Colleges focus on academics and test scores. However, there is a vast world and opportunities for young people to explore outside of a traditional college degree.
Even with financial aid, traditional colleges and universities can be out of reach for many. For some, it is within reach, but post-secondary education and the accompanying student loans may feel like it could be better.
Many people choose to pursue alternatives to college to get their careers started. Before you enroll in higher education, consider these options.
Table of Contents
1. Find a Mentor
Sometimes the best way to get into an industry is to find a mentor. Mentors are people that have been in the career field for a while and have plenty to learn from. They can assist you in helping you learn the ropes and also can make connections and introductions for you.
Finding the right mentor can be a challenge but it is a great alternative to college. If they are an industry veteran, what value are you bringing to the table for them to spend their limited time helping someone get started? Unless they are already a family friend, there is likely little incentive for them to help you along. You can level this out by seeing if there is something they are struggling with that you could spend some time working on for them.
2. Embrace Alternative Education
College is one of many ways to learn a subject. You could, of course, choose a self-study route. You can become quite proficient by reading books and learning online about a subject.
You can also learn about a subject with the “University of Youtube.” Every subject matter has experts showing you step-by-step how to do a task on youtube. It is incredible the breadth of knowledge you can watch.
Online courses also can teach you what you need to know about a specific subject. These courses are usually straight to the point and show you what you need to know about a topic. These are typically light on theory and heavy on practicality.
If you are a lifelong learner, nontraditional education could be an excellent option for you. Professions where a bachelor’s degree is not highly stressed or are required credentials for a job, can lend themselves as alternatives to college.
3. Study Abroad
There are many study-abroad opportunities. In some instances, tuition is free and paid for by the respective governments. While technically, this one is going to college, it is not necessarily pursuing a degree. The life experience and time spent abroad may help you decide what study area is for you.
While not a direct career path, spending some time traveling after high school can help expand your worldview and help you focus on what direction you want to take. You are taking time through life to slow down and enjoy the scenery. While travel is not free, there are ways to travel on a budget.
5. Start a Business
You could go straight into business. When you think of starting a business, your mind might think about tech companies with ideas that will disrupt an industry or change the way we approach life altogether. These are only some of the businesses that exist; hundreds of practical service-based companies exist for every world-changing startup.
6. Start a YouTube Channel
Youtube is the second largest search engine on the internet. It is a vast platform with people searching for information on various topics. You can start a youtube channel to monetize this search for information.
Youtubers can make money from views of their videos, getting paid directly by Youtube and through sponsorships, where the Youtuber inserts ads and sponsored blurbs in the videos themselves. Once you create a Youtube channel, the primary objective is to grow your channel’s views.
While most teaching positions require a degree, there are opportunities to teach without a degree. One of these opportunities is teaching English to non-native speakers. A cool thing about this job is that it can be done in person or online, and there is a market for English teachers in just about every country outside the United States.
The cool thing about teaching English to non-native speakers is that you are not necessarily teaching the basics and rules of grammar. Usually, these courses are aimed at the students learning to talk with a more natural tone.
8. Become a Digital Nomad
Digital nomads work online and travel the world as they do it. If you can find a work-from-home position, start a business, or work freelance remotely, then being a digital nomad is an option.
Many digital nomads focus on traveling in lower-cost-of-living areas to save more money as they work.
9. Get an Internship
Internships are a great way to get some experience in the industry. You may have only some of the qualifications required to land a full-time position at a company, but they may take you on as an intern. After a few months, perhaps you have gained their trust and the experience necessary to get a position there.
10. Join the Military
The military career path can be completely separate from a college education. However, there are also paths in the military that focus on paying for a college education for you.
The military has plenty of different branches, jobs, and training options to find something that fits your needs.
11. Join an Accelerator
An accelerator is an organization that specializes in building businesses. Usually, accelerator programs offer a small amount of startup capital, mentorship, classes on getting your business off the ground, and valuable connections.
