Best Alternatives to Traditional College

If you feel a four-year bachelor’s degree is too much commitment for you, don’t worry as there are many viable alternatives that will lead to satisfying careers.
For many students in the US, college is not the ideal solution. People consider alternatives to college for a variety of reasons including time commitment, personal interests, and expense. College alternatives, on the other hand, allow you to gain a head start on your career by helping you start earning either immediately or within a few months of a short certification course. Read more to find out about some great alternatives to college.
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There are over 44.7 million Americans with outstanding student loan debt totaling over $1.86 trillion, with 42.3 million of them having federal student loan debt.

You may also discover that college degree programs do not align with your professional interests or abilities. A bachelor's degree will take four years for full-time students while completing a master's degree takes even longer. 

If you're uncertain about college for any reason, here are some practical alternatives to consider.

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Here are the best alternatives to traditional college

Millions of students just blindly follow a system that was designed while keeping in mind the average career path. They don't consider that there might be another route, one that doesn't leave them with a pile of debt and time wasted learning things they will never apply practically in life on their jobs.

When wise people invest in something - whether it's time, money, or both – they thoroughly analyze all of their alternatives and the potential results before committing. 

Planning for education is no different. Having a good understanding of all the options available to you helps in making that decision easier.

We'll show you some of the top alternatives to college in this guide to help you determine if college is actually worth it.

Community college

Community colleges are high-quality, low-cost options for completing your first two years of school. You can then pick whether you want to find a job and start your career or stay in school and finish your studies.

Also known as "two-year colleges," they are less expensive and a shorter alternative to traditional education. Tuition fees go from $3,000 to $4,000 each year on average, which is a tenth of what it would cost in a private college or university. 

These colleges usually offer a combination of associate degrees and technical credentials that can be readily used to get a job in the market.

If you're not sure about committing to four years of college, community college can be a less expensive method to sample the waters. Plus, you can always transfer to a four-year university later.

Related: Is community college worth it?

The other great thing about a two-year associate’s degree from a community college is that if you decide later to change your mind and want to continue your education you still have the option to convert it into a bachelor’s degree by transferring to a university!

You will be surprised at how many students consciously opt to go to community college so that they can transfer later because this saves them a lot of money in the process and if done right, all the credits from a community college can be transferred to a bachelor’s program without a need to repeat a single course.

If you are interested, our guide to transferring from community college to university is definitely something you should read through.

A community college student
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

Get certification for a trade

Short courses that get you a certification can jump-start your career from anywhere between 6 weeks to 6 months. These courses are offered at trade schools, vocational schools, and even community colleges.

No matter where you decide to do your certification, these courses are designed to give you in-depth knowledge of the skills you'll need for specific jobs or trades. You may enroll in a culinary school to become a chef or a vocational education program to become a stylist, for example. 

Auto, medical, dental, welding, firefighting, law enforcement, animal care, and technology are some of the other certification opportunities. 

Because you won't be studying electives or other subjects irrelevant to your professional path, this type of college alternative can provide a more direct road to a happy career.

If you are interested in doing a short course to start earning quickly, find one that grabs your passion or interest here at Unmudl.

A trade worker
Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko from Pexels

Online college

In-person instruction or a full-time commitment are not required for a successful college education. Because of the pandemic, online courses have not only gained in popularity, employers now accept them more favorably.

There are several part-time and full-time online college degree programs to choose from. If you have other commitments, such as working or caring for family, this digital approach to college can be beneficial for you. 

Some online universities offer degree programs that take less time to finish than traditional colleges, allowing you to start working sooner.

Attending online college is usually a cheaper alternative to full-time college but this varies from college to college. 

If money is an issue, however, an online college will allow you to continue your education from wherever you are today. You can save money by keeping your existing employment, living at home, and avoiding relocation costs.

If you know what you want to learn, you might be able to get the education you need online for free or at a cheap cost. In today's world, you can pretty much learn anything you want if you are willing to put in the effort.

In case you are interested in online courses, check out our article on the subject. It is a comprehensive guide to education online that you can go through at your own pace and under financial constraints.

A student taking online course
Photo by Vlada Karpovich from Pexels

Start your own business

Many people will tell you, your life is over if you don’t have a college diploma. Well here is a list of some individuals who didn’t have one either, maybe you are familiar with some of them.

