11 Alternatives to College Education

alternatives to college education after high school

If you’re looking for good college alternatives after high school, then this list is for you.

Below, I’m going to share multiple low-cost alternatives to college education that can lead to great career opportunities.

There’s never been a better time to find career success without a bachelor’s degree. Here’s how:

1. Online courses and bootcamps

Many of the world’s top employers like Google and Apple no longer require a bachelor’s degree, and you can instead learn job-relevant skills through online courses/bootcamps.

Two of the top skills I recommend learning via online courses are:

The two options above are in-demand skills that employers pay well for, whether you take a full-time job or work as a freelancer.

And they’re modern, fast-changing fields where employers are more likely to embrace a non-traditional, non-university background.

If the idea of learning digital marketing or coding doesn’t appeal to you, then here’s a list of more high-income skills you can learn.

The typical online course will range in price from below $100 to $1,500 and up. Some immersive bootcamps will cost $10,000 to $15,0000.

Still, that is a bargain compared to the traditional college tuition.

And through online courses, you learn job-relevant skills much faster. A college degree normally takes four years. High school graduates who go immediately into an online course can begin working in less than one year.

Some online courses, and especially immersive bootcamps, will leave you with more job search skills as well. They may help you build a portfolio, resume, and interview skills through mock interviews.

2. Community college

Community college has a bit of a stigma when compared to traditional college, but it can be a smart alternative to college and it’s one I utilized myself.

When I finished high school, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do.

College was expensive, but I didn’t want to just go to work with my high school diploma.

So I spent a year studying business/marketing at a local community college.

I saved a ton of money, built more maturity, and was able to work a part-time job and save money, too.

Then, when I decided a year later that I wanted a bachelor’s degree, I was able to transfer my credits to a four-year university.

Most community colleges offer associate degrees (a two-year degree) but also allow you to transfer credits to a bachelor’s degree program at a university.

That second option is what I chose.

So I saved money during that first year, transferred my credits, and entered college with more maturity and perspective. As a result, I didn’t waste my money by partying and flunking out of classes.

I saw so many college students fail out of classes and not take their education seriously, despite spending so much money to be in college.

For this reason, I think that high school students can benefit from a year off between high school and college, whether it’s to work, attend community college, or both.

3. Trade schools

If you don’t like the idea of an office career or college degree, then consider attending a trade school to learn a blue-collar profession.

In a trade school, you can study to become an electrician, mechanic, and more.

Some blue-collar jobs can earn six figures rather early on, without a bachelor’s degree, so trade skills make great alternatives to college.

You can begin to learn trade skills in community colleges (for example, my community college offered a program to learn to be an auto mechanic) but you can also find specialized trade schools as well. Look into both options in your local area.

To give you more ideas, here are the best blue-collar jobs by pay and demand.

4. Vocational schools

Vocational schools are similar to trade schools but include even more options. In a vocational school, you can study professions including:

  • Cosmetology
  • Law & legal assistance
  • Culinary arts
  • Health care
  • Much more

So vocational training programs are yet another way to start a new career without having to pay the high price to attend college or get a four-year degree.

5. Online college

A new trend in higher education is fully-online college, where you attend online classes and earn a degree from home.

These are often cheaper and provide high school graduates with a simpler, more convenient, lower-cost way to earn a four-year degree.

Be careful in researching online colleges, though, as the industry has had quite a few scams. You’ll want to ensure that the institution is accredited before you pay for online classes, assuming your goal is to earn a bachelor’s degree.

6. Apprenticeship

After attending a trade school or vocational school (mentioned earlier in this article), you can continue your learning through an apprenticeship.

While not formal education, an apprenticeship allows you to begin working in the field alongside a more experienced professional, so that you can start practicing what you learned via various technical schools like mechanic school, cosmetology school, etc.

Many professionals begin a lucrative career by being an apprentice. It makes the perfect entry-level job since you can earn money while studying from someone with years of experience.

So after completing one or more technical training programs, look to become an apprentice to launch your career.

If you already have some type of skill or experience in a technical field, it may be possible to find an apprenticeship without paying for any tech courses or training programs.

