11 Alternatives to the Traditional 4

In the game of life, there are some truths that cannot be avoided. Whether you choose to accept them or not is up to you. If you’re looking for a way out of the traditional four-step process, here’s how 11 games provided their own unique take on survival and escape.

The “what are some alternative ways to get an education other than attending a four-year university?” is a question that I am often asked. There are many alternatives to the traditional 4 year college experience, including online courses and community colleges.

Vintage man walking through gate with carrying bag and suit case.

We’ve explored the history of higher education as well as the benefits and drawbacks of attending a four-year institution so far in our series on whether or not college is actually for everyone. We’ll take a look at several alternatives to the typical four-year degree today.

One-quarter of college graduates are employed in positions that do not need a college diploma. Only 7 of the 30 positions expected to expand the quickest over the next decade need a traditional four-year degree.

Although it may not seem so based on what you hear in the media and from the general public, there are a number of very valid options for graduating high school students to choose other than the standard 4-year college.

Finally, you must consider your long-term objectives. “Students need to think about what their interests are, how they like to learn, what motivates them, what financial realities they face, what type of work they see themselves doing – (sitting behind a desk with a computer in front of them, building things, working with people, etc.),” says Mary Docken, a prominent voice in education advocacy.

College is unquestionably the best option for certain jobs, such as several in the STEM sectors. However, for many others, it is a waste of time and money. Some people believe that in order to be successful in college, they must major in a certain field (usually business). This restricts their employment prospects. However, this is just not the case.

After high school, we’ve identified ten extremely viable possibilities for you to explore. Some of them may lead to long-term jobs, while others are more of a transition phase for deciding on life’s next steps, whether it’s to go on to college or pursue a different route. In any case, they should be considered alongside four-year universities for every high school student who is trying to figure out what to do next.

1. Establish a company.

In the United States, nearly 22 million people are self-employed, meaning they work for themselves. This equates to around 14% of the whole American workforce. Making it on your own may be more reachable than you think if you have desire, initiative, and a good product. In truth, some of the most successful persons of the twentieth and twenty-first century were self-taught entrepreneurs:

  • Richard Branson is a British businessman.
  • Michael Dell is a well-known computer entrepreneur
  • Walt Disney is a fictional character created by Walt Disney
  • Henry Ford is a famous American businessman.
  • Bill Gates is a well-known businessman.
  • Steve Jobs is a well-known American entrepreneur
  • Milton Hershey was a famous American candy maker.
  • Frank Lloyd Wright is a well-known architect.

All of these guys took the initiative to launch enterprises that they believed would transform the world.

There has never been a better time to start a company. There are a flood of business possibilities that can be created from the comfort of your own home with only a computer and an internet connection (half of those 22 million individuals work from home). It’s never been simpler to start a business, whether you’re selling items online or just utilizing the internet as a portfolio. To create a clothing business, for example, you no longer need a costly location with rent, utilities, and a large number of salespeople. You might be the next Antonio Centeno, manufacturing and selling fine apparel online from the backwoods of Wisconsin, with a little bit of drive (okay, a lot of drive) and a decent product.


Consider how simple it is to open an Etsy store and sell any kind of handcrafted item. With little more than an eBay account, you might even become an antiques dealer and seller. The options are actually only limited by your own inventiveness with only an internet connection and a lot of hustling.

One of the best aspects of establishing a company nowadays is the abundance of free information and instruction. A fast Google search will get you started on the path to entrepreneurship in no time, and your local bookstore will offer shelves upon shelves of business literature. Brett and Kate established The Art of Manliness from the ground up, primarily with their own initiative. They installed WordPress, developed the website, built an online shop, sold advertising, and have been operating a thriving company for six years, all with the help of Google. (Though they would also argue that their undergraduate and graduate degrees helped them significantly with the writing and critical thinking abilities that are so important for operating a successful blog.)

While it’s true that more small companies fail than thrive, you’d be hard pushed to find an entrepreneur who didn’t learn anything from their mistakes. Do you have a strong passion for what you made as well as excellent interpersonal skills? (These are the two characteristics that entrepreneurs attribute to their success.) If that’s the case, starting your own company can be a better option than going to college for four years.

