Not amped about the college track? Don’t stress. University isn’t the only option for post-secondary life and, in reality, it shouldn’t be the default for everyone. With a mounting skilled trade shortage, fewer young Americans pursuing careers in the military, and more tech jobs opening up that require no formal education, there are a ton of rewarding, stable, and in-demand options for you if you dream of forging a career without college.
If it’s money you’re worried about, you’ll be happy to know that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that some of the fastest-growing careers don’t require a bachelor’s degree, and many of them pay over $50,000. This is good news, as funneling millions of kids into a university each year with no other option is bad for our society and bad for students. We need a varied workforce with young adults earning a solid living wage sooner with less student loan debt. Here are some great options for you if you aren’t interested in college.
1. Go to a Trade School — Did you know that America is facing a dire shortage in the skilled trades? Yep, the experts say that, as baby boomers retire, they will leave a vacancy of about 31 million vocational jobs that firms will struggle to fill. At the same time, fewer young people are entering vocational fields, which is resulting in a measurable shortage within the workforce. The best jobs for trade school grads include positions in high-demand fields like construction, welding, landscaping, woodworking, locksmithing, painting, engineering, plumbing, electricity, and HVAC, which means that many of these roles can bring a high earning potential.
2. Try An Apprenticeship — Trade school is a great option for students who want to get an introduction into a certain trade, whereas apprenticeships provide a more in-depth, end-to-end education, usually over a period of three to five years. They pair real-life, paid work experience (in other words, actual jobs) with education and guidance so that learners can become skilled workers in a specific field. They’re a common way for aspiring plumbers, electricians, masons, and information technology (IT) professionals to earn as they learn.
3. Get a Certificate or Two — There are certificate programs across virtually all industries, from medicine to technology, that you can earn to sharpen your skills. And while they’re not the same as formal coursework, they can really make your resumé or online portfolio dazzle and make you stand out in a crowd. Earning a certificate may help you land a job and even earn you college scholarships for further study down the road.
4. Consider Military Service — Although it’s not for everyone — namely, those who don’t want to leave their hometowns or who aren’t willing to go to war if they are called to do so (both totally valid reasons NOT to join the military) — this career path does bring a number of excellent benefits to consider. With a service commitment of two to eight years, typically a mix of both active duty and service in the Reserves, you are entitled to benefits such as guaranteed pay, 30 days of paid vacation, and — with the help of the GI Bill — money for your education.
5. Go to Coding Bootcamp — Coding bootcamps are fast-paced, intensive programs designed for those who want a relatively quick way to learn coding. You can commit to a bootcamp program that lasts one day or six months, depending on which coding languages you want to learn and how deep you want to go. No matter how far you take this type of training, you can pretty much guarantee that it’ll translate to more job prospects down the road. Many companies hire software, web, and app developers with no degree if they know their stuff, and the annual pay can be over six figures.
6. Get a Full-Time Job — Let’s not forget one obvious path that may make sense for a lot of recent high school grads: work. Getting a full-time, entry-level job may afford you the financial stability you need to reach your personal and professional goals. There are plenty of full-time job opportunities out there that don’t require any formal education, degrees, or certifications, so don’t rule this out.
7. Join AmeriCorps — AmeriCorps is a volunteer civil program that invites adults of all ages (18+) and backgrounds to work in the community on a wide range of projects, from tutoring kids in underserved communities to aiding FEMA after a natural disaster. Most members work either full-time or part-time with a nonprofit organization or community agency, spending between three months to a year dedicating their time. In exchange, they can earn money for college, student loan deferment, health benefits, a living allowance, and job opportunities.
8. Take a Gap Year and Volunteer Away from Home — Many people spend their whole lives working just so they can travel, but when you sign up for a volunteer abroad program, you’re effectively traveling before you even start working. There are various different programs to consider if your goal is to give back while globe-trotting, with some of the most popular non-degree options being International Volunteer HQ (IVHQ), City Year, and Thinking Beyond Borders. Many students take a year off to volunteer as part of a “gap year” program.
9.Teach English Abroad — Nope, you don’t necessarily need a college degree to teach English to students in countries where the demand is high, such as South Korea, Cambodia, Peru, Mexico, Argentina, or Russia. The best thing you can do to get started with your foreign language teaching career is to obtain a Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) certification (aim for at least a 120-hour TEFL qualification to increase your prospects). The cool thing is, teaching English abroad can earn you some serious cash that you can use to advance your career, with some countries paying over $4,000 a month for skilled language teachers.
College Isn’t One-Size-Fits-All
If you’re not sure a college degree is what you want to go after, don’t worry too much. College isn’t for everyone, and there are plenty of equally as fulfilling and valid career paths to follow. The best thing you can do is to consider all your options and transition in a way that honors your specific personal and professional goals now and in the future.