Go to high school. Go to college. Get a job. This is the “traditional” path we’re told to aspire to. But is it the right path for everyone? That depends on many factors, but for a lot of high school graduates the most serious obstacle to following this path is the high cost of higher education — for some people, it means choosing between large student loans or no college at all. (If you’ve read my previous articles, you know which choice I made!)
But what if you’re not ready to take on the student loan burden? Are there any alternatives?
It depends on your perspective, of course, but if you look at the specific things one gets from college or university, it’s clear there are creative ways to get them without student loans. So what exactly do you get from college? (Besides the degree, of course) You get (1) a broader and deeper education beyond what you learned in high school, (2) qualifications for a particular career, and (3) a taste of independence away from home.
If you were to attempt to get these things without enrolling in college, what would you do? Here are some options you might consider:
Use free resources to train for your desired career
You are what you know. And luckily, you can control this! Developing some key skills by reading up or watching tutorials on the internet can go far. Whether it’s writing, accounting, computer engineering, or any number of other things, there’s probably a wealth of resources online to help you learn. Web development is useful nowadays for a host of reasons, and knowledge of a second or third language can make you that much more marketable to companies the world over. These are things you can become very good at before (or without) going to college. The more time you spend honing similar marketable skills, the more you can put on your resume, and the less time (and money!) you’ll have to spend in a 101 class if you do choose to attend college later. These skills might also lend you a hand in paying your way through school since you could work on side projects, like translating texts or creating websites. This might work for any other skill you are interested in, too.
Invest time in your hobbies
Developing marketable skills is one thing; focusing on a passion is another. Not attending college right away does allow for a lot of time to pursue other things… like your hobbies that could potentially become a career. I’m talking about budding designers, artists, and musicians, who wouldn’t normally study these particular things in school for one reason or another. An added year of practice can only be beneficial for your level of expertise, your style, and can speed up any imperfections that may have taken tons of open mic nights to recognize. It’s possible that this could then lead to an actual career path eventually, or just remain a hobby that you’re really good at. Either way, practice makes perfect.
Work and save
The only way to make money and save up to fund any dream is good old-fashioned work. If you haven’t been saving throughout high school, it’s not too late! If you work full-time, or about 40 hours per week, for a year, and save most of it while living at home, you can probably save about $15,000 or more. Taking a year off from school is not something that should be stigmatized and is obviously a great way to cut down on loans, or to firm up your choice of school, major, or career path. If you’re lucky, you will learn quite a bit on the job that will help you later. And your savings account will grow to help you pay for college eventually. Plus, a fat savings account never hurt anyone.
Consider “free college”
News blog Mashable recently published an article titled “How to Audit Courses From 7 Elite Schools Online” — who knew?! Universities listed include Yale, MIT, Tufts, Johns Hopkins, Stanford, Princeton, and Harvard. These elite universities allow you to challenge yourself, by listening to lectures and hopefully continuing to read up on the topic and develop analytical skills. Any knowledge is welcomed, especially when it’s free, and perhaps you might hear something that sparks your interest. Expanding your horizons, no matter the medium, is very important — listening to these introductory lectures is most useful when accompanied with visits to your public library. Maybe these lectures will also help you get a good grade in a similar class in the future.
A movement introduced by Dale Stevens, UnCollege began because of the notion that knowledge shouldn’t come at a price that rises each year. Essentially, UnCollege is “challeng[ing] the notion that college is the only path to success.” Dale focuses on what you might consider a well-rounded education, not where. There is a suggested reading list for various topics, and there is a manifesto which includes a guide to self-directed learning. All in all, Dale’s UnCollege places importance on learning and figuring out life one step at a time, as opposed to the conventional wisdom that college is the only way to prove competency. Even if you do attend school, UnCollege is a great supplement.
Start a business
Again, with free time comes great responsibility — or at least, the responsibility of occupying that time wisely. If you dream of owning your own business one day, now would be a great time to get the wheels turning, as you don’t have too much to lose! (At least, not as much as you would if you were older, with a family and an established career) If it doesn’t require going into debt, then trying your hand at entrepreneurship would be a wise and potentially enlightening experience. Conducting research, networking with successful people in the industry, and writing up a business proposal are great ways to get started.
Attend community college
If the only thing standing in between you and college is money, but you are firm in your decision to attend directly after high school, then maybe your best bet is community college. Even attending part-time can boost your GPA and your candidacy, still allow for some free time, and help you make decisions about your future while in a much less expensive environment. Sure you don’t get the traditional “college experience” right away, but you may gain some valuable insight that would be impossible to gain elsewhere. After a year or two, you may be able to apply to your dream school and possibly get a sizable scholarship based on your academic and extracurricular performance at community college. Some very successful people, such as the last Governor of California, used community college as a springboard to their dreams. You never know what you can accomplish, no matter what your educational background might be.
What do you think? Are these reasonable suggestions for people who are not ready or can’t afford to attend college right after high school? What about other alternatives that I might not have mentioned? Put your thoughts and ideas in the comments below!