College Alternatives

Recent trends show that college is not what it was made out to be. Recent college graduates, after being told for years that they have to go to college to be successful, are leaving college with a diploma to end up moving back home and working minimum wage. The problem is made worse when they realize the vast amount of student loan debt that they have accumulated and see the thousands of other graduates competing for the same jobs they are. It is no wonder that many kids about to graduate high school are looking for alternatives to four years or more of their lives to be seemingly wasted on working toward a degree. Here are just a few options for someone not interested in going to a college or university right away.

The Military

Joining the military has a wide range of benefits to a youngster who wants to wait for a better time to go to school. First, it is a solid career option. The military offers a decent salary, a solid progression for promotion, and benefits such as free housing, food, and medical care. That alone makes it appealing for some, but throw in the fact that many jobs in the military have outside applications and a high school student could be drawn to this opportunity.

Many military job fields, such as medical, dental, computer skills, clerical, and mechanical have direct application to civilian career fields if a service member does not want to make a career of the military. Many employers will also see military experience as a sound base for civilian job skills, as the military stresses discipline and respect for superiors.

Another great perk about military service is the fact that it offers money for school. The GI Bill now offers money for tuition as well as housing while a veteran goes to college. Many colleges accept certain military training as credits toward a degree, and tuition assistance can allow those serving on active duty to take college courses while they serve. A smart service member can leave the service with enough credits to have most basic level courses out of the way, or even have a full bachelor’s degree.

With the war in Iraq over and operations in Afghanistan ending soon, the military is becoming a much safer option, with less chance of seeing combat during an enlistment period.

The military may not be for everyone though. Certain medical conditions can permanently disqualify an applicant, as can criminal history. And the military does have strict height, weight, and general fitness standards that many young people do not fall under.

Trade Schools

“Learn a trade, son.” Many young people left high school with no university ambitions for many years. For them, learning a skill such as welding, plumbing, styling hair, or working on cars and trucks was far preferable to spending more money to get a bachelor’s degree. Many people enjoy working with their hands and get great satisfaction from any number of trade fields. Entry-level automotive mechanics can expect to make $30,000 a year, wages that are quite competitive with what a college graduate with a degree in liberal arts could expect. Senior HVAC (heating and air conditioning) technicians often make $75,000 a year. These skills can limit what a new graduate can do compared to someone with a business degree, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. People will always need their cars fixed. They always need air conditioners. People always need truckers to get goods from point A to point B. There are plenty of things out there that people will always need, and a degree cannot provide the job security of a trade in many cases.


Sales jobs offer the chance to make money based on skill level. Good starting positions can involve restaurant work, where a good server in a busy restaurant can expect to make at least $100 a night in tips alone. Wages just increase more as a server moves up in the ranks or find more affluent restaurants to work in. This can be an exciting way to build sales and communication skills. Car sales is a field where successful salespeople can make upwards of $100,000 a year, meaning that there is ample opportunity to earn without a college degree.

These are just a few options for someone who does not want to go to college right out of high school. There is nothing wrong with not going to college, and it may be a smarter move than winding up with years of debt and little to show for it.