10 Alternatives To College For Those Looking For Options

Jill Caren
By Jill Caren
Updated June 14th, 2024

Graduating high school and you have no idea what to do after high school?

Well, first it is important that you know – you are not alone. Many kids have no idea what to do after graduating high school. Sadly, high schools are not doing a good job of helping young people who prefer not to attend college with future planning.

And whatever you do, please do not drop out of high school just because you think that it is a waste if you are not going to college! Even many of the alternatives to college will require a GED or high school diploma!

We are all told that getting a college degree is the best way to land a future career, but that is just not true anymore. With colleges being unaffordable for most and with no guarantee of a well-paying or stable career, it is natural to want to consider alternatives.

This is why we have this article featuring the many alternatives to college for you to consider, with no fancy Bachelor’s degree or any other formal college degree required.

alternatives to college to consider

After High School College Options

Whether you can take advantage of some of these options will depend largely on your support network and financial situation.

But, all of these traditional college alternatives offer great opportunities for growth, learning, and possibly help you find your dream career.

1. Go straight to work

While you can absolutely get a job right out of high school, it will not be a well-paying job in most cases. Of course, if you worked during high school and plan on just diving into a job in the same industry you may do well.

For example, maybe you were a barista at a coffee shop, and now that you have graduated you can be a shift or assistant manager. Or maybe you did some waitressing and now you want to pursue being a hostess or even a chef.

High school students and graduates can often find work in retail and work their way up.

When I was just 17, I started working at WaWa (a convenience store on the East Coast).

I was not able to attend traditional college and was totally lost in life, but WaWa gave me a path. They offered paid career training programs, benefits, good wages, and a future for me.

Within 6 months I was promoted to assistant manager and within one year I was handed a store of my own to manage. The money I was making at 19 was more than my dad had made after 20-something years in a factory.

So, for those willing to work hard, there are lots of opportunities. Start your job search locally, on a site like Zippia, or reach out to your network of friends and family. Find companies that embrace job-based learning and offer opportunities to attend school if you do decide to go back.

If you are one that loves experiences and the outdoors, consider CoolWorks.

Through this website you can find jobs all over the country, many of which include room and board! These jobs are in amazing locations and let you really experience the best of the great outdoors.

You can check out our list of fun jobs that have good earning potential too. All of the jobs on this list do not require college either.

If you love kids, there is also AuPair.com which offers amazing opportunities to care for children – and other opportunities – all over the world.

2. Join the military

Joining the military offers you so many wonderful benefits and opportunities for those that can dedicate themselves to the rigor of training and daily work.

Whether you choose the Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marines you will undergo some testing and meet health requirements before you join. Each branch of military service offers different opportunities, but all of them can assist you with education and building a long-term career.

If you serve in the military, chances are good that they will pay for your college tuition if you do want to go for higher education.

You will also have the opportunity to see the world in many cases which is a great way to immerse yourself in other cultures and find other interests. The downside is the chance you may be required to serve during times of conflict.

3. Find an internship

If there is a career path you are considering, then an internship is a great way to test it out before investing time or money into it. While internships are very common for those attending college, opportunities can be found even for those with a high school diploma.

Internships can provide on-the-job training that can help you understand what you may like or dislike about the job. In some cases, an internship can lead to a job offer too.

You may find paid and unpaid opportunities, so what you can do is really dependent on your financial circumstances. If you can take a free internship then it may be worth it to get the skills since paid are more difficult to find.

ProjectsAbroad offers international internship opportunities in a variety of industries if traveling is something you wanted to do. While these can be a bit more costly, the opportunities can help you gain invaluable skills that can help you grow.

4. Consider community college

I know, we said no college is required!

But, community colleges offer more than a degree. You can just take a few courses in something you are passionate about and many offer certificate programs in some fields.

While you can attend for the full two years, it is not the only option!

For example, I recently spoke to a young man named Zach. He absolutely loves gardening, a passion passed down by his grandfather. After talking with his parents, he decided he wanted to go into Horticulture. He already had a few years of experience working with a local gardener and his local college offered an 8-class certificate program.

In as little as one year he could achieve his certification and already has a job lined up for when he does.

Community colleges offer so many opportunities that do not require a full 2-years of study, so it is definitely worth looking into for students pursuing certification programs. Programs are often available for jobs such as dental hygienist, home health aides, and even personal training.

Choosing trade school vs college will depend largely on the career you choose and your financial situation.

kids graduating high school

5. Launch a business

A harder path, but definitely doable! Starting a business requires a bit of money to start, so unless you have a little bit tucked away, this may be challenging – but can be so rewarding.

If you think it is impossible to have your own business, even when you are young, you are so wrong!

