Let’s face it: even though they may seem like the norm, college degrees aren’t for everyone. In fact, while more people than ever are going to college, the percentage of people with college degrees remains surprisingly low, at 33 percent, according to the US Census Bureau. So whether you’re uninterested in taking on debt or you simply don’t want to commit to four more years in a classroom, you’re far from alone if you’re planning on exploring other post-secondary pathways.
Here’s a closer look at six life paths which don’t involve a bachelor’s degree.
1. Pursue vocational training.
Trade schools offer vocational training that is a more direct route to many secure and high-paying jobs. Consider The Balance Career’s recent roundup of 'The Best Jobs for Trade School Graduates'. Not only are skilled workers very much in demand in areas ranging from dental hygiene to plumbing, but vocational training and apprenticeships focus on the development of practical skills which can be put to use immediately.
And while vocational training once had a stigma to it, that’s turning around due to the competitive job market and the fact that, according to professor of education Diane Ravitch, “[colleges] are not training our students for the jobs that actually exist.” Now dubbed career and technical education (CTE), it’s drawing more interest from students, including those for whom higher education is easily within reach.
Former school chancellor Carolyn Warner added, “Those who graduate from high school with certificate technical expertise in a field like auto repair or welding are certainly more likely to find jobs.”
2. Enroll in a bootcamp.
No, we are not talking about the military (but that’s coming up later). We’re talking about coding and programming bootcamps. With universities failing to produce enough STEM graduates to meet demand for employees with tech skills, coding bootcamps have emerged as an alternative education model aimed at providing critical tech talent.
Wondering whether employers really look at bootcamp grads the same way they look at degree holders? A survey by jobs site Indeed indicates 72 percent of employers think bootcamp graduates are “just as prepared and likely to be high performers” as employees with computer science degrees. Indeed concludes, “With attitudes as favorable as this, it seems undeniable that bootcamps are an idea whose time has come. So for job seekers with the skills and interest, coding bootcamp is ‘worth it.’”
3. Consider community college.
While four-year degrees may be more glamorous than their two-year community college counterparts, they may not be more practical. Community colleges offer many benefits -- to students and to society at large. Not only do they open the door to more students, but, like vocational programs, many of their programs directly respond to the current job market. As a result, grads can hit the ground running in just two years with the skills they need to work in anything from web design to veterinary tech.
Another benefit of community colleges? They boost diversity. The Chronicle of Higher Education argues, “College graduates are a crucial asset for our society to compete in an increasingly technological world and to provide the professionals we need in a wide range of fields.”
4. Join the military.
Just as college degrees aren’t for everyone, nor is the military. But if it is right for you, it may just change your life for the better. For starters, joining a branch of the military comes with basic pay, free room and board, free healthcare and dental care, educational benefits including tuition assistance, and even home financing.
Plus, as a soldier, you can receive professional and technical training in many fields, such as aviation, engineering, news and media, and human resources -- some of which will be eligible for college credit.
And then there’s the fact that things you learn in the military stay with you for life. Money Crashers suggests, “The opportunity to learn responsibility, focus, and discipline from military service can benefit enlistees for life. People in the military are taught how to make decisions in extreme conditions and function in periods of stress – traits critical in civilian life.” Because of this, many go on to become political leaders, business leaders, or entrepreneurs.
5. Take time to travel.
Unless you’re independently wealthy, a carefree trip around the world may not be in your future. However, there are many ways to travel productively, such as volunteering with UNESCO, WWF, Red Cross, UNICEF or another non-profit organization. In doing so, you will learn many things that cannot be taught in the classroom.
Once you enroll in college or get a job, you will have less time to see the world. Traveling and volunteering first offer an opportunity to fulfill your wanderlust while simultaneously bettering yourself as a person.
6. Get an internship.
While you may not be able to land the job of your dreams without training or a degree, you can land an internship in the field of your dreams -- which can help you acquire the skills and experience you need to move up the ladder. Some internships are paid while others are unpaid, so while you may need to live at home or get a part-time job, the payoffs can make it extremely worthwhile in the form of a foot in the door.
Former Google SVP of People Operations Laszlo Bock told GlassDoor of its decision not to require degrees, “When you look at people who don’t go to school and make their way in the world, those are exceptional human beings. And we should do everything we can do find those people.”
And Google is just one of many top companies, including Ernst and Young, Hilton, Whole Foods, Apple, Starbucks, IBM, and Bank of America, where jobs are available to prospects with just high school diplomas.
One last thing to keep in mind is that just because college isn’t right for you now doesn’t mean it won’t be right for you later. The picture of the 'typical' college student is changing, with more non-traditional students returning to the classroom after pursuing other paths. If you do decide to attend college in the future, it will remain an option -- and you will likely be positioned to get even more out of it thanks to the skills and perspectives you have already gained in your career and life!