5 alternatives to college | The bank rate

A traditional four-year college is not for everyone; cost, time, and career goals can all play a role in your decision to graduate. Fortunately, there are plenty of alternatives for students pursuing paths other than a college degree. Some alternatives to college include trade or technical schools, volunteer work, the military, coding boot camps, and apprenticeships.

5 alternatives to a university degree

Whether you’re taking a gap year, looking to cut the cost of a college degree, or pursuing a specific technical career, there are practical alternatives for every situation.

Business or technical school

Trade schools (sometimes called technical schools or vocational schools) are institutions that train students in a specific skill. Trade schools train you for careers in which most colleges do not specialize, such as welding, carpentry, specific health professions, and the culinary arts. Because they are hyper targeted, trade school programs typically last less than two years – and sometimes less than a year.

Trade schools often offer a hands-on approach rather than a conference-based approach due to the nature of the training. Plus, many trades offer competitive wages or rates, and trades students often walk away with less debt and more job security than those with a traditional college degree.


Apprenticeships provide on-the-job and classroom training in a variety of high-demand areas including information technology, healthcare, cybersecurity, hospitality, plumbing, and construction.

Apprenticeships are generally a long-term commitment, ranging from one to six years depending on the job, and you will be required to complete a certain number of hours of work. Despite the longer commitment, many high school graduates choose to pursue an apprenticeship rather than traditional college degrees because of the lower cost and job security upon exiting the program.

Coding Boot Camps

Coding boot camps are intense, short-term programs that train students for careers in software engineering and other technical fields. These boot camps focus on teaching programming languages ​​like HTML, CSS, and Python. Depending on the boot camp, you can also develop your expertise in areas such as UX / UI content design, digital marketing, and full-stack web development.

Most programs offer full-time and part-time enrollment options, and you can often choose to enroll online or in person. While most boot camps are recognized by employers, keep in mind that they are not accredited. Costs vary by program, but boot camps are generally much more affordable than a traditional college degree.

Military service

Enlisting in the military is a common alternative to getting a college degree, and if you decide to pursue higher education, the GI Bill can help you pay for it.

Joining the military doesn’t mean you’ll always be on the front lines; there are many other positions in the military, including clerical jobs. However, you will need to think carefully about your decision before taking this step. Enlisting in the military is an important commitment and is not a decision to be taken lightly. Being a soldier can be extremely difficult, both physically and emotionally, so speak with current and former military personnel and think about the long-term reality of what it means to serve before you enlist.


Volunteering is a great way to take advantage of a gap year or prepare for a career in the nonprofit sector. Volunteering can help you step out of your comfort zone, discover the world, and find out what makes you passionate.

Some organizations to consider are:

  • Habitat for Humanity: Habitat for Humanity is a global, non-profit organization that helps build and repair homes for low-income families. It is located in all 50 states of the United States and in 70 countries, so volunteers can choose to travel overseas or stay in the states.
  • AmeriCorps: AmeriCorps is a national program that serves local communities through projects such as building houses, teaching literacy skills to children, and helping communities affected by national disasters. AmeriCorps members can also receive tuition assistance, and the AmeriCorps National Service Employer Network can connect you with employers across the country.
  • Peace Corps: The Peace Corps is an international organization dedicated to working alongside global communities in an effort to promote world peace. Volunteers have the opportunity to work in a wide range of sectors including community economic development, agriculture, health and developing youth.

How to determine the best college alternative for you

Once you’ve decided that an alternative to a college degree is the path you’re going to take, think about your long-term goals and passions. If you think your college education may still be in your near future, consider a year off volunteering or working to take the time to understand what really excites you.

If you are interested in a particular trade or career, a coding boot camp or apprenticeship would be the best option. There is always a financial commitment, but it is often less than that of a four-year degree. Additionally, many companies offer student loans for career programs if you need help paying for your program.

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