2. Take a community college course.

While community college may not have the same reputation as a four-year institution, it does provide a number of advantages:

  • Saves a lot of money — a community college credit hour costs $60, whereas a four-year credit hour costs roughly $300. Community college expenses are growing at a similar rate to 4-year college costs, but not at the same rate. There are even colleges, such as Tulsa Community College, that will pay for 100% of tuition for any high school graduates with a 2.0 GPA who enter the autumn following graduation. Check to see if there are any programs or incentives available in your region.
  • Makes the transition to college simpler — if you’re attending community college, you’re probably living at home or quite near to home. Instead of feeling like you’ve been thrown over a cliff into the deep seas of college, you may do things at your own speed and gradually take on more responsibility.
  • Gives you time to identify and develop your interests — in 4-year universities, general ed subjects will make up the bulk of your first two years, even if they are connected to your major. You can accomplish the same thing for a fraction of the price at a community college. This allows you the freedom to pursue your passions without worrying about piling up significant debt on courses that don’t count toward your degree or major.

When compared to four-year universities, community colleges provide certain practical advantages. The second key advantage – and maybe the most important one – is that you can obtain your associate’s degree in only two years, putting you on a road to success you never anticipated.


Only 7 of the 30 fastest-growing occupations will need a typical bachelor’s degree in the coming decade. Most others need a mid-level education, which is defined as a degree that is higher than a high school diploma but lower than a four-year degree. And, believe it or not, they aren’t all low-wage positions. This list of 40 high-paying jobs that don’t need a bachelor’s degree covers a wide range of fields. A few of the jobs on that list that need an associate’s degree include:

  • (Avg. salary: $60k) Engineering technician
  • Operations in the aerospace industry (average income $61k)
  • Web developer ($622,000 on average)
  • MRI technician (average annual salary: $65,000)
  • Nuclear technician (average annual salary: $69,500)
  • The average compensation for an air traffic controller is $122,000.

3. Start a business.

Men welding with safety glasses.

Trade schools provide specialized instruction for a broad range of skilled occupations. This may include earning an associate’s degree from a community college, but it’s more often a year or two at a technical school. These occupations are often linked with “blue collar” vocations, and regrettably, in today’s society, they are typically connected with negative stereotypes.

The truth is that millions of individuals work in skilled labor positions, and they are highly compensated, particularly when compared to college graduates. A college graduate’s average beginning pay is $45,000, whereas a trade school graduate’s average starting salary is $42,000. There isn’t much of a difference, and the trade school graduate is at least two years ahead of schedule in the workforce.

Furthermore, you’re practically certain to get a job right after graduation. There are countless examples of significant energy and construction projects that were forced to be terminated owing to labor shortages rather than a lack of funds. Companies just can’t locate the people with the necessary expertise to finish the task.

Another advantage of skilled work is that your talents are less transferable than those of folks who spend their days sitting at a computer in a cubicle. Even work once performed by attorneys and physicians is now outsourced. Electrical, plumbing, and welding tasks cannot be outsourced. These occupations are exactly what keep our country running on a daily basis.

Mike Rowe, the former presenter of Dirty Jobs, is working to debunk preconceptions about blue collar jobs and rekindle interest in the skilled trades:

“In 2008, there were over 3 million unfilled positions, and no one was talking about them because they weren’t aspirational.” So, long story short, I felt that a lack of respect for skilled work eventually expressed itself in a gap that caused us to push youngsters in one path while ignoring another, resulting in a slew of occupations that no one wanted.”

He’s formed a nonprofit that gives tools, scholarships, and even a job board for those who want to pursue specialized crafts. It’s a fantastic website, and it almost made me want to learn a skill myself! He also has a new book out, with 100% of the revenues going to his foundation; my copy is on its way, and I’m excited to read it.


So, what are some particular alternatives for a career? Take a look at the partial list below, then visit Rowe’s website for additional information on these deals.

  • Construction
  • Welding
  • Landscaping
  • Electrical
  • Painting
  • Forestry
  • Photography
  • Woodworking
  • Masonry
  • Locksmithing
  • Work in Metal

In a few months, we’ll start a more in-depth series of blogs on the deals. Keep an eye out!