  • Walt Disney, a famous animator
  • Michael Dell, a well-known computer entrepreneur and founder of Dell computers
  • Steve Jobs, the guy who made Apple what it is today
  • Richard Branson, a British businessman with his own airlines among other things
  • Henry Ford, founder of the Ford motors
  • Bill Gates, creator of Windows
  • Frank Lloyd Wright, a well-known architect
  • Milton Hershey, a famous American candy maker

Yup, none of these super successful business people of the 20th and 21st century had a college degree!

All of these men took the initiative to launch businesses that they believed would transform the world and they did. Also. there has never been a better time to start a business. 

There is a flood of business opportunities that can be created from the comfort of your own home with just a computer and an internet connection (half of those 22 million individuals work from home). 

Online entrepreneurship is on the rise… whether you're selling items online or simply using the internet as a portfolio, you can start making money from the comfort of your bedroom.

To create a clothing store, for example, you no longer need an expensive storefront with rent, utilities, and a large number of salespeople. You could launch the next successful fashion label, manufacturing and selling fine apparel online from the comfort of your home, with a little bit of hard work and a quality product.

Here are two courses that will help you get started with an online business:

  1. Marketing with Social Media
  2. Marketing Management

Go to a coding bootcamp

A coding bootcamp can be right for you if you want to start a career in design and constructing websites and apps. They're short-term, intensive training programs in web and mobile programming, design, or security that you can do in person or online.

Software development, data science, and related skills like user experience design are in high demand all across the world. As a result, a number of for-profit bootcamps have sprung up to aid with supply.

These 2- to 12-week courses provide comprehensive training for a short period of time before assisting you in exploring the job market and beginning your career. Some of them even offer an option where you don’t have to pay the fees until you get a job above a certain salary.

Get your Realtor License

Real estate can be a very successful business that does not require any college education. With just a few hours of instruction and certification, there are even people who have made millions selling real estate.

Real estate agents make an average of $42k per year, which is comparable to individuals with a bachelor's degree. However, your earning potential is far greater. You get out of a job what you put into it, so if you work hard and hit the pavement, you'll be able to support yourself and your family. 

Realtors are particularly appealing as a career choice since they may work from home and, to some extent, set their own hours. The disadvantage of real estate is that you will most likely be working nights and weekends. 

People who work regular hours can only look at houses when they're not working, which means you'll be on the phone and completing contracts late at night to ensure your client gets their dream home.

While the housing downturn a few years ago may have turned some people away from this field, the market is already starting to recover, and job growth is expected to be 11% over the next decade, which is in line with the overall job market.

Be the next Uber or Amazon and join an Accelerator!

If you think you have a great idea for the next big startup but need some funding and guidance to get it off the ground, you can apply to a fellowship, an incubator, or an accelerator like AngelPad, TechStars, StartX, or Boost VC to name a few.

Accelerators are short-term programs that develop and guide companies while also providing them with a variety of tools, funding, education, and networking opportunities.

Participating in an accelerator is a demanding, immersive, and competitive process that usually culminates in a pitch to venture capitalists (investors).

Join the military

The military, with its multiple branches and areas of duty, is an excellent alternative for many high school graduates. Salary, lodging and boarding, subsidized college tuition through the GI Bill, and retirement after 20 years are all included in the benefits package. 

After years of service, the military will often train you for a vocation, allowing you to enter the workforce with experience.

Another alternative is to enroll in a military institution and acquire an officer's commission in the service branch of your choice after graduation. You can learn more about entering the military by visiting the websites www.military.com and www.todaysmilitary.com.

Take a gap year

Parents don't usually appreciate the words "I want to take a year off before going to college." Don't be afraid about taking a gap year! After high school, not every student is prepared for college. 

Why would you spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on tuition if that's the case for your child? When students have a strategy in place, gap years are most beneficial. Working and traveling overseas, doing an internship or apprenticeship, or volunteering are all possibilities for a gap year.

If you have accepted a position at a college but wish to take a gap year, you can defer admission and enter as a freshman the following year, usually with all financial assistance intact, with clearance from the institution. 

You must, however, adhere to deadlines and ensure that all essential paperwork is completed. Missing these deadlines may mean you have to go through the application process from scratch.

Attend a work college

A good option if finance is the main reason for you to avoid college. This choice is similar to a traditional four-year institution, but there is one significant distinction. 

To help pay for your education, you are needed to work 10-15 hours per week. As a result, you pay substantially less tuition at these work colleges, and in certain circumstances, no tuition at all.

In every other way, it's a typical college experience, except you're not saddled with the debt that so many students and their families face. You gain vital work experience while still concentrating on your education.

These schools admit that you'll work harder and have a tougher time learning how to manage your obligations than at other schools, but you'll emerge stronger than most of your colleagues.

