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    Alternatives to College: 10 Options for Teens to Consider

    Posted July 7, 2022, 10:00 am by Johnathan Kindall

    Alternatives to college are more common, popular and socially acceptable than ever before, and for good reason. Higher education grows more and more expensive every year, and as the economy and workplace continue to change faster than ever before, the typical four-year degree is quickly losing its monopoly on post-high-school options.

    Of course, for many students, college is still a wonderful, important and essential experience. For students hoping to become doctors, lawyers, scientists and more, there's still no real alternatives to college. However, for students with other interests or career goals, alternative options are growing more and more numerous by the day.

    Alternatives to College for Teens to Consider

    In this article, we'll explore 10 alternatives to college for teens of all ages to consider. Just because you explore these options means doesn't you can't or shouldn't ever go to college, and just because they're available doesn't mean they're the right choice for everyone. We recommend consulting with your teachers, counselors, parents and self before making any long-term commitments or choices.

    Alternative to College covered in this article include

    In the end though, this is your decision. While there may be personal, familiar or financial pressure to obtain a university or degree, know there are other options out there. In no particular order, here's 10 of the best alternatives to college!

    1. Trade Schools and Vocational Education

    stylist at trade school practices on clients hair

    Trade schools and vocational education options are some of the most popular and fastest growing college alternatives available today. While not free of cost, vocational schools are almost always cheaper than traditional universities and offer a quicker and more streamlined path to the workforce. At a trade school, there is little to no time spent in classrooms studying subjects you're not interested in or that have no bearing on you career path. Instead, specialized training and smaller class sizes allow you to quickly enter the workforce with an impressive, marketable skill.

    Trade and vocational schools can help teens find careers in:

    • Culinary Arts
    • Hairdressing and Cosmetics
    • Automobile Maintenance
    • Medical and Dental Assistance
    • Welding
    • Firefighting
    • Law Enforcement
    • Animal Care and Veterinarian Assistance
    • Technology and STEM
    • And Much More!

    2. Apprenticeship

    Apprentice holding tools of all kinds

    Apprenticeships are another fantastic way to enter the workforce quickly as a skilled worker. Apprentices work under and receive dedicated, on-the-job training from a experienced licensed professional. Jobs that require an apprenticeship are typically maintenance and repair positions that require workers to perform relatively dangerous tasks. For this reason, dedicated training and supervision is required. However, apprenticeship periods are almost always shorter, cheaper and more hands-on than traditional education.

    Apprenticeships can help teens find careers as:

    • Electricians
    • Plumbers
    • Masons
    • Carpenters
    • Much More!

    3. Community College

    Outside of Community College, Alternatives to College

    Another popular alternative to college and four-year universities is community college. Cheaper, shorter and more accessible than prestigious four-year schools, community colleges are a fantastic options for many students. Many community colleges offer programs in the vocational and apprenticeship-focussed fields mentioned above, and, if those don't interest you, credits can almost always be transferred to a more traditional college as well. Whether you want to attend a school close to home, need to work at the same as taking classes, or are just looking to dip your toes in the waters of higher education before fully committing, community college may be the right choice for you.

    4. Online Courses and Self-Paced Education

    female student with headphone learns online

    We live in a world unlike any other - a world where unlimited educational resources are available to anyone with an Intent connection and a few hours to spare. One alternative to college that has quickly become popular in recent years is self-education online. There's so many ways for dedicated and entreprensural teens to teach themselves a new subject or skill without ever meeting with a teacher or entering a college classroom. Whether you're learning from an institution that offers online options, taking a series a free or paid online classes, or watching lectures and masterclasses online, the alternatives to college out there for innovative young teens are endless. Once you've gained skills in an industry like coding, writing, videography and others, portfolios of your work are sure to attract employers and clients.

