Alternatives to College: Five Possibilities for Personal Growth and Financial Stability
We’ve been conditioned to think that graduating seniors need to be college bound in order to have a financially secure and successful life. But what if your child wants to learn and grow, just not in college? There are many valid reasons not to attend college, and maybe your child has already presented you with a few. Maybe they just want some time away from the structure and stress of academia, or maybe they have no intention of going, ever. Should you despair and resign yourself to years of floating them money to help them cover their bills?
Maybe not. The below options are less conventional, and may provide students with bigger challenges than they’d face taking the oft-traveled route to college, but each is a viable option for a student who wants to work hard and have a productive, fulfilled life.
1. Get a full-time job. You might be tempted to say, “You’ll never get a good job if you don’t go to college,” in an attempt to sway your child towards college. And while college graduates do typically out earn high school graduates, there are professions which offer good pay with only a high school diploma needed. Some of these fields do require some kind of training, but new entrants can finish and begin earning money relatively quickly. Here’s a list of twenty jobs which require a high school diploma.
If your child elects to go directly into the workforce, it’s important to look at projected job growth for professions of interest. For example, the retail sector is under strain, and while the industry will not disappear, its growth will be flat.
2. Attend a trade school. These institutions offer a range of advantages over four-year colleges, and could provide the best compromise between college and going directly into the workforce. Trade school tuition is a fraction of four-year schools, which means your child will probably be able to finish without the typical load of student loan debt. The salary gap between a trade school graduate and a college graduate is relatively small as well. It’s not uncommon for trade schools to have strong connections with employers, allowing them to offer job placement assistance. Skills learned in trade school also can’t be easily outsourced or automated (not yet, anyway).
According to this article, which features data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are a wide range of fields which demand the skills of trade school graduates. Finally, because trade school programs are more intensive and practical, a student can finish more quickly and begin earning a salary.
3. Do volunteer work. Since most of us are not independently wealthy, this probably seems like an odd suggestion. But if it’s financially feasible, it may provide a range of unexpected benefits. Volunteers learn useful real-world skills and make connections with others.
It’s possible to participate in a program which is considered volunteer, but offers a living allowance. AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America), founded in 1965, places volunteers with nonprofit organizations that work to end poverty and improve communities. Anyone over eighteen can apply for this full-time commitment, and those who successfully complete a year can earn an educational grant for higher education or an additional cash stipend.
Catholic Volunteer Network operates an extensive volunteer program, with both domestic and international placements. While most long-term programs require volunteers to be 21, some programs are open to those 18 and up. Catholic Volunteer Network provides basic room and board and a small stipend, and does not require volunteers to be Catholic, though the work is entirely faith-based.
4. Start a business. If this seems way too ambitious for a recent high school graduate, it’s not. Entrepreneurship is a viable option for anyone who’s ambitious and wants to make a mark on the business world as soon as possible, and they don’t have to found a multi-national conglomerate to do it. Thanks to technology, it’s possible to launch a business with only a little money. Etsy, eBay, and Shopify are just a few of the sites which have eased the process of starting an online business. Anyone can buy a web domain, install WordPress, and have a basic site up and running quickly, especially today’s tech-savvy teens. SCORE, a nonprofit with 300 local chapters, offers a wealth of free advice, templates, guides, and other resources to small business creators.
If you’re still (understandably) skeptical, reading these bios of successful young entrepreneurs might help you see what’s possible with hard work and ingenuity.
5. Enlist in the armed forces. Joining the military and serving our country is a noble decision. It provides an opportunity to do something important, while skills which can be used upon re-entry to the civilian world. Service to the nation is something we all take pride in, but there are additional advantages to military service. Food and housing allowances, medical care, salary, and vacation leave are the primary benefits. Members who elect to stay in for the long term can look forward to retirement benefits, including pensions.
Like the aforementioned volunteer organizations, the U.S. military also helps address how to pay for college by offering multiple options to support members in their academic pursuits. Overall, the U.S. military is a great place with potential for a long and distinguished career.
Every option facing a graduating senior has pros and cons. If you’re a parent, the idea of your child putting off or forgoing college altogether may cause a significant amount of stress. It takes a shift in thinking to realize that all students don’t need to go to college, but they all definitely need to have a plan.
College will always be available as an option, so if your child elects to forgo higher education in favor of something else worthy, they can reverse course easily should they change their mind. It’s even possible to find a college with flexible start dates, so that they don’t have to wait for September or January should their plans not go as hoped.
Young adulthood is a great life stage to test unconventional ideas, as many of them don’t have to fixate on paying a mortgage and raising a family, making it easy to try opening a different door to professional success if needed. College admissions officers appreciate a well-rounded student profile, and trying any of the above can create or enhance one.