Because there are only seven federally approved work colleges in the United States, your options are rather limited, but they are still worthwhile to examine. Visit www.workcolleges.org for more information.

Earn and Learn With an Apprenticeship

This is a great method to earn money while learning on the job. Apprenticeships are an excellent alternative to internships and entry-level positions. 

They're significantly more widespread in the UK and Europe than in the United States, but they can be a terrific way to make money while learning on the job. 

Apprenticeships run for a longer period of time than internships, ranging from a few months to a few years and they are becoming increasingly important to a variety of businesses in a variety of industries. 

This is especially true in the computer industry, where a slew of new Software, UI Design, and Cybersecurity apprenticeships have appeared in recent years. 

As a response, larger software companies such as Shopify have begun to offer their own apprenticeship programs, recognizing that the future workforce will be made up of a mix of college graduates and those who have chosen not to follow the traditional path.

The government of the United States has a dedicated website just for the purpose of facilitating apprenticeships. Visit their website here to learn more and to search for opportunities that might attract you.

You can also look for apprenticeships by occupation or by location within the US.

A trade worker
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

Get a job that doesn’t require a college degree

Every high school graduate should think about getting a job and working for a year or two before deciding on their college plan. 

Even if you start at minimum wage, factors like coming up early and staying late, maintaining professional integrity, and treating customers and coworkers with respect will help you advance. Those seemingly insignificant attributes, believe it or not, are in high demand.

You'll gain vital life lessons by working full-time at a fast-food business, as a barista, or doing landscaping. You'll learn about customer service, putting in long hours even if you don't want to, budgeting your money, and balancing life and work. 

Many students don't learn these things until they're out of college. There are well-paying and long-lasting occupations that don't require any formal schooling beyond high school (bearing in mind that these positions must still be worked up to, they just don't require any post-secondary education):

  • Construction Supervisor (avg salary $60k)
  • Claims Adjuster & Investigator (avg salary $60k)
  • Mass Transportation Operator/Inspector (avg salary $63k)
  • Gaming/Casino Manager (avg salary $65k)
  • Power Plant Operator (avg salary $66k)
  • Detective/Criminal Investigator (avg salary $74k)
  • Elevator Installer/Repairer (avg salary $77k)

If you decide to go to college after a couple of years of working, you'll be two years older and have money in the bank to assist pay for it. While persons with only a high school diploma have lower salaries and increased unemployment, a little elbow grease can go a long way. 

My friend, for example, didn't go to college and instead worked for a few years at a burger joint and retail before acquiring his real estate license. He later ended up working as an executive for real estate companies, making significantly more than the typical person. 

In some circumstances, resilience and determination can go you further than a college diploma.

Volunteer

Volunteering for a year or two is a fantastic way to not only give back and help others but also to develop your own character. Many people dream of living overseas or doing community service for a year, only to discover after graduation that costs pile up, you get married, and have babies. 

There's no better moment than the year or two after high school to take advantage of your urge to try something new and do some good in the world.

Although the Peace Corps is a viable choice for overseas service, most of the positions are reserved for those with a college diploma. If you don't have a college diploma, they'll search for relevant work experience in the field you'll be working in. However, there are choices available to folks with only a high school diploma, so look into it.

For high school graduates, AmeriCorps is a far better alternative. You are, however, restricted to serving in the United States. The National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) program, in particular, is an excellent fit for people aged 18 to 24 who desire to serve for a year. It's a residential program, and you work in groups of 8-12 people, so it's almost like going to college, only instead of courses, you're doing community projects.

Become an influencer and a content creator

You can use one of the various social networking or blogging services available to create and monetize content. 

A new economy has emerged as a result of the post-pandemic society. The creator economy is made up of a variety of income streams that have been established by millions of people all over the world using social media. 

Content creation isn't only for YouTubers and Instagram stars; it can encompass anything from people who operate their own six-figure newsletters to owning an online publication or blog in a specialty of your choosing.

This professional path is rapidly gaining traction, particularly in the United States, where a survey found that more American children wanted to be YouTube celebrities (29%) than astronauts (11%) when they grew up, a major reversal from figures from only a generation ago.

So, how did creatorship become so popular so quickly? A societal shift in consciousness has occurred, with people caring more about feeling fulfilled in their professions, having control over how they spend their time, and being their own boss. 

Fans see creators making a living doing what they love and hope to follow in their footsteps, which never leads to a cubicle. 

