I’ve been to dozens of job interviews since I graduated from college way back in 2008 (yes, I know I’m 👴). Do you know how many times I’ve been asked about my degree?
What’s more, when I moved abroad to Australia for a few years, I discovered something else: Few countries outside of the U.S. put as much emphasis on a college degree as the United States.
Don’t get me wrong—I had some of the best experiences of my life in college. But I’m still making hefty loan payments, and I’ve had this thought more than once: “Was college really worth it?”
Your parents and teachers may still give you unsolicited advice about the importance of college, but the truth of the matter is, college isn’t for everyone.
Fortunately, the world is a lot different than it was when I graduated. Now, there are more alternatives to college than ever before.
If you’re wondering what to do if college isn’t for you, I’ve got you covered. Here are a whole bunch of career paths you can follow, none of which require a stint on campus.
Before you start: Find your passion
Before you dive into the college alternatives I’ve listed below, there’s an important question you need to answer:
“What do I want to do with my life?”
It’s a big question, and you don’t need to have a definitive answer now (or any time soon). But thinking carefully about your passions will definitely help you make a decision when considering alternatives to college.
Fortunately, we have a guide that can help you start exploring this question.
Option 1: Dive right into your first job
Don’t believe people who tell you a college degree is a prerequisite for finding a job that brings you joy and a decent income. There are plenty of alternative career paths that can do both.
If you want to start earning money right away, and open up major job prospects for the future, then an apprenticeship might be the way to go.
During an apprenticeship, you’ll work directly with a mentor who teaches you a new skill on the job—you’ll literally be paid to learn. Once you earn your credentials, you’ll have the opportunity to make even more money, or even turn your newfound skills into your own business. (More on that below.)
When choosing an apprenticeship, you have lots of options. If you like working with your hands, you can look into becoming an electrician, a mechanic, or a farmer. If you’re a fan of technology, there are apprenticeships in computer engineering or software development.
The choice is yours—start digging in, and you’ll likely find something that suits your ideal career path.
Leverage your network to find a job
If you want to land a traditional job, but you’re worried the lack of a degree will hold you back, try finding a non-traditional way to get your foot in the door.
You can do this by building a solid network, and then leveraging those relationships to find a career that suits you.
You don’t need work experience to start building a network. All you need is a little bit of time and patience.
The best place to start building a network is through LinkedIn. Before you groan, trust me—it isn’t the stuffy social media platform it used to be. There are lots of people who are active on the platform and looking to make new connections—and one of those folks may be the person who helps you find your next job.
The first step to using LinkedIn to land a job is to set up an attractive profile. We have another guide that can help you get started:
Once you’ve done that, spend a bit of time every day making new connections. All you need to do is use the platform’s search function to find people who are doing what you want to do. Send them a connection with a request and a friendly note, something like: “Hello! I’m looking to start a career in _______. I saw you are currently working as a _________, and I’m hoping I can learn more from you.”
As your LinkedIn network grows, you’ll start to see your feed fill up with posts from your connections. These alone can help you learn a lot, but it’s also important to engage with them by leaving thoughtful comments and re-sharing content you like.
When you’re ready, start making some posts of your own, and don’t shy away from DMing people who interest you, introducing yourself, and asking them polite questions.
If LinkedIn isn’t your speed, you can use this same method on Twitter, or start hunting through Facebook groups or Reddit forums. All of these platforms are filled with people who may become your mentors.
Other jobs that don’t require a degree
There are plenty of jobs you can apply for that don’t require a college degree. Most will require training and certification of some sort, but typically at a much lower cost than a four-year college degree.
Here’s a list to start you off. Bear in mind, these are starting salaries—if you stick with one of these careers, expect your income to go up as you gain experience.
Option 2: Learn a valuable skill at your own pace
You don’t need to go to an expensive college to get an education. Today it’s easier than ever to follow your own path through an online course or other alternatives to college.
Teach yourself how to code
The world needs more talented coders—people who can design websites, apps, or other digital platforms. And there are tons of online courses you can take to earn a coding certificate that will open up job opportunities.
There are free coding bootcamps out there, or other options that are low-cost or allow you to defer tuition or pay with small loans, if that’s what you prefer. Here are a few to consider:
If you’re passionate about marketing, you can easily pick up skills in the digital marketing space through an online course. You can specialize in different areas, like search engine optimization, copywriting, web design, paid advertising, or social media.
In many parts of the world, it’s common for young adults to take a “gap year”—a year between high school and whatever comes next, to travel the world and learn about different cultures and places.
There’s no reason you can’t do the same—it may be as simple as working at a job for a few months to save up money, and then traveling to some affordable places around the world and staying in hostels.
But if that’s not an option, you can still look for jobs that allow you to earn money while expanding your global horizons.
Become an Au Pair
If you like working with kids, then this is a great job opportunity. You can travel to and live in a different country, and earn a decent wage, while helping busy parents care for their children. Check out sites like AuPair.com and GoOverseas to see what jobs are available.
Make a living as a house or pet sitter
The best part about housesitting is that you get to experience new countries like a local—and your accommodation will be taken care of. And if you like animals, then you can make even more money taking care of people’s furry friends while they’re away. Start your search on places like TrustedHousesitters.com, WorkAway, or Nomador.
Teach English (or another language)
You can use your language skills to make money while living in a country. There are so many websites that match teachers with school openings, or you can strike out on your own and become a tutor. If you prefer the former, take a look at TeachAway or GoAbroad, or think of a country you’d like to go to and see what you can find on Google.
Option 4: Start your own business
Why work for someone else when you can be your own boss? Starting your own business takes time to get started, but it’s worth the investment if your goals in life are centered around financial and geographical freedom.
If working for yourself sounds appealing, I’m not going to send you anywhere else—your journey can start right here, on The Vector Impact. We have a whole library of content about turning your side hustle, hobbies, or passions into money-makers, so check out these articles to get started:
There’s no reason you need to sink yourself into debt at a university or commit four years to a career path you aren’t sure you want before you even start working.
If college isn’t for you, then carve your own path. You can use any number of these college alternatives to find a career you love.