a college, it’s not uncommon for them to offer you a deferred enrollment for the following year.

13. Travel and explore

If you’re interested in learning new cultures and seeing different parts of the world, you might consider travel after you graduate high school. You can choose to work while traveling—either in a remote position or freelance work—or, if you don’t need the money immediately, just explore.

Related: Top 45 Jobs for Working While Traveling

14. Pursue a hobby

Consider a sport, art or other hobby you have enjoyed in the past and maybe didn’t have enough time to complete while in school. If you are looking for an alternative to college, now might be the right time to develop your skills in these hobbies, and maybe, even find a way to make money while doing them.

Start by developing a plan to spend a certain amount of time each day or week on your hobby. If you find yourself continuing to enjoy it, brainstorm ways you might start a business or offer a service centered upon that hobby.

Read more: How To Turn a Hobby Into a Job

15. Write a book

If you love writing and always wanted to write a book, now might be the right time. Depending on if you will need to work while doing so, create a schedule to work on it every day. By formalizing a schedule to work on your book, you’ll be able to get that much closer to finishing it.

Related: How To Successfully Set Goals

16. Coach a sports or special interest group

If there’s a sport or hobby you’d like to teach others, you might coach a local sports team or mentor a writing group, for example. There are likely several local groups that could benefit from your experience and time. To find opportunities that are suited to your particular skill set, interest and experience, contact community organizations and schools.

Read more: How To Become a Coach

17. Take art classes

You might take this time off to pursue interests in the arts by taking art classes. Classes in photography, pottery, printmaking, music and painting are all widely available—both online and at local community colleges in most areas.

  1. Consider an internship
    If you’re not sure about college, you might try different careers by working as an intern. An internship is an effective way to learn about industries, companies and career roles before making a decision to start a professional career in them.

Read more: How To Succeed Without College


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