6 Great Alternatives to Traditional 4-Year College

Is a traditional four-year college program just not for you at the moment? Whether you don’t know what you want to do career-wise or the idea of four years in college straight out of high school, there are options available to you! Check out some great alternatives to traditional college below.

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Why should you consider alternatives to traditional 4-year college programs?

There are plenty of reasons someone might want to take an alternate route after high school graduation! Here are some reasons:

  1. You want to save money on college. Four-year colleges are expensive, costing on average over $100,000 for the entire education.
  2. You aren’t sure what to major in. Although most colleges and individual programs do not require you to declare a major immediately, some students aren’t sure even by junior year. Alternative routes give you more time to decide.
  3. Your desired degree path doesn’t require a bachelor’s degree. There are plenty of career paths out there that you can enter straight out of high school or after one of the options below!

Alternatives to Traditional College

1. Community College

Community college is a great alternative to traditional 4-year college programs. These two-year programs are perfect for students who only need an associate’s degree to enter their desired career field. Veterinary technicians, dental hygienists, and wastewater technicians are some examples.

They can also be a good option for students who are planning on going to get their bachelors in the future. Community colleges allow you to save money while finishing your general education requirements. This means you get a head start on your bachelor’s and do not have to settle on a major just yet.

If you are planning on entering a bachelor’s degree program, just be sure that your future college accepts credits from the two-year program or you will have to restart.

2. Vocational and Trade School

Another alternative to four-year programs is a vocational or trade school. These schools help prepare you for specific career fields but ones that don’t necessarily require an associate’s or bachelor’s degree.

Some examples of vocational schools include culinary school and cosmetology school. Other career paths that can be offered by trade schools include firefighting, plumbing, automobile technician, law enforcement, animal care, and more.

Vocational and trade schools are also much shorter and less expensive than traditional 4-year colleges. Some programs may only take 1 year to complete, too!

3. Apprenticeship

An apprenticeship is where you enter a career field under someone’s wing. They will show you the ropes of the trade. During this time, you will be technically employed, but you will make less than your more experienced peers.

Some apprenticeship programs can take several years to complete and may require you to attend trade school first. Common fields that offer apprenticeships include plumbing, electrician, carpentry, masonry, and similar industries.

4. Self-Paced Resources and Certification

If you’re not interested in college, trade school, or apprenticeships but still want to improve your education, you always have the option of online, self-paced resources, certifications, and classes. These round out your education and help you follow your passions.

Self-paced classes and certifications are designed to be completed when you have time — though some may have a deadline of a few months. However, many self-paced options don’t have a teacher or professor that is directing you or demanding you complete assignments. It’s all on you. There are similar online options that do offer an instructor to keep you on task, though, but these tend to be more expensive.

Online resources and certifications can bring several benefits including qualifications for certain positions and promotions within your current industry. Prices can vary quite a bit but there are several online classes and certifications available out there from colleges and websites like Coursera and Udemy.

5. Military

Entering the Armed Forces is another option for graduating high school students. From the Air Force to the Army, there are plenty of opportunities and career fields to enter in the military. However, this is a commitment that shouldn’t be taken lightly and should be discussed.

The US military also offers financial assistance for college through the GI Bill, so if you do want to further your education at a later date you can take advantage of this program.

6. No Further Education

And, of course, students are by no means forced to take any of the paths above or go to a traditional four-year college. They can enter the workforce straight after graduation and there are many fields available. However, it’s worth noting that individuals who further their education tend to make more than those that don’t (but this is not a fast and hard rule either).

As a graduating high school student, it’s important to carefully weigh your options and think about your needs, wants, and goals both for your education and career. Not every student will need or want to follow a traditional four-year college program and that’s okay!

Want to learn more about how your education or experience affects your career options? College Raptor’s Career Finder tool helps you explore different industries and gives you a breakdown of what education or experience is needed to enter the career!

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