Alternatives to College

Allow me to make an educated guess. You are stressed. You have been swamped with homework and endless assignments. You constantly question why you elected to take that extra AP or honors course. You are sleep deprived and, as every year passes, you put less time towards your social life and more towards academia. And despite the stress engendered by the seemingly never-ending lectures, assignments, and projects, the notion of applying to colleges from one of the most competitive regions in the United States takes the cake.

Growing up in Silicon Valley, it sometimes feels like the traditional route to college is the only way to college. Going to college might even feel like the prerequisite towards having a successful life! However, the reality is that no one can predict where life is going to take you. No college admissions counselor or life coach can fully grasp all the circumstances in your life and why you make the choices you do. No one knows you or what is best for you like you do. When it comes to success, the best way to achieve is up to you and your situation. While it is important to listen to the expertise of all experts on the subject, where you choose to go in life ultimately depends on you.

With this in mind, here are some possible alternatives towards applying to college and alternatives to college itself:

Attend Community College

Any self-respecting Silicon Valley resident would surely gasp at such an option, but community college is indeed a very cost-effective and reliable method towards obtaining an education. The programs offered are often a direct response to the needs of the current job market. In just two years’ time, and at a lower cost, students can earn an associate degree or a certification as a veterinary technician, a dental hygienist, web designer or even a winemaker!

Even after graduating community college, you still have the option of obtaining a bachelor’s degree at an accredited 4-year university. The first two years of most bachelor’s degree programs are comprised of the same set of classes as that of an associate’s degree-including entry-level English, math and science courses––but often at a fraction of the price. Since you can skip such introductory courses when pursuing your bachelor’s degree, you get to still obtain a bachelor’s degree, but at a fraction of the cost and time of taking the traditional route to a bachelor’s degree!

In fact, you do not even have to wait until finishing 4 years of high school to start community college! Once you complete your sophomore year of high school, you have the option of taking the General Educational Development (GED) test. If you pass this test, you are free to leave high school after two years of education and attend community college. This means that, at the time when most high school seniors are getting their diploma, you will have obtained your high school diploma and an associate’s degree and will be on your way toward getting your bachelor’s degree at a fraction of the time and cost!

The traditional (and usually more expensive) route:

High school (4 years) → Bachelor’s degree program (4 years)

Total time: 8 years

The alternative route:

High School (2 years) → Community College (2 years) → Bachelors (2-3 years)

Total time: 6-7 years!

Enroll in Technical College or an Apprenticeship

Technical colleges specialize in career-driven courses that teach skills that apply to specific careers, such as carpentry, landscaping, or electrical work. Unlike a four-year college, you are not required to take classes that aren’t related to your career focus. This option is great if you already have a career in mind and want to go directly into it.

Additionally, there is a growing demand for skilled workers due to the fact that there has been a huge gap in skilled trade workers demanded and skilled trade workers available. Most existing skilled trade workers are disproportionately members of older populations. As such workers retire, there will be an even larger number of jobs to fill. Technical college and trade school is the first step towards you helping fill this gap!

Furthermore, if you want to get involved in a skilled trade, apprenticeships are a strong option as they offer the opportunity to learn a trade in an in-demand field. And, unlike many internships and college, you get paid. Apprenticeship programs offer on-the-job training from experienced professionals. If you go this route, you’ll likely be working with your hands. For example, the construction industry currently makes up two-thirds of apprenticeship programs in the U.S. Such jobs have had a growing demand in recent years which is projected to continue to increase in the future.

Keep in mind that apprenticeships are quite uncommon in California. However, they are still available and are an option for you to consider.

Start your own business

This option is definitely the riskiest of the three, but possible nevertheless. We have all heard about business magnates such as Kirk Kerkorian and Mark Zuckerberg who were able to strike rich without finishing college, and we have all contemplated taking the risks they did. It is possible to be financially independent through starting your own business. A storefront with expensive rent, utilities and employees is no longer necessary to sell goods or provide a service. A computer and an internet connection are all you need to start a business from home.

Consider applying for fellowships to help get your business started, such as the Thiel Fellowship-launched by PayPal founder Peter Thiel-which offers $100,000 to skip college and pursue a business idea while being mentored by the world’s top scientists, researchers, and business leaders. The program is competitive, though. Only 20 candidates are selected each year. If you don’t get in, there are several other programs to pursue, including Echoing Green, Enstitute and UnCollege Gap Year.

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