Does the thought of possibly shelling out tens of thousands of dollars to sit in a classroom for four more years after graduating from high school make you groan? 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. The truth is that college may not be the right path for all high school grads.
There are many colleges you can consider, but for some people, sitting in class for another four years to get an expensive degree doesn’t hold interest. And for many, family or work obligations make it difficult to pursue full-time education.
There are certain jobs for which you need a college degree, like engineering or counseling, but there are plenty of careers out there that might be a better fit for you. And, as we mentioned, college degrees can be pricey.
In the 2019–20 school year, the average in-state college tuition and fees was just over $10,000 , and for private school, it was about $36,000 . The cost of college has actually grown eight times more quickly than wages from 1989 to 2016. That means that an expensive college degree may not be a strong return on investment for certain career paths.
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. The popularity of alternative educational models, like trade schools, is rising, and community colleges offer many practical certification 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.
Sometimes known as technical or vocational schools, trade schools can prepare you for a specific job, such as truck driving, nursing, or medical assistance. 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.
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.
Though you may not have realized it, apprenticeships are not just something you read about in a history book on the Middle Ages. Currently, the U.S. has a robust network of training programs and apprenticeships that are designed so you can learn a trade while working a paid job.
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.
Described as “learn while you earn ,” they can help you learn how to use industry-specific tools and technologies and help you develop your skills over a period of time.
According to the U.S. government, workers who train in apprenticeships earn about $300,000 more in earnings over their careers than workers who don’t go through or complete an apprenticeship program.
Starting a Business
Another option for those who aren’t interested in all-night cram sessions and dorm rooms is starting your own business. In fact, a 2017 study showed that more than half of business owners don’t have a four-year college degree.
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. If you go that route, and you take out student loans, there are ways to help you manage the debt you are paying on. For some grads, loan refinancing can be a big help.
Refinancing your student loans with a private lender, like SoFi, may help you snag better repayment terms that can help facilitate a quicker payoff, such as a shorter term—or you could qualify for a lower interest rate.
One important thing to note is that refinancing federal loans with a private lender could make you ineligible for some federal loan benefits, like Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF), so it’s important to do your research when deciding what the best program fit is for you.
SoFi Student Loan Refinance
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