5 Alternatives to Going to College

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Throughout our formative years, we’re always told to study hard, do well in our tests, and try and get into a good college.  Sometimes it’s difficult to see beyond that advice when we’re trying to decide what to do with our lives after high school.  

While a college education is necessary for some careers, it isn’t the only choice.  The fact is, some people just don’t do well in academia, or don’t want to build up tens of thousands of dollars in student loans.  There are many other paths to take in your career, including.  


Apprenticeships have existed for hundreds of years. 

Young people would choose a trade and join a company to learn on the job for a number of years, working their way up in a company, or leaving to set up their own.  

The modern version of the apprenticeship has developed a lot over the years. There is still the opportunity to learn skills by doing the job, after all, something like hands-on plumbing training is the best way to learn that profession,  a lot more useful than trying to learn it in a lecture. 

Today’s programs are far more regulated, allowing apprentices to gain vocational skills and take some formal classes too, often leading to a recognized qualification.  Even better, you start earning straight away too.  

Apprenticeships are available in a range of industries, not just practical trades.

You can take apprenticeships in business, customer service, marketing.  Most sectors are beginning to look at apprenticeships as a way of ensuring that the next generation is trained in the right combination of professional and academic skills. 

The number of apprenticeships available is increasing every year, but there is still a great deal of competition, so you’ll need to do your research and get your application in early. 

Community College

If you aren’t sure if you want to go the traditional college route, or perhaps need to improve our grades before you do, then community college is a great option. Most students attend to either take classes directly relevant to their employment or to gain credits to transfer to another institution at a later date. 

When you apply, discuss with the admissions department about your future plans so that they can make sure that you are studying the right subjects.  Some courses won’t let you earn credits to transfer to another college, so if that is your intention, you’ll need to know straight away. 

Online Study 

The internet has been a game-changer for learning.  Every year, thousands of people work towards a recognized qualification alongside their existing jobs and family commitments.  

Online study is great for those who perhaps are looking to change careers, but can’t afford to stop working while they retrain.  It also gives you the chance to study a subject that might not be available in your local area.  Luckily, geographic location isn’t a problem.  

This kind of study can be formal or self-guided. 

There has been an explosion in Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) over the past decade.  These courses are provided by some of the top institutions in the world like Harvard, MIT, Oxford, and Cambridge and let people without any formal qualifications, study online.  Most courses are free or you can pay a small sum to acquire a certificate or accreditation.  

If you’re not sure what you want to do as a career, the amount of course subjects available is vast, so you’re sure to find something that catches your imagination. 

Some of the major MOOC providers include EdX and Coursera.  


If you already have an idea of the industry you would like to work in, then internships can give you a valuable leg up in the job market.  

An internship is an entry-level position at a relevant company, where you get to learn the job by doing it.  You’ll gain access to experienced professionals and develop a whole host of new skills that you can only really learn by working.  Though the money isn’t great, you should still be getting paid for your time. 

Be wary of those companies who pay nothing, or worse, ask you to pay for the privilege of working for them. 

Having a successful internship under your belt looks great on a resume. It shows that you are willing to work hard and already have work experience and skills you just can’t teach in a classroom.  

Many companies run internships as a way of bringing talent into the business.  Promising interns can then expect to be employed and begin building their careers at the company. 

Setting Up Your Own Business

You might have a great idea for a product or service that you think will be successful.  Or maybe you’ve just always wanted to work for yourself.  Whatever the reason, that entrepreneurial spark could change your life. After all, Amazon started life as a bookselling website in Jeff Bezos’s garage and in 2018 became only the second company in the world to be worth over $1 trillion dollars

  • Research your target market and make sure that there is a demand for your product/service.
  • Come up with a business plan that you can use to get potential business grants and funding.
  • Find a business mentor who will know how to inspire you and keep you accountable. 

Your business may be a side hustle for a period of time while you work to save money and pay the bills. 

Key Takeaways

In today’s world, there’s no one right way to build a career.  Luckily, the range of opportunities for people to follow their interests and ambitions has increased exponentially.  Not pursuing formal study isn’t a barrier to many careers.  Talent, ambition and hard work go a long way too.  So if you’re worried that not going to college is going to damage your career prospects, don’t be.  

Jeff Campbell

Jeff Campbell is a father, martial artist, budget-master, Disney-addict, musician, and recovering foodie having spent over 2 decades as a leader for Whole Foods Market. Click to learn more about me

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