Do you want your teenager to be successful but worry that college isn’t the right fit or it’s not the right time? Check out these amazing solid alternatives to college!
Most parents want their kids to attend a regular 4-year college, graduate with a decent degree, and then get a stable job and support themselves (and their families).
People see college as the only viable way to be “successful” in life.
What is the goal in going to college?
Is it to:
- graduate and use your degree to get a job and make money?
- have fun?
- become “successful”?
- do what everyone else says you need to?
While there are many fields that require a degree in order to start (like Medical Doctors, for example), there are a lot of other ways to make money and become successful without a traditional 4 year degree.
When I was an undergraduate, one of my professors (with a PhD) asked the class, “What is your goal in coming to school here? To make a lot of money?”
He told us that his friend from high school (without a PhD) now makes more money than he does by owning several gas stations.
His point in telling us this was: you need to evaluate why you are at college and what the end goal is! He told us that we don’t have to be at college to make money (and even a lot of money).
Make sure your teenager understands why they are going to college.
What is their end goal?
If the goal is money or “success” or even stability, then there are other ways to achieve that goal.
Benefits of delaying college
There are several benefits to delaying college:
- avoiding lots of debt (through loans)
- take time to learn entrepreneurial skills
- gain other skills
- figure out what you really want to do!
Remember, your teen can always go to college later!
There are countless stories of people who return to college later in life to pursue something they are really passionate about!
So, what are some realistic solid alternatives to college?
1. Gap Year
While not as popular in the US as other countries, a gap year is time taken off (usually a year) of school, typically after high school and before college.
This might sound like an excuse to just be lazy and do nothing, but this can actually be a great opportunity for your teen to gain experience, broaden his view of the world, learn new skills, and save money.
Some ideas for a gap year:
- volunteer (locally or internationally)
- work and save money
- cultural immersion program
- work experience/internship
I had some “gap years” before I completed my BA. First, I graduated high school, finished my AA at a local community college, and then worked full-time for a few years before returning to get my BA.
While I worked, I lived at home with my parents and saved a lot of money during these “gap years” and was able to avoid taking out a large loan (like so many of my friends did!) in order to finish college. I used the money that I had saved to pay for a large percentage of my tuition. Big win!
Your teen could easily save a lot of money and gain valuable work skills by delaying attending college even by one year.
He could also gain so much by spending the gap year traveling to another country and experiencing another culture and way of life. One of my friends did this and her experience in a foreign country was invaluable!
2. Community college
Occasionally, I hear bad remarks about community college, but actually this can be a great way to save money! Tuition at a local community college is MUCH cheaper than a normal, 4-year university.
Your teen can get all of their prerequisites finished at a community college and save a lot of money in the long run before transferring to a larger, more expensive school.
I started taking a few classes at my local community college (for free!) while I was a senior in high school. Not only did I save money, but I also saved time by getting both high school and college credit for each course.
After high school, I finished my AA at the local community college (cheaply!) and all of my credits transferred to the traditional university where I started as a junior. Just make sure your teen checks with a guidance counselor to ensure all credits will transfer.
Going to community college will help your teen:
- Save tons of money!
- Explore his or her interests without spending a lot
- Transition to 4-year college smoothly
Check out this list of high paying careers that don’t require a bachelor’s degree!
Related: How to graduate college without debt
3. Trade or technical school
There are a lot of well-paying jobs that do not need advanced degrees. Particularly if you have an interest or talent in one of these areas.
While a regular college requires you to take a lot of standard prerequisite classes, a trade or technical school focuses only on classes directly related to that particular field.
Mike Rowe, the star of Dirty Jobs, is an opponent of the standard “a 4-year degree is the path for all young adults” philosophy. He has offered scholarships for those wishing to attend a trade/technical school.
There is a skilled labor shortage in this country because of the push for college, yet this is a wonderful alternative to those students who might not fit well into a standard 4-year university mold.
Trade schools can lead to careers in fields such as:
So many of these jobs are in demand!
My mom used to say that morticians will never be out of work because people are always dying. So many of the trade jobs are important to a functioning society and will always be needed.
The benefits of a trade school:
- Offer a job path that is well paid.
- Most of these jobs are in high demand. They need skilled workers and your teenager’s chance of finding a good job is high.
- Provide job security. If your teen has the right skills, they will be needed and their job can’t be outsourced!
4. Join the military
There are perks to joining the military (besides having a stable job, income, and benefits). Your teen will get the benefit of paid training and the military will even pay for college. Depending on how long you serve, your teen can have his entire tuition paid!
The benefits of joining the military:
- A steady paycheck
- Free health care
- Inexpensive living costs and housing is provided
- Opportunities to travel (for free)
- They may pay for part or all of a college degree.
- Your teen can receive on the job training (for free).
For more information, check out the website: Today’s Military.
5. Online school
There are a lot of options for online schooling (even before COVID, but now especially so!). Your teen can go at his own pace – one class at a time if needed and work while attending to pay for tuition.
He can also try different kinds of classes to see what he is truly interested in.
6. Attend a specialized college
There are specialized colleges for different careers: art, music, culinary, fashion, beauty – often the courses are shorter than 4 years and less expensive than other degrees.
A former neighbor of mine went to France to study at a prestigious cooking school (and she was in her 60s when she decided to do this!).
My brother started as an apprentice in a glass blowing shop (just as a shop assistant to pay bills) and he quickly learned all he could about this field and now is an amazing glass artist!
There are opportunities for job shadowing, internships, and apprenticeships. You just have to do some searching and digging!
Not too different from an apprenticeship, an internship is a short-term work experience (often specifically for students) to gain experience in a particular field.
Internships are a great way to learn more about a field, make solid work connections, and develop skills. Many times they lead to full-time positions and some people even get paid during their internship!
9. Become an entrepreneur
Your teen could start a business! Does she have a skill or talent that she could capitalize on? It doesn’t have to become a full-time business, but it might make a great side-hustle!
Remember, going to college does NOT guarantee that your teen will be successful.
Make sure your teenagers are well-prepared for life and not just to succeed at college. I know a lot of people who are “successful” who do not have a 4 year college degree. They know their own personal goals and how to reach them. They understand how to manage money well and have great relationships. College isn’t for everyone. Your kids can be successful with out going the traditional 4 year degree route right out of high school. Have them consider these solid alternatives to college. I would love to hear your thoughts!