While college is a good option for many people, it isn’t for everyone — and not going to a four year college doesn’t mean you can’t have a meaningful career.
More people than ever before have a college degree, but a four-year program isn’t the only way to be successful. College isn’t for everyone, and even employers are realizing that there are many skills that can’t be captured in a degree program. In fact, some major employers, including Google and Apple, no longer require applicants to have a four-year degree for positions in which a degree was once a prerequisite.
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There are certain jobs for which you need a college degree, like engineering or counseling, but there are plenty of careers out there that don’t require additional degrees.
Reasons You Should Not Go To College
College isn’t right for everyone. Employers are beginning to recognize that a college diploma may not necessarily be the best job-screening prerequisite for hireability. There can be valid reasons to delay college — or put it off entirely. Reasons to consider taking a year off can be valid, helping you save money while you learn more about yourself, such as:
- You’re not excited about your options. Maybe you didn’t get into the schools you expected or have second thoughts that came up when you tried to imagine yourself attending the schools you did get into. Taking a year off, reassessing, and considering different options can be a good strategy if the thought of college fills you with dread or doubt rather than excitement.
- You’re unsure what career you are interested in pursuing. You may want to explore different options by being exposed to college-level courses at a community college or spend time volunteering, working or traveling.
- You’re already working. If you already have a job, you may be wanting to lean into your current job or save money to go to school in a few years.
- You’re exploring non-degree avenues. There are many high-paying trades that don’t require a degree but may require an apprenticeship.
- You have a plan for a gap year. Some people like to take a year to travel, work or otherwise take a break in between high school and college to further explore their identity and what they want to do in the future.
- You feel you’re going to college only to please your family. If you feel pressured to go to college, it may be a sign that college isn’t the right option for you, right now.
- You have essential family obligations. Some students may need to help their family and may not be able to take time off to go to school. These students may consider community college or a part-time degree program. Speaking with your current high school counselor may also help you find avenues to navigate multiple responsibilities.
- You want to take time to pursue a talent. From sports to the performing arts to a creative path, some people make the decision to explore a talent more seriously, focusing time, energy and resources prior to going to college. This can be a decision that’s made with your family, coaches, teachers and yourself to navigate an untraditional option.
Reasons You Should Go To College
College can be a great time to grow and learn and for some, it’s a natural step. Here are some other reasons why college may make sense:
- You’re excited and realistic about college. You recognize college may have ups and downs and feel confident that college feels “right” as your next step — not just something your family or teachers expect from you.
- You’ve done your research and are confident that a college degree will be helpful to achieve your career goals.
- You’ve talked with alums and people working in potential future career fields and feel like college makes sense for your career goals.
- College fits into your overall financial plan. Whether it’s saving for college, scholarships, financial aid, student loans you feel comfortable paying back, parental help or all of the above, how you feel financially about going to college can be a good gut check to see if college is right for you right now. It’s easy to forget about student loan payments during undergrad, but take a look at the terms and consider how those payments will feel when you’re out in the working world.
- You have a ‘Plan B’ in case you realize that college isn’t the right fit. Sometimes, people realize one semester into school that college may not be what they need at that moment in their lives. It can be helpful to talk about what this may be so that you don’t feel trapped if school doesn’t feel like it’s a good fit.
Alternatives to a College Degree
Just because you aren’t interested in a four-year degree doesn’t mean you need to forgo higher education entirely. Alternative educational models, like trade schools and community colleges, offer many practical certifications and two-year associate degree programs that can help you get ahead.
It is important to know that even if you’re not planning to pursue a four-year degree, you still have options when it comes to creating a career that is right for you.
1. Trade School
Sometimes known as technical or vocational schools, trade schools can prepare you for a specific job, such as a dental hygienist, electrician, cosmetologist, or nurse. These programs are normally much shorter than four years, and certain programs may allow you to finish in only a few months. There are both public and private trade schools, with some operating on a for-profit basis.
Trade schools don’t award bachelor’s degrees. Instead, when you graduate from a trade school, you typically receive a diploma or certificate indicating that you are trained and certified to perform a specific job. Some trade school programs do offer associate degrees, which are the same type of degrees offered by many community colleges.
2. Community College
And that brings us to community colleges, which, as we mentioned above, usually offer two-year degrees called associate degrees. These degrees can either stand alone or be a stepping stone to obtaining a bachelor’s degree at a four-year school.
But many community colleges offer career preparation programs that are designed to help students jump into the workforce without the need for a bachelor’s degree.
Community college could also be a great way to test out college life and see if you want to continue pursuing higher education. They tend to be much less expensive than four-year universities, which means it won’t cost you an arm and a leg before you decide if higher education is right for you.
Apprenticeships are paid positions designed to teach the apprentice about a specific job or industry. They can help you learn how to use industry-specific tools and technologies and help you develop your skills over a period of time. This may be in fields as diverse as plumbing to transportation engineers to baking apprenticeships.
Apprenticeships can be a win-win for employers and employees because they allow those starting out to begin working immediately — that way, employers can fill vacant jobs and you can receive a paycheck right away.
4. Certificate Programs
Similar and sometimes overlapping with trade schools, certificate programs offer specialized training in a specific area. This may include coding, cybersecurity, or could be in things like yoga, fitness, a commercial driver’s license (CDL) or other places where specialized knowledge may be a prerequisite. These certificates may also be helpful in making job seekers eligible for positions with higher starting salaries.
5. Taking a Gap Year
A gap year is when a student takes a year off between high school and college. Some colleges allow accepted students to defer for a year, holding a place for them in the next year’s incoming class. Some people create a travel itinerary, others may work or volunteer for the year. There are some gap year programs that create opportunities for students, keep in mind that some programs may be expensive.
6. Starting a Business
If you are already passionate about — and have a lot of knowledge about — a specific field or industry, you might consider skipping college altogether and jumping into that business.
Starting your own business takes a lot of hard work, but it could mean that you get to be your own boss and work in an industry you love. And because you could quickly become an expert on the products or services you provide, you aren’t necessarily at a disadvantage because you lack a degree.
If You Do Go the College Route
There are plenty of options if you choose not to attend a four-year college. However, there are also options within the world of college: the type of college you choose, the major you decide to pursue, and how you pay for college.
There’s no denying it: Higher education is expensive. In the 2021-2022 school year, the average in-state college tuition and fees was just over $10,000, and for private school, it was about $38,000. This can be a big financial commitment, especially if you are on the fence about pursuing higher education.
That’s why it can be a good idea to begin creating a payment strategy early, which may include both federal and private student loans. Fill out the FAFSA to see how much federal aid — including scholarships, grants, work-study, and federal student loans — you qualify for.
Federal student loans do have limits on how much a student can borrow each year they are enrolled in school. Some students may need additional funds to bridge the gap. In that case, some may consider borrowing a student loan from a private lender to help pay your tuition.
In general, it can be a smart idea to exhaust all your Federal loan and grant options before you consider private student loans. That’s because federal loans offer some protections, such as deferment options, that private loans do not. Private loans can cover up to 100% the cost of attendance, including money to cover books, room and board, and personal expenses.
College can lead students on a new career path, but depending on your goals and other factors, may not be necessary. Some students may choose to pursue a trade or vocational program instead of a four-year degree.
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