Oftentimes, high school can feel like a funnel into a 4-year university, especially when there is pressure from family, friends, and counselors to take a certain path. It can be difficult to know what you want to do for a career at a young age and the options aren’t always wholly represented.
Of course, earning a 4-year degree isn’t the only option to create a career path for yourself. For example, trades and apprenticeship programs, online certifications, self-employment, and associate's degrees are just a few. Here, we’re going to explore alternative options following your graduation if you’re looking to find different routes to success.
Online School and Self-Taught Skill Sets
You can still earn a degree without attending a traditional university. Pursuing a degree online means you have many options—you can get most degrees online, from an associate’s to a bachelor’s. There are also many certification and training programs online like software engineer boot camps.
Since COVID, colleges and other institutions have boosted their remote class offerings, so there are many options available. As more educational programs move to an online platform, taking classes and earning a degree or certificate has become incredibly flexible. That means you can go at your own pace and schedule—making it easier than ever to up your credentials.
If you have a natural skill for something, there are many ways to develop this into something profitable and marketable in the modern world. These days gamers and young influencers are making their mark, and have found ways to make a great income. If you think a non-traditional path like this might be an option for you, consider still taking some courses in marketing and business so that you have the skills to manage income.
Even if you’ve decided that a 4-year degree isn’t the right option for you, an associate’s degree may still be worth considering. Associate’s degree programs are generally two years and provide fundamental technical and academic skills needed to continue onto a bachelor’s degree or find employment. Often associate’s degree programs are offered by community colleges which are generally more affordable as well. That means if you decide on a different career path, you won’t be indebted for skills you aren’t using.
Associate’s degree programs typically cover general education credits, too. So no matter the case, the further education will help make you more employable in general. Earning an associate's degree will also set you up for success if you do decide to earn a bachelor’s degree as well. Since most of the credits are transferable and needed for a bachelor’s program, you will be a big step ahead if you decide to go back to school. Even if you decide to do so well into your career, having an associate’s degree will make the transition easy.
Rather than getting a degree, certificate, or license, you may already have an idea for a business that you’d like to pursue. Entrepreneurship is the life blood of a bustling economy. Although there are still benefits to further education for entrepreneurs, there is no reason you can’t get started while in high school or right after.
Taking classes and meeting with other business owners can give you inspiration and practical knowledge on how to get started and find success. Mentorship is a big part of any successful career, so if you plan to move forward with your own business, try to find a mentor as soon as possible to guide your endeavors.
One thing to consider about being a self-employed entrepreneur is understanding how to manage your finances and file your taxes. A course on business management could be helpful to ensure you know how to keep good records and manage both your business and your personal finances successfully. If you are self-employed, keep in mind that obtaining financing for larger financial goals, like getting a mortgage, can be tricky. However, good record-keeping is the key to winning over lenders.
Whether it’s opening up a retail store or being a freelance writer, there are plenty of creative outlets to be your own boss.
When it comes to planning your future, the possibilities truly are endless! With that being said, if you are interested in gaining work experience without a degree in fields such as IT, Business Administration, Construction (and more!) an apprenticeship may be the perfect fit for you.
While completing an apprenticeship program, one tends to gain a combination of classroom learning and hands-on experience all while being accompanied by a professional within the field. Besides expanding their knowledge and experience, apprentices also get paid an average hourly wage of $17 to $21 in the United States.
Another thing to consider when partaking in apprenticeships is the fact there are four levels. Intermediate (Level 2), also known as the most basic level, typically lasts anywhere from one to one and a half years. An advanced apprenticeship (Level 3), lasts for two years, and workers tend to work an average of 30 hours per week. Higher apprenticeships last for three to six years, and apprentices typically take lead in their given projects. The final apprenticeship level (Level 6 or 7) is reached once work-related work and a degree has been obtained. Interested in finding an apprenticeship for you? Click here.
If you are looking for an alternative to a four-year degree, and are interested in positions including an electrician, esthetician, real estate agent, baker, computer programmer, and more, trade school may just be the answer to all your questions.
Trade School is attended by students who are interested in being trained within a specific skilled trade career. These programs typically last 1-2 years, and according to Best Colleges, cost an average of $33,000, similar to the price of a single year's tuition when pursuing a four-year degree.
Upon graduation, students will receive a diploma or trade certificate which can then be used when applying for jobs within the given field.
Career Outlook & Success Rates
Though you may feel pressured to follow societal standards by attending a four-year college to receive your degree, it is always important to do research regarding all possible careers and outcomes. Keep in mind that trade positions are very in-demand right now, and opportunities within the trades will continue to expand throughout the years to come. Apprenticeships are also the perfect way to kickstart your career by learning useful skills and connecting with others in the field which may ultimately lead to possible business ventures. You may also want to pursue a degree at your own pace with community college. There are so many opportunities out there, so take your time, and find what is right for you.
In retrospect, say you do decide to pursue an education or career outside of receiving a four-year degree, you are actually more likely to achieve significant life goals in a shorter period of time. Whether this means paying off a house, purchasing a car, starting a family, etc., due to your chosen education (or career) path, you are most likely going to excel sooner as you are not facing endless amounts of debt.
If you are nearing graduation or have any remaining questions regarding your career and interests, always feel free to discuss them with your guidance counselor or family members, in order to ensure you are taking the best path for you and your future. And remember, even if you decide to not partake in receiving a four-year degree, there are endless opportunities that will lead you to success as long as you maintain the right drive and motivation.