Meanwhile, the industry has reached a tipping point due to improved and affordable phone cameras, larger screens, faster mobile networks, and creator-focused social networks.

All you need now is a phone, an idea, and the courage to be judged by strangers to join the creation club. If you are consistent with what you do you will eventually start gathering a following and become an influencer. Influencers tend to make more money because brands start hiring them for endorsements.

An online  content creator
Photo by Ron Lach  from Pexels

Turn your hobby into a career

Do you enjoy making artsy stuff? Do you think you've nailed the perfect chocolate chip cookie? Many high school students are unaware that their interests have provided them with the potential to earn money.

As we just mentioned above, it is now entirely possible to make money from your interest or passion thanks to the internet. 

Whatever your hobby is; writing, photography, making music, dancing, filming videos of yourself playing video games, or any number of other interests; you can use the internet to make money out of it.

You can easily learn how to construct a basic website with the help of a YouTube video or two, even if you have no experience with coding. Once you've learned how to make your own website, the sky's the limit.

You may even sell stuff online, such as homemade items on Etsy or cupcakes on Instagram - the possibilities are unlimited.

How Do You Know a College Alternative is the Right For You?

Now, you might think that skipping college sounds great, but how do you know if it's the correct decision for you and which option from the long list above will work for you?

Nobody – except you – can tell you if a college alternative is a correct option for you. The optimal path for you is determined by where you are in life and where you want to go. There are no guarantees or magic bullets, unfortunately.

College might be the way to go if you're dead set on a specific vocation and know there's no other way to get prepared for it, such as if a degree is legally necessary to work in that industry.

Even if this characterizes you, you may come to regret your decision if you didn't take the time to confirm whether this particular career and the lifestyle that comes with it truly aligns with your life goals.

The key is to experiment a little with the things you feel you can be passionate about because passion is what will give you a sense of fulfillment and content in the long run. So don’t look for opportunities that seem to make more money but instead consider looking for a career path that excites you.

Unmudl tips to get the most out of your young adult years

While you are free to do whatever you want to after high school, there are a few guidelines that will help you make the most of this time in your life. Following our tips below you can help yourself achieve success in any endeavor.

1. Get to know yourself

Not everyone is born knowing exactly where they want to go or who they want to be (in fact, hardly anybody does). Now that you have more independence, it's time to learn more about yourself! No matter what you do, try new things and get a diverse range of experiences to become a student of life. 

Year after year, you'll discover things about yourself that you didn't know in high school, giving you a strong sense of direction as you progress through life.

2. Develop your abilities

Be a student even if you aren't in school. Learn new skills, gain experience, and boost your potential to make a positive difference in the world. 

Developing your abilities is not something you do only for future employment. You might want to volunteer or create your own business or organization and you may end up with a set of talents that will make you valuable to both others and yourself. 

You are your most valuable asset, and you should focus on investing in yourself in the years following high school, regardless of how you choose to do so.

3. Networking and Relationship-Building

A lot of people talk about networking. You'll hear about "the benefit of networking" and studies demonstrating its significance in landing a decent job, but what precisely is it? 

Although high school professors may claim that networking entails business cards and handshakes, it is really just another word for relationship-building. When you're considering alternatives to education, networking takes on a whole new meaning.

Networking is especially crucial if you wish to work for yourself. Finding finance for a business, good partners to manage it with you, employees, sales transactions, and business clients - networking is at the heart of it all.

Make sure you're meeting new people and building relationships regardless of whether you're in college or not. Make an effort to meet people who are doing or connected to what you want to achieve. 

This network of acquaintances and friends can help you advance in your career just as much as a degree can.

4. How to pay for certifications

If you are interested in any of the options above that require you to do a two-year associate’s degree or a short certification, you don’t have to worry about financing your education.

The first step is to fill out the Free Application for Government Student Aid, or FAFSA, to check if you qualify for federal grants, work-study, or student loans.

If you must take out student loans, first exhaust your government options before turning to private lenders, as federal loans offer better borrower safeguards.

Final Thoughts

We understand that all this is a lot to take in. How do you know where to start when there are so many amazing options? It's fine to feel a little lost, and taking your time and studying the options will help you make an informed decision.

It's critical to assess your values, hobbies, and lifestyle goals before picking between education and an alternative job path. Having a clear notion of what you want to do for a living will help you avoid wasting money on a degree you won't use.

It's also a good idea to consider whether you're pursuing your own goals or choosing to fit the expectations of others. Considering these elements can help you make the best decision and have a successful career!

Frequently Asked Questions

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What are your alternatives if you are not admitted to the college?

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