4. Develop your artistic abilities.

If music, painting, sculpture, or other forms of art are your passion, you should seriously consider not attending a four-year college. While experienced artists make roughly $60k per year on average, getting there takes a bit longer. You’ll be in debt after receiving a degree, and will you have actually progressed your skill beyond what you would have done anyway?

Getting an associate’s degree as a backup plan is a good idea, but you should really focus on honing your craft through deliberate practice, and consider moving to an art-friendly city like Seattle, Austin, TX, or one of these other top cities for artists, where you can find peers and mentors who can help you critique and improve your work.

Building a following and clients is essentially the same as launching a company. You must also handle it like a business. Don’t fall into the cliché of the “starving artist,” who is a slacker who only works when inspiration hits. Even if painting is your calling, you’ll need to put in the hours, just like any other job.

5. Take advantage of online learning opportunities.

Online college-level courses have exploded in popularity in recent years, with Coursera and EdX at the forefront. While YouTube and a number of websites make lectures available to the public for free, Coursera and EdX provide certificates of completion, which may be university-verified for a modest cost.

While you won’t get college credit for these courses, they are college-level (believe me, they’re tough) and will teach you some really useful and practical skills that may be applied to a variety of careers. New Models of Business in Society, Competitive Strategy, Physics 1, Beginning Game Programming, and many more are among the course titles. If you don’t have a degree on your CV, having a few certifications for certain abilities is preferable than having none at all.

The University of the People is one educational institution that is making waves (UoPeople). It was founded in 2009 and provides tuition-free education to everyone. In business administration or computer science, students may earn an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. It may be difficult to believe, but UoPeople is not a gimmick, and there is no catch for students — you get a legitimate degree. The school was recently certified by the Distance Education and Training Council, and the curriculum is put together by volunteers. Many significant corporations, including Bill Gates, have donated money. It has applied to the Department of Education for accreditation, and it is expected to satisfy the standards.


One disadvantage is that you have no financial investment in this institution. Only over half of the students are engaged, despite the fact that there are approximately 1,500 pupils. When taking classes on Coursera or EdX, I’ve discovered that when they’re free, it’s tougher to remain motivated to keep going when life becomes hectic or you just lose interest.

Another disadvantage is the widespread bad view of online-only schooling. Employers are often skeptical of online degrees, even if their fears aren’t always justified. It’s a question of public opinion that will hopefully improve over time, but online degrees still don’t have the same status as “traditional” university degrees.

Having said that, UofPeople is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that is gaining traction.

It’ll only be a matter of time until these online learning institutions acquire even more traction and become mainstream alternatives for high school graduates.

6. Look for a job. Any work will suffice.

Vintage men sorting papers at table.

Every 18-year-old should think about getting a job and working for a year or two before deciding on their college plan. Even if you start at minimal pay, factors like coming up early and working late, maintaining professional integrity, and treating customers and colleagues with respect can help you advance. Those apparently insignificant attributes, believe it or not, are in great demand.

You’ll gain vital life lessons by working full-time at a fast food business, as a barista, or doing landscaping. You’ll learn about customer service, putting in long hours even if you don’t want to, managing your money, and balancing life and work. Many males don’t learn these things until they’re out of college.

There are well-paying and long-lasting occupations that don’t need any formal schooling beyond high school (bearing in mind that these positions must still be worked up to, they simply don’t require any post-secondary education):

  • Construction Supervisor (average annual salary: $60,000)
  • (avg income $60k) Claims Adjuster & Investigator
  • Operator/Inspector of Mass Transportation (average income $63k)
  • Gaming/Casino Manager ($65k on average)
  • Operator of a Power Plant (average income $66k)
  • Detective/Criminal Investigator ($74,500 on average)
  • Elevator Installer/Repairer ($77k on average)

If you decide to go to college after a couple of years of working, you’ll be two years older and have money in the bank to assist pay for it. While persons with just a high school diploma have lower salaries and increased unemployment, a little elbow grease may go a long way. My own mother, for example, didn’t go to college and instead worked for a few years in fast food and retail before acquiring her real estate license and working as an executive for many real estate businesses, making far more than the typical person. In certain circumstances, resilience and determination may go you farther than a college diploma. Speaking about real estate . . .