Whether you have a product you are passionate about and want to take to market – or want to do web design, starting a business is a great way to carve your own path.

Need some inspiration?

Check out Mr. Cory’s Cookies, a business started by a young man named- you got it, Cory. With an estimated net worth of over $1 million, this young man has quite a future. There is also Alina Morse, who started Zolliops, a special kind of lollipop that does not wreak havoc on teeth. In 2018, the company had sales of $6 million dollars.

While these are just 2 examples, there are so many more. Some kid entrepreneurs do decide to attend a four-year college as well, but many do not need to.

6. Attend trade school

Since Blue Collar Brain is all about trade careers, we are a very strong advocate for attending trade schools to land those amazing trade jobs that need you right now.

If you love the idea of physical work, building and creating, and being a part of something that makes a difference – then getting into the skilled trades might be for you.

Skilled workers are needed more than ever and with so many career paths available in the trades, it is a top pick for what to do after high school. Many skilled trade professionals go on to very lucrative careers after they develop the skills and experience needed to make them valuable.

Vocational programs can range from a few weeks to a few years and help you gain the knowledge and hands-on experience to become an expert in your career. From electricians to farriers to dental hygienists, there are so many different opportunities in the trades.

If money is an issue you can look for schools that offer distance learning to keep housing costs down. You can also look at financial aid options to help pay for the tuition.

We have a great guide explaining what blue collar means so you can learn more about this history of the term if you are interested.

7. Become an apprentice

If you decide you want to go into a trade career, but are not ready to commit to a school – then apprenticeship programs are a perfect opportunity for you. Apprenticeship opportunities are huge and will have you working side by side with experienced professionals that can offer you valuable experience.

This can really help you assess your career options. Many employers have programs for apprenticeships and some vocational schools can also help you find opportunities as well.

This will help you understand if you have enough interest to make it a full time career. There is no cost to be an intern, and in some cases you may actually get paid for your work. If you decide you love it, you can then attend a technical program that will help you land a full time job and get you started in the work force.

8. Join Job Corps

Job Corps offers a variety of programs for 16-24 year olds which include helping them complete their high school education, training for careers, and helping them find jobs. Students at job corps can enjoy room and board and educational opportunities for up to 3 years.

They offer technical skills and career training in a variety of industries including construction, hospitality, automotive repair, and transportation to name a few.

They do offer tuition assistance and have a special program where income-eligible students can attend for free.

9. Plan to travel

If you have the means, traveling after high school can really add so much to your life. You can travel within the United States or abroad, both of which will allow you the chance to grow and experience amazing things! Of course, meeting new people from different areas is pretty amazing too.

Traveling will give you an education that school never could. You may find a new path you never considered too. Maybe you fall in love with a foreign country and decide to move. Maybe you realize that you are happiest in the mountains or at the ocean. It is a great opportunity to learn more about yourself, which in turn will help you create a better future plan that will make you happier and more fulfilled.

Many recent grads have taken road trips cross country! Imagine renting a van and take a few besties and hitting the beautiful landscapes across the United States. Of course, you will need to save up some money – but this can be a pretty low cost way to travel and have some fun.

You can also do mission trips in countries all over the world.

10. Do volunteer work

There has never been a time that volunteers have been more needed. Volunteer opportunities are everywhere and are not only a feel good thing to do – you are really making a huge difference in some way. Whether you decide to wok for an animal organization, food bank, or even a group fighting for equality – becoming a volunteer with a nonprofit organization can open so many paths.

It can help you find something you can be passionate about that you can turn into a career, it can help you learn life skills that you may not have, and most importantly – it can help you build amazing relationships. Building relationships with community members is a great way to improve your chances of finding a career path.

Opportunities to volunteer with the Peace Corps are always available if you are looking for experiences outside of your local community.

There Is Life After High School Even Without College

If you were worried that no college meant no life or future – we hope this article has made you believe otherwise.

A college degree is not the only path to success, and college life is definitely not for everyone, so embrace the options!

So, whether you recently graduated high school – or that big day is coming soon, there are so many other options for you to build a wonderful future. Talk to your parents, grandparents, or even a school guidance counselor to help them get you started on any of the paths above.

Remember, there is no WRONG path – whatever path you take is the RIGHT path for you and that is all you should be focused on right now

Jill Caren is an international SEO consultant and founder of 2Dogs Media. She is also a trainer, journalist, and speaker who helps brands increase their organic search visibility, traffic, and conversions. She is also the co-founder of Blue Collar Brain, a resource for those looking to enter a trade career.

She has been featured on MSN, Wealth of Geeks, Hubspot, SEO Powersuite, and other publications for her work as an SEO and advocate for skilled trades.