There could be any number of reasons to opt out of attending a four-year college. Maybe you’ve crunched the numbers and determined that the investment is too big and the risk too high. Maybe you aren’t sure what you want to study and don’t want to be floating around a college campus with “undecided” as your major. Maybe you just feel burned out on school and want to give yourself some time away from the classroom.
Whatever the reason, there is no shame in deferring college for a year or two or going a different path entirely. While today’s high school students (and their parents) have been conditioned to plan for college as the only reasonable way forward, there are certainly other ways to go after graduation. If you or your son or daughter is leaning toward not going to college, here are a few potential alternatives to consider.
One option you might consider if you aren’t going to college is to get a job right away. You might even already have a job—one that you worked after school or during the summertime between terms. In most cases, as a right-out-of-high-school worker with limited experience, you will be looking at an entry level position. Retail and service industries are the most common job paths for those who choose to enter the workforce immediately after high school. Entry level jobs usually mean making minimum wage, but if you work hard, show up on time, and present yourself as a dependable team player, you can rise through the ranks more quickly than you think. At restaurants, stores, hotels, and several other types of businesses, management positions are within reach for individuals without a college degree. And while these jobs will probably never make you rich, they can allow you to live a comfortable self-sufficient lifestyle in most places. Perhaps most importantly, you’ll be making money and building savings while your friends off at college are spending money and building debt.
Invest in Marketable Skills
The whole idea of going to college is to develop marketable skills that you can use in the workforce. Or, at least, that idea should be what college is all about. In a liberal arts environment, though, you are going to be required to take a lot of classes and accumulate a lot of college credits that you will never be able to apply anywhere. There are more direct paths toward marketable skills if you opt out of college. Trade or vocational schools are certainly worth a look, especially if you like working with your hands. You can attain careers in electrical work, carpentry, plumbing, welding, locksmithing, and more through trade or vocational school study. These careers offer strong salary potential: in 2015, for instance, the average annual salary for an electrician was $55,590.
Similarly, an apprentice school can give you a chance to learn a marketable skill—such as construction, automotive repair, and culinary works—while also being paid for your efforts. Apprenticeship programs are often quite competitive, with many applicants battling for a limited number of spots. However, it’s not every day that you can get paid on-the-job experience while you are building toward a career.
You can even start learning marketable skills in your own time, often at little to no charge. Online education has opened a world of possibilities for high school grads who don’t like the idea of going to college. Learn how to code, master website design, learn how to use sophisticated graphic design programs, or study a new language and work toward fluency. All these skills are highly in-demand—to the point where many employers will hire skilled computer programmers, web developers, graphic designers, or translators even without college degrees.
Tap into Existing Skills
Before you spend hours and hours learning coding or training to become a plumber, try a bit of self-reflection. Do you have any current skills that are developed enough for you to start making a living off them right now? Accomplished musicians (such as pianists or violinists) can make good money passing their skills on to kids. The same goes for talented athletes in difficult-to-master sports like tennis and golf. Even becoming a part-time teacher in one of these avenues can deliver a substantial income and give you freedom to explore other options. Think about the skills you’ve honed during high school and ask yourself if there is anything you can parlay into a money-making pursuit without further education.
Pursue Entrepreneurial Ventures
Do you have an idea for a business? If so, why not give it a try when you are young, have relatively low living expenses, and don’t have a spouse or child to consider? Starting a business right out of high school—without a business degree, no less—may seem risky, but the truth is that starting a business is always a risk. About 90% of startups fail. No college degree can change that statistic. Still, even if your business doesn’t end up being successful, you can learn a ton as you go—from business management and organization to bookkeeping and writing/communication skills. Future employers will respect your zeal and courage, and college is always there if you decide you need it.
If your business does take off? Well, suffice to say that Bill Gates and Steve Jobs didn’t go to college, either.
By no means do these options encapsulate the full range of non-college options you might pursue after high school. Taking a gap year to travel the world and engage in self-discovery is another attractive option. Joining the military can deliver financial stability and job security. Volunteering for a global program like the Peace Corps can give you a new perspective and help you decide what you want to do with your life. If you love learning but don’t love the prospect for four years of tuition payments, you can take classes at a community college to pursue new interests and build new skills.
The bottom line is that there are plenty of options out there. Don’t feel like you only have one potential path after high school graduation. You should live your life the way that feels right for you.