7. Make a real estate sale.

Becoming a real estate agent is one of the finest possibilities for young guys who don’t want to go to college for four years but want to make a lot of money. You can take a few months of real estate classes, pass a state license exam, and start selling properties for around $1,000.

Real estate agents earn an average of $42k per year, which is comparable to individuals with a bachelor’s degree. However, your earning potential is far greater. You get out of a job what you put into it, so if you work hard and hit the pavement, you’ll be able to support yourself and your family. Realtors are particularly tempting as a career option since they may work from home and, to some degree, establish their own hours.

The disadvantage of real estate is that you will most likely be working evenings and weekends. People who work regular hours can only look at houses when they’re not working, which means you’ll be on the phone and completing contracts late at night to ensure your client gets their ideal home.

While the housing slump a few years ago may have turned some people away from this field, the market is already beginning to recover, and employment growth is expected to be 11% over the next decade, which is in line with the overall job market.

For more information on how to become a real estate agent, visit the National Association of Realtors.

8. Become a volunteer.

Vintage men digging on hillside.

Volunteering for a year or two is a fantastic opportunity to not only give back and help others, but also to develop your own character. Many individuals dream of living overseas or performing community service for a year, only to discover after graduation that costs pile up, marriages appear, and kids arrive. There’s no better moment than the year or two following high school to take advantage of your urge to try something new and do some good in the world.

Although the Peace Corps is a viable choice for overseas service, the bulk of positions are reserved for people with a college diploma. If you don’t have a college diploma, they’ll search for relevant job experience in the area you’ll be working in. However, there are choices available to folks with just a high school diploma, so check into it.

For high school graduates, AmeriCorps is a far better alternative, however you are “restricted” to serving in the United States. The National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) program, in particular, is an excellent match for males aged 18 to 24 who desire to serve for a year. It’s a residential program, and you work in groups of 8-12 people, so it’s almost like going to college, only instead of courses, you’re doing community projects.

Another potential possibility is the AmeriCorps VISTA program. The setup is a little unusual; you effectively work as an employee of a non-profit organization for a year. You’re given a tiny stipend to help with housing and living expenses, but that’s all. I personally know numerous individuals who have completed this program, and they have all had a fantastic time.


Other volunteer opportunities after high school include:

  • The Conservation Corps dates from the Great Depression and FDR’s New Deal. You get a modest stipend for living costs, similar to AmeriCorps. The Conservation Corps focuses on work that is more outdoorsy.
  • Global Routes is a non-profit organization that sends young people to serve in various nations for around a year. This program has the disadvantage of being a shorter-term commitment and costing $4,000-$6,000 in “tuition.”
  • Catholic Volunteer Network – offers a broad variety of volunteer opportunities and has a fantastic searchable database where you can specify that you’re searching for positions that don’t need a college diploma. To use this network, you don’t have to be Catholic (or religious at all, for that matter).

9. Consider joining the military.

A man giving indications to join army recruitment.

While many people think of the ROTC program when they think of military service for young people, it isn’t the only option (although it is certainly a good one). Around 100,000 18- and 19-year-olds enlist in the military after graduating from high school. Aside from being a form of duty, there are other practical reasons to consider entering the military:

  • A salary comparable to that of a recent college graduate ($30-$45k).
  • You and your family will get free health care.
  • Living expenditures are minimal to non-existent, allowing you to save money more quickly.
  • If you opt to pursue a degree while in service, you will be reimbursed for your tuition. (You have a range of online learning alternatives, and many military locations offer satellite classrooms of well-known universities, so you don’t have to leave base.) You may also use the GI Bill once your active military service is over to obtain at least some of your education paid for, depending on how long you were on active duty.
  • While seeing the globe isn’t the objective of military duty, it is a privilege that shouldn’t be overlooked.
  • Every year, you get 30 days off. Only 17 vacation days are used on average by those who have worked in the American civilian sector for more than 20 years.
  • After 20 years of service, you may retire with perks. That implies an 18-year-old may retire at the age of 38. While you won’t be able to live off those benefits for the rest of your life, you’ll have a lot less financial stress.