    5. Employment

    First person view of a job interview

    You likely don't need us to spell this one out for you, but graduating high school and immediately entering the workforce is an option that some students may not even consider for one reason or another. Perhaps you believe your parents or peers will look down on you for not obtaining a college degree. Perhaps you're worried that an entry-level job will not sustain your lifestyle. Or perhaps you're not quite ready to commit to the grind of a 9 to 5.

    These are valid concerns of course, but getting a job, working your way up, and gaining success without a college degree is, in some ways, more possible now than it has been at any point in the last few decades. There's still many challenges for workers without a degree, so if you choose this option be sure to look for employers who value their workers and offer many avenues for both education and advancement. If you find one though, you could work your way to a high paying career in no time without ever setting foot on a college campus!

    6. Entrepreneurship

    entrepreneur looks at board as alternative to college

    Not interested in the 9 to 5 at all? We don't blame you! Instead of opting for a traditional college or traditional work, perhaps you're ready to start your own business or company! Teen entrepreneurs are growing more and more common, and young minds will always be required to help solve the problems or tomorrow and beyond. Entrepreneurship is easier and more accessible than ever before; in fact, if you have a business idea or invention in mind, TeenLife has a number of resources to help you make those dreams a reality. Check out this article featuring eight organizations that help teen entrepreneurs or explore the TeenLife Guide to Your Future in Business for more!

    7. Social Media

    Social media icons on table

    One alternative to college that wasn't even a possibility fifteen or twenty years ago is a full-blown career as a social media personality or content creator. With the absolute explosion of the social internet and the success of platforms like TikTok and Instagram, a career in social media is not only viable now, but common and desirable. In fact, a startling percentage of teenagers list being a content creator or YouTuber as one of their dream jobs.

    We'll remind you here that just because something is possible and popular does not mean it's easy though. For every influencer who makes it there are hundreds of thousands who do not. However, if you're dedicated and entrepreneurial, this is a truly viable alternative to college in our modern age.

    8. Military

    ROTC recruit alternatives to college

    Serving your country in the military is fantastic way to meet new people, learn new skills and travel the world. Beyond the satisfaction and honor that comes with a military career, students who enter the armed forces after high school may also go on to learn quite a bit about aviation, engineering, and so much more.

    Additionally, the benefits that come to those who have served in the armed forces are many: college credits, healthcare, discounts and so much more. It is certainly not the path for everyone, and there are many personal decision to make before enlisting, but for those who feel called to it this is a fantastic alternative to college.

    9. Travel

    young female spreads arms in front of waterfall

    Perhaps you're in a position where you don't immediately need to get a job after graduating college. If so, consider spending a few months or even years traveling the country and the world. Traveling has a number of well-documented benefits, and there is no better time to travel then when you are young.

    Travel doesn't have to be expensive either -- with just a little bit of savings teens can take life-changing trips around the world after graduation, finding themselves and so much more. Perhaps you can even make a career out of your travel career by starting a blog or YouTube channel documenting your journeys!

    10. Gap Year

    student on gap year has fun on beach

    If traveling the world isn't a good enough answer for you parents or family, consider taking a more structured time off between high school and whatever comes next in the form of a gap year. There are all sorts of varying gap year opportunities, but the benefits are always the same. Students find themselves, discover what they're passionate about, reset and recharge after an intense senior year and so much more.

    TeenLife is dedicated to all things gap year and is the leading discovery platform for gap year programs of all kinds. Explore gap years as alternatives to college today!

    Alternatives to College: Conclusion

    These 10 alternatives to college are just a sampling of the many new and exciting options available to teens and students today. College is far from the be-all-end-all it once was, and in these changing times, we at TeenLife encourage students, parents, counselors and educators alike to challenge their preconceived notions about college, university and the benefits it offers. No matter what you do next, we can't wait to see!

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    Johnathan Kindall

    Johnathan Kindall is the Content Editor at TeenLife Media. He attended Boston University’s College of Communications, graduating with a Bachelors of Science in Journalism. Johnathan is dedicated to launching teens into life by providing a number of resources that help teens navigate the world of college, enrichment learning and more.