Alternatives to College You May Not Have Considered

April 24, 2023
Written by: Micki Vandeloo

The traditional route for many high school students for decades has been a four-year college program, which can morph into five or six years if students change majors.  A recent study[1] by of 1000 young adults who graduated in the Spring of 2022 or Fall of 2021 from post-secondary institutions, including community colleges, four-year colleges and vocational/trade schools found the following:

  • 28% of college graduates are working in jobs that only require a high school degree, and 6% have jobs with absolutely no education requirements.
  • 1 in 5 recent grads are working at jobs unrelated to the their major.

This means that over 30% of students likely took on unnecessary student loan debt, as they really didn’t need the degree they got.  And 20% of recent graduates are working in jobs unrelated to their major, which means they also may have taken out student loans for a degree that they aren’t using!  Sobering statistics, indeed.

In addition, there are many adults that got a degree, and now are stuck with student loan debt and are not satisfied with their job.  These people don’t see many other alternatives to going back to school and taking on more debt.

What these situations mean to me is that, to avoid student loan debt (or additional debt) and maybe even help pay for a college degree or find a route to a more satisfying career, you need to consider non-traditional routes to a career.

Five Alternatives to College after High School

A college education is a good fit for some students. But some graduating seniors only pursue a college degree because of outside pressures to do so. If you feel strongly that college is not right for you, you need to know there are other viable alternatives to college. Here’s five to consider:

  • Find a job straight out of high school – Some students are not a good fit for a classroom, and have no desire to sit in one after they leave high school. An option for these students may be to get a job right out of high school, either with a company they worked for during high school or a different company.  This allows the individual to earn money to pay for a certificate or degree, for living expenses or to save money for an education later in life.
  • Enter an apprenticeship program – Many trades, including construction trades, have traditionally offered apprenticeship program through their unions, which provide progressive wage increases and on-the-job and related instruction to help prepare workers for a career in a construction trade. This concept has now spread to other sectors, including healthcare and manufacturing, so those entering the workforce from high school or those changing jobs later in their careers can access apprenticeships to help them enter a career and have a pathway to success.
  • Take a “gap year” – This is a fairly recent concept, but one that I think makes sense if a student wants to take time to decide on a career before entering college or during college, if they are in doubt about their major. Of course, this does not mean sitting in a basement playing video games!  The “gap year” should be spent researching alternative career options, shadowing people in the careers of interest, and maybe taking on a full or part time job to pay for expenses (and save for additional schooling).
  • Find a non-profit workforce development program in your area – If you live in an urban area, there are many non-profits who have wonderful programs that not only train individuals for careers (many times for free), but also address many of the challenges people face in getting training for living-wage careers, including health care and child care. Check with local YWCA/YMCA or do a Google search to see what types of programs you qualify for.
  • Consider a certificate program – Many colleges and non-profit programs provide certifications that take less time than traditional college program, and allow you to enter the workforce (and make money) quicker. Many certificate programs are developed to meet the needs of area employers and can lead directly to a job with those employers.

If you are a graduating high school student with no idea what you want to do, a person who has been working in a low-wage or dead-end job, or you have a job that just doesn’t provide you with a sense of satisfaction, consider these alternatives to college.  You don’t have to take on mounds of student loan debt and can end up with a career that provides a living wage, great benefits and job satisfaction.


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