There are a few prerequisites to entering the military:

  • To join, you must be 18 years old and have parental permission. If you have parental permission, you may enroll at the age of 17.
  • You must be a legal resident of the United States (includes territories like Guam and Puerto Rico).
  • Although a high school diploma is not necessary, it is generally preferred. GEDs are also occasionally accepted.
  • Pass the ASVAB Test – this exam measures your understanding in areas such as science, language, technical abilities, and mechanical skills. It aids in the assignment of military career responsibilities. This exam has various passing marks for different disciplines.
  • Pass a physical examination. Each branch has its own set of height, weight, and body fat restrictions. You’ll also get evaluated for a variety of physical problems that might jeopardize your ability to serve.

I suggest visiting two really useful websites to learn more about entering the military: www.military.com and www.todaysmilitary.com.


10. Become a colleague or apprentice.

Peter Thiel, the inventor of PayPal, is an entrepreneur and investor who is interested in this debate over the value of a college education. He established the Thiel Fellowship in 2011. Each year, he selects 20 young men and women under the age of 20 to whom he would provide $100,000 in order to let them skip college and pursue their dreams. “Rather than learning, you’re doing,” he adds. Fellows are supervised by some of the world’s greatest scientists, academics, and business executives during the course of the two-year program. There are no exact standards for a successful two years in the program, however the vast majority of its alumni have developed something or founded a business.

As individuals recognize the advantages of the age-old principle of apprenticeships, similar programs are springing up all across the nation.

  • Praxis – offers paid full-time apprenticeships.
  • Echoing Green is a fund that supports young leaders who are committed to social change.
  • TechStars Is a non-profit organization that gives financing and mentoring to technology entrepreneurs of all ages.

11. Enroll in a trade school.

This choice is similar to a traditional four-year institution, but there is one significant distinction. To help pay for your education, you are needed to work 10-15 hours each week. As a result, you pay substantially less in tuition at these labor schools, and in certain circumstances, no tuition at all.

In every other way, it’s a typical college experience, except you’re not saddled with the debt that so many students and their families face. You get vital work experience while still concentrating on your education. These schools recognize that you’ll work harder and have a tougher time learning how to manage your obligations than at other schools, but you’ll emerge stronger than most of your colleagues.

Because there are only seven federally approved work colleges in the United States, your choices are rather restricted, but they are still worthwhile to examine. Visit www.workcolleges.org for more information.

“Does College Make Sense for Everyone?” Finale of the series

With this series on the importance and value of a four-year college degree, we’ve come full circle. We began by looking at the history of higher education in the United States and how that history has influenced the present situation. We then reviewed the advantages and disadvantages of a regular four-year college, concluding that there is no simple yes or no response as to whether one trumps the other. Finally, today we’ve discussed a range of possibilities for the just finished high school student who intends to pursue a career path.

Our ultimate objective with this series is not to persuade you of one side or the other of the debate. Whatever you do, there are major advantages and disadvantages, as well as opportunity costs for every decision we make in life. College is one of the most important choices you’ll make, therefore the opportunity cost might be significant.


With this in mind, we advise students to consider whether or not to attend a four-year institution. That is, undoubtedly, a difficult assignment for an 18-year-old. Peer pressure, family pressure, social pressure — it’s nearly too much for anybody to dig through and assess objectively. Nonetheless, your college choice will have far-reaching consequences that will affect the rest of your life. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that a four-year institution is the best choice simply because everyone else thinks so.

That attitude also applies to parents. The data has already been presented in these postings. A college degree is no longer what it once was. It will undoubtedly be the best option for many pupils. It will not, however, be the case for everyone. Parents should keep in mind that a bachelor’s degree may not be the best option for their child’s future. Assist your pupils in engaging with this issue and comprehending the gravity of debt, which is a difficult concept for young minds to absorb.

Whether you’re a parent or a high school senior, we hope this series has shown you that education doesn’t have to be a never-ending conveyor belt that you get on in pre-k and don’t get off until you have a college sheepskin in hand. It’s OK to deviate from the road and investigate alternative options. We congratulate all of the young guys who will be venturing out on their own this year the best of luck in their decision.



The “what 3 differences between internships and apprenticeships struck you the most? explain.” is a question that I am asked quite often. The three biggest differences are that internships are paid, they are not tied to a specific employer, and they can last anywhere from 2 weeks to 12 months.

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