So the apprenticeship career path can also be a direct college alternative after high school for some people, especially those who studied job-related skills as a part of their high school education.

7. Entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurship is another great alternative to traditional college education.

With traditional bachelor’s degree programs you’re paying money for classroom instruction. With entrepreneurship, you can begin earning money while learning.

And while in past decades entrepreneurship was costly, there are now ways to start an online business for very little cost.

So I consider entrepreneurship to be a good, low-cost alternative to college if you choose the right business model.

If entrepreneurship is a topic that interests you, consider using the money you’d be paying to college to launch a business idea.

If you have no business experience, take a few free online courses to learn the basics, or invest in a paid course.

There are online courses teaching how to start a digital marketing agency, how to start an ad agency, and all sorts of other online careers that make great alternatives to traditional education.

If you choose the entrepreneurship route, I recommend starting with a service business rather than a product business, since start-up costs will typically be lower.

You can work as a freelance consultant, start an agency, or find another way to provide a service.

You can provide all sorts of services, from freelance writing to graphic design to proofreading and editing.

You can even provide a local service like lawn care, dog walking, power washing, and more.

For more info, here’s a list of lucrative side hustle ideas that can turn into full-time businesses.

8. Entry-level positions

I mentioned earlier that more and more employers are hiring people without degrees.

So if you want a traditional office career or other similar career path but just don’t want to go to college, you could try to search and apply for positions right out of high school.

This costs you no money, just a bit of time.

Go look on LinkedIn and other large job boards to find entry-level job postings.

Some employers will require experience in their “entry-level” jobs which is unfair and frustrating, but plenty of employers post true entry-level jobs, too.

You can also search niche job boards. For example, if you know you want to work in marketing, you could take an online course in digital marketing and then look specifically on marketing job boards.

Talk to your network/friends/family to see if they have any job leads, too.

The bottom line is: If you want a job without an undergraduate degree, it can’t hurt to just spend a week applying and see what’s out there!

Consider looking for internships as well to gain some on-the-job experience and build your resume!

9. Obtain a real estate license

Real estate is one of the best long-term career options without college. You can out-earn many college graduates, even.

This career is best if you plan to live in one geographic location for many years, though, since you’ll have to rebuild your network/clients from scratch if you move to a new state or city.

If you plan to live in your local area for a long time, then real estate is a great alternative option to college that also comes at a lower cost.

You could go on to work for a real estate company in your area, or even start your own business over time.

You’d likely start as a real estate agent but could then become a broker. You can also specialize in an area like commercial real estate instead of residential to set yourself apart and possibly earn more.

You don’t need traditional college experience to start studying for your real estate license. There are separate courses that teach everything you need to know.

10. Military service

While not a college alternative that I’d personally consider, military service is an option where you can earn pay, learn skills, and receive help paying for higher education, too.

If your goal is to attend a traditional four-year college but you’re struggling to afford it, military service can be an option to pay for your college in the United States.

I know many successful professionals who performed military service either before taking the traditional college route, or instead, and it’s a viable alternative to four-year college after high school for some people.

11. Volunteer or teach abroad

Some countries will pay native English speakers to come teach English. You may need an English-teaching certification (TESOL), but not always a degree.

Depending on the country, a 3-6 month TESOL certificate will land you a job. Those who want to teach in an actual school abroad will likely need at least a degree if not a teaching degree, but to teach at a language school that isn’t part of the school system, a TESOL certificate is often sufficient.

You can also find volunteering opportunities. For example, joining the Peace Corps will give you a chance to experience life abroad, learn skills, meet people, and have your basic living expenses paid for a period of time.

According to the Peace Corps website, “You will receive a monthly in-country living allowance that you will use to pay for expenses as a volunteer.”

You’re not going to become wealthy doing this, but it’s an interesting way to begin your professional life and may expand your horizons, help you build an international network, and identify the path you’d like to take in your future professional life.

Conclusion: College Alternatives After High School

Due to rising tuition costs and fewer jobs requiring a degree, more young adults are seeking alternatives to the traditional college education.

There are multiple routes you can take aside from college while still having access to great career paths.

If you read the list above, you now know 11 top college alternatives that you can pursue.