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 was making hefty loan payments for nearly two decades after graduation, 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.
Signs college isn’t for you
If you’re reading this article, it’s clear you’re already wondering whether four years at a college or university is the right move for the next stage of your life, after you leave home. But it’s all right if you’re still on the fence.
The truth is, some people are more suited for college than others. Here are a few signs college isn’t for you:
You haven’t enjoyed the academic side of school
Let’s be clear: There’s a huge difference between high school and college.
In a university or college, you’ll have much more control over what classes you take and your schedule. You’ll also have to be more independent and motivated to get to class without your parents or teachers making you.
But if you’ve found that, overall, your academics in high school haven’t been enjoyable or at least engaging, then an alternative to college might be a better idea. While it’s natural to enjoy some high school classes more than others, if you didn’t like much of it at all, it may be that you simply aren’t the type of person who learns best in a classroom setting. And if that’s the case, college might not be for you.
While Baby Boomers and Millennials often subscribed to the notion that the only correct path was to go from high school to college to a career, there are many members of the younger generations who understand this path isn’t right for them.
If you’re someone who has often gone against the grain, then trying to force yourself to follow a “traditional” path could be a bad move.
You’re concerned about your financial future
There are ways to go to college without going broke. Community colleges are often more affordable, you can use scholarships and grants to lower costs, or you can work while in college.
But many students in the United States end up taking out loans and/or depleting their savings while in college (including yours truly, and I did work all four years in college). Even if you intend to work while in school, it’s possible you’ll discover your course load doesn’t allow you to do so.
If you’re worried about money in your immediate future, then college might not be the right move right now. Instead, a job where you can earn and save money right away might be better—and you can consider college later if you decide you want that degree after all.
If you do decide college is for you, then be sure to check out these articles that can help you manage finances while you study:
You aren’t sure what you want in life
Before you dive into the college alternatives 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 it’s worth pondering this question before you decide whether or not you want to go to college. And if you do decide higher education isn’t for you, then 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 turn your newfound skills into your own business. (More on that below.)
You have lots of options when it comes to choosing an apprenticeship. The best way to narrow down your choices is to think about your current set of skills and passions.
For example, if you’re someone who enjoys working with your hands, you may consider an apprenticeship that would train you to be an electrician, a mechanic, or a farmer. If you’re good with technology, apprenticeships in software development or computer engineering might be the right path for you.
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 for using LinkedIn to land a job is to set up an attractive profile. We have a few guides 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.
Another excellent benefit of coding—it’s a skill that can serve you in a variety of career paths. Nearly every business in existence today has a website, and many rely on their websites to drive the majority of their revenue. With coding on your list of skills, your value as an employee increases in the eyes of lots of employers.
Below we’ve listed a number of good coding programs. Some are free coding bootcamps, others have a small cost or allow you to pay with loans or defer tuition payments.
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.
Try life as a digital nomad
Around the world, there are people living as digital nomads. They have no single place of residence, and they work remotely while traveling the world. If you want some time to explore what our planet has to offer, but still earn income while you’re doing it, this is a good path to follow.
Of course, to be a successful digital nomad, you’ll still need to find a way to work while abroad. But many of the options on this list would fit the bill: there are digital nomads who work in marketing, coding, website development, freelance writing, or as virtual assistants—the only requirements are that you can earn income without being in a single physical place.
If you like working with kids, then this is a great job opportunity. You can 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 you can experience new countries like a local—and your accommodation will be covered. And if you like animals, then you can make even more money taking care of people’s pets 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. Many websites 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. We have a whole library of articles about turning your side hustle, hobbies, or passions into money-makers:
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.
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.