Ask a College Advisor: What Are the Alternatives to Going to College?

Hear from one of our education professionals on alternatives to the traditional college experience.

portrait of Lauren Albano, M.Ed.
by Lauren Albano, M.Ed.

Updated August 29, 2022

Edited by Amelia Buckley
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Ask a College Advisor: What Are the Alternatives to Going to College?

Question: What are the alternatives to going to college?

Answer: ​​​​For many students, college seems like the expected next step after finishing high school. There is often pressure from family and friends to go directly into a four-year degree program, but this isn't the best choice for every student. In fact, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, 44% of high school completers do not immediately enroll in college.

Whether you're considering a gap year before college or looking for an alternative that will still help you develop strong skills, grow your career, and earn income, let's explore some pathways that might be a better fit for you.

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Ready to start your journey?

Employment

For some students, college might not be financially feasible without first earning some money to cover tuition and expenses. Taking time to gain professional experience can help you explore potential career paths and give you space to reflect on your next step.

If you decide to pursue college later, you may be more committed to and appreciative of your learning experience after establishing clear goals and a vision for your future career path. You may also find you don't need a college degree to work in your desired profession.

Volunteering

Are you interested in giving back to your community and building unique skills that can stand out on a resume? Volunteering through independent organizations or service programs, such as AmeriCorps or the Peace Corps, can be a valuable experience and set the foundation for your future career.

While many of these programs provide small stipends to offset the cost of living, these roles are not meant to be financially sustainable for long periods of time. Rather, volunteering can provide participants with a strong network, professional experience, and insight into potential career opportunities.

Travel

Choosing to travel instead of going straight to college can be a great opportunity for personal development. While traveling (especially internationally) may seem expensive, there are many ways to travel and live abroad on a budget. A year of traveling can also be much cheaper than a year of college!

Work abroad programs, such as JET or other exchange and teaching programs, allow individuals to earn money while immersing themselves in a new culture. There are also volunteer abroad opportunities or seasonal jobs that allow you to meet new people, explore a new environment, and gain experience that can benefit you in the future.

Vocational School or Job Training Programs

Many lucrative careers don't require a college degree. Instead, individuals can enroll in specialized training programs to learn a specific trade. This could be a good option if you're interested in culinary school or trade school or if you want to become an EMT.

These programs are often much shorter and less expensive than a four-year degree. They may also allow graduates to jump directly into the field after completion. Before selecting your program, be sure to research accreditation, job placement rates, and average starting salaries.

Military Service

Depending on your situation, there may be many benefits to joining the military. These include college scholarships and tuition assistance programs for service members and veterans, career opportunities, and retirement benefits. You can also build skills in leadership and teamwork and develop a strong work ethic.

Pursue a Creative Talent

Do you have a skill or talent you're passionate about that might be able to earn you some money? You can take steps to turn your skill into a profitable career by having informational interviews with other creatives, setting up an apprenticeship, or taking a few business classes to learn how to better market your skills.

Free Online Classes

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to more free online learning opportunities than ever before. These courses allow you to explore different subjects at top universities without paying top dollar. Some credits may even count toward a future degree.

Summary

Whatever you choose to do after high school, it's important to make sure you're passionate about and committed to your next step. You don't need to enroll in a four-year degree program to learn and grow your skills. You may find a career pathway that is better suited to your lifestyle and doesn't require a degree, or you may choose to attend college later once you've solidified your goals.

Have a Question About College?

In our Ask a College Advisor series, experienced advisors provide an insider look at the college experience by answering your questions about college admissions, finances, and student life.


DISCLAIMER: The responses provided as part of the Ask a College Advisor series are for general informational purposes only. Readers should contact a professional academic, career, or financial advisor before making decisions regarding individual situations.


Feature Image: JohnnyGreig / E+ / Getty Images

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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