3 Alternatives to College After Leaving High School

Posted by Nailah Herbert in CareerJuly 17, 2022(Last Updated November 22, 2022)4 min read
Key Takeaways
  • Attending college is a personal choice and may not be the best option for all graduating seniors, depending on their desired career. 
  • On average, trade school, a college alternative, costs much less than a four-year degree. 
  • Fewer jobs require a four-year degree to be hired in today's workforce.
Are you ready to make some real money moves?

Our teachers, counselors, and parents tell many of us that college is the best choice and the next step in our life's journey after graduating from high school. Furthermore, we are told that a college degree will equate to a promising career with a high-paying salary. However, going to college is not for everyone. 


If you want to go by the data, numbers can sway you to college or away from it. In favor of attending a community college or four-year university, research done in 2019 by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York highlighted that a college grad would make $30,000 more a year than someone with only a high school diploma. However, data also shows that the U.S.'s student loan debt in 2022 is now more than $1.7 trillion. That equates to the average federal student loan debt being roughly $36,510 per borrower. (A further breakdown, per research by Education Data, the average federal student loan debt is $36,510, and the average private student loan debt is $54,921 per borrower.)

Three alternatives to college after high school graduation.

Ultimately, going to college is not for everyone. Some young people choose to skip college and jump right into the workforce. Others, after their high school graduation, prefer college because they need a particular education program for their chosen career path, want the college experience, or graduating from college may be a life goal. Either way, choosing to attend college is a personal choice and should be considered an investment. 


Below are three alternatives to attending a traditional college fresh out of high school. 


Take a Gap Year


Most high school graduates are seventeen or eighteen years old when they graduate. That is an age that the United States deems too young to buy cigarettes or alcohol and fresh into the age of being able to vote or play the lottery. It is an age that many are still trying to figure life out, and making a decision whether or not to attend college is not in their best interest fresh out of high school. Those who feel that way may choose to take a gap year.


A gap year is when you take a year off after high school, create a career plan, and then head off to college the following year. Over the course of the one-year gap, many get a full-time or part-time job to save money for expenses they know will come once they start college the following year. Others choose to travel abroad, do volunteer work, or find a mentor to learn from in their desired field of work.  


Taking advantage of a gap year works best when you have a plan.


Attend a Trade School 


Trade schools, also known as vocational programs, prepare graduates to work in a specific trade or vocation through training programs. For example, they specialize in construction, nursing, and electrician programs. Therefore, for what you want to do, there may not be a degree required. Instead, a certificate is all that is needed to be hired. Since trade schools are career-focused programs, deciding on one that will align with your career goals is best. 

Trade school, also known as vocational school, is a popular alternative to college.

There are three key reasons someone may choose to attend a trade school over college. The first reason is that your career choice may not require a four-year degree to be hired or excel in your chosen field. Instead, upon completion of trade school, you'll receive a diploma or certificate of completion, which is what you will need to be hired. 


The second reason is that you may not be a fan of school, and the thought of having to sit in a classroom for another two to four years is not for you. On average, it takes one or two years to complete a program at a trade school.


The third reason is that vocation school is a better financial choice. According to the Center for Employment Training, the average cost of attending trade school is $33,000 versus an average of $132,000 for a bachelor's degree from a university. Therefore, for example, if you go to a trade school for welding, you would be looking at tuition fees of around $5,000 for courses. Then, after completing the program, you can go on to be a welder making a base salary of $43,505. 


Become an Entrepreneur 


You are never too young to turn your passion into a business. After all, you may already be doing something you love, like cutting hair, graphic designing, or creating social media content. Whatever your passion may be, you can decide to turn your side hustle into a small business. Becoming a full-time entrepreneur may not be possible fresh out of high school due to financial restraints, but you can find a job that allows you to pay your bills while also investing in your dreams.


It is worth noting that becoming an entrepreneur is risky. What the media usually doesn't tell people about entrepreneurship is that it is tough, and in the early part of the journey, you probably will be making little to no money. However, even if you don't initially find great success in your pursuit of being an entrepreneur, you always have the option of going to college to pursue a degree, even while continuing with your side hustle.


The Money Wrap-Up


In today's world, success looks different for everyone. The traditional route of graduating high school, then college, and then entering the workforce where you will stay until retirement is still a thing. However, there are now grade school kids making millions of dollars from social media or e-sports. Whatever pathway you decide to take after graduating from high school, just make sure you are making the decision that will make you happy.

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