Most business accelerators are joined by invite after you apply. They are typically looking for certain aspects. For instance, an accelerator might focus on tech startups or founders that meet specific criteria.
12. Become a Realtor
Being a real estate agent is a career path that does not require a degree. However, most states have an education requirement for taking a course and passing a test. Most states also allow you to take the course online.
Realtors make a commission on the houses they sell or by representing a buyer through the sale of a property. It is a very performance-driven industry, and most real estate agents in any given market make small commissions. Usually, the top earners in a market make a lot of money, while the average experience is much different.
This is not to discourage you from becoming a real estate agent, but if you choose that path, take ownership of your success and work on becoming a top earner in your market.
13. Build a Digital Footprint – And an Audience
Becoming an influencer and getting paid by brands for sponsorship opportunities may sound out of reach. But, it is more attainable than you may think. The key is to hone in on a niche and build a following.
One key to building an online audience is publishing content consistently. Many platforms reward consistent publication, especially when this content is engaging and on brand.
14. Monetize Your Hobby
Gary Vaynerchuck, the author of Crush It!: Why NOW Is the Time to Cash In on Your Passion, is a huge proponent of finding what you love and monetizing it. Because of the scale of the internet, there are ways to monetize niche hobbies.
One nontraditional way to monetize your hobby is to build a product that will assist in the industry of your hobby. For example, I have a friend that created a tool to help writers capitalize the title of their headlines.
Sometimes being in the hobby allows you to be further ahead of the trend than some companies manufacturing products. You could use a contract manufacturing company to produce your solution.
15. Write a Book
Becoming an author and self-publishing a book can create some passive income. There are some side benefits to publishing a book. For one, you establish more credibility in your field by being an author in the space.
The easiest way to self-publish a book is through Kindle Direct Publishing on Amazon. Essentially, you write your book, upload it and attach a description on KDP, and you are ready to publish.
16. Earn Money Playing Video Games With Esports
Making money playing video games sounds like a dream to many people. While this world is highly competitive, there are options to win tournaments, build a Twitch following, and make money through sponsorships.
Of course, you either need top-tier skills or a winning personality that people enjoy following along. Possibly, both.
17. Do an Apprenticeship
An apprenticeship is an option to learn while earning money. For instance, an electrician’s apprentice typically spends most of their day pulling wire. You can also pick up on the more advanced concepts while apprenticing. Eventually, you become experienced enough to become a master electrician.
Finding an apprenticeship program is a great way to gain real-life work experience while getting an income. In addition, apprentices learn the technical skills required for their chosen career path.
18. Vocational Training
Rather than going to college, you could go to a vocational school. Trades such as HVAC, plumbing, and electrician are in high demand. Culinary arts is a popular vocational training program. Some people opt to go to a vocational high school to give them a head start on this process.
While these trades may take a while to learn, many trade schools offer dramatically shorter and more affordable programs than a four-year degree from a traditional university. This is because technical schools focus more on the vocation and how to get the tasks done than they worry about the theory.
19. Get a Job
It may be too obvious, given that in the game of Life, your options at the beginning are college or getting a job. Getting a job after high school is an option. Many jobs do not require college degrees and still have plenty of room for advancement and growing your career. Finding a job as a teen can be a bit tricky, but with the right steps can be achieved.
20. Become a Photographer
Photography is a business that can be started with limited startup costs and no degree requirement. There are several niches: weddings, family, high school graduation, and sports. Focus on a niche will help differentiate you from other photographers.
Building up the skills required to be a professional photographer takes time. One way to accelerate your learning is to become a backup photographer or photographer’s assistant.
How To Choose Your Alternatives to College
Just because going to college is typically construed as the best option after high school does not mean it is for everyone. Your after-graduation goals may be different than other people’s. You may prefer one of these alternatives to college instead. Ultimately, the decision you choose going forward will be yours to make. However, you should get the advice of a trusted adult with life experience to help guide your decision-making process. This post originally appeared on Savoteur.