Alternatives to a College Education

by | Sep 19, 2022

Not everyone can or wants to go to college. Some people can’t afford it, and others are burnt out on homework and classes. But when page after page of entry-level jobs all require a bachelor’s degree, it’s easy for a high school graduate to be left wondering if they have no choice but to attend college just to get a job.


Attending a four-year college isn’t a hard requirement for entering the workforce. It’s possible to land a job with an alternative form of higher education or by building the right skills. Check out alternatives to a college education that will serve you well in the work world.


Why Do So Many Jobs Require College?

A surprising number of job postings contain requirements for a four-year diploma, even though the job description lists tasks that a skilled high schooler or young adult could do. According to the BBC, this frustrating phenomenon has a name: degree inflation.


The development of technology has changed job duties in every industry, and now even mostly hands-on jobs require the ability to use technology. The employer’s logic is that you’ll know how to use the technology if you have a degree. However, this requirement has hurt employers and employees alike. A degree doesn’t necessarily mean you have the skills for the position, and any high schooler will tell you that you don’t need a degree to use Microsoft Office. 


While some employers are beginning to phase out the requirements for a degree, many haven’t done so yet. For people who don’t have a degree and can’t or don’t want to get one, this can make it extremely difficult to find a job. That’s why many people seek out other ways to get their foot in the door of the work world.


Alternatives to Four-Year Colleges

If you want to receive higher education, but the idea of attending a traditional four-year college isn’t for you, you don’t need to write off higher education entirely. You can still earn a degree or certificate without attending a four-year school.


  • Community College

If the sticker price is the only thing standing in your way of attending a four-year college, you can choose to attend community college instead. Community colleges typically offer general education courses as well as classes for specific career paths, like early childhood education. While it may not offer traditional college experiences like dorm life, it’s a far cheaper alternative. 


Additionally, community college can grant you a faster path to a degree. These colleges offer a two-year degree, called an associate’s degree, which can expand your career options significantly in some fields. If an associate’s isn’t enough, you can often transfer some or all of your credits to a four-year college and continue your education from there.



  • Online Colleges

It’s become increasingly commonplace to earn a college degree online. While many people associate online degrees with online-only colleges, a growing number of reputable four-year institutions offer online classes that count for college credit. Depending on your major, you might be able to earn most or all of your degree online. (Certain universities require hands-on or lab courses that can only be taken in person.)


A caveat, however: if you choose to attend an online college, make sure to do your research. Some online colleges are scams that provide fraudulent degrees, and legitimate online schools can have a reputation for bad academics, just like in-person schools.



  • Trade Schools

A trade school or vocational school offers a quick path into a hands-on career. These schools focus on teaching you the skills you need to work in the trades, including plumbing, HVAC, makeup, hair styling, automotive repair, and more. The programs last one to two years, depending on your course of study, and are substantially cheaper than a four-year college.


Some community colleges offer courses in the trades. Some schools focus specifically on trades or specialize in one or two. If taking up a trade sounds appealing, research the trades you’re interested in and your area’s relevant trade school options.


Skipping School Entirely

For some people, the cost or pace of higher education isn’t the problem; it’s the thought of higher education itself. If attending college doesn’t appeal to you at all, there are plenty of options that don’t require it.



  • Apprenticeships

Apprenticeships are hands-on training programs that allow you to take courses in industry-relevant skills and practice those skills with paid on-the-job training. If you have a good idea of what industry you want to work in, an apprenticeship can give you a way to learn those skills while getting paid to do so.


Finding a legitimate apprenticeship without already attending college or trade school can be tricky. is a website run by the federal government that allows you to search for available apprenticeships within the U.S.



  • Coding Bootcamp

While learning programming with free online courses is easy, a coding bootcamp can provide a more intensive way to build your programming skills. Many of these programs last only a few months but provide you with the skills needed to become a web or software developer. They’re also flexible when it comes to distance learning: some programs are primarily in-person, while others are offered wholly online.


Keep in mind; however, that coding bootcamps can be quite expensive and aren’t covered by federal financial aid. They also aren’t regulated like colleges or trade schools are, so different coding bootcamps can vary significantly in quality. Make sure you do your research beforehand.


  • Freelancing

A traditional job isn’t for everyone. Depending on your skills, you may be able to take up freelance jobs on sites like Fiverr or Upwork. Working as a freelancer allows for a more flexible schedule, and you can choose whether to take on various small projects, work with clients over the long term, or both. 


Freelance work is often associated with creative fields, like writing or graphic design. However, the freelance world is open to anyone with skills they can lend out, like programming. 



  • Starting a Business

The idea of starting a business might seem baffling, but a significant number of young adults earn money by running a business of their own. You don’t need to become a millionaire, build the next up-and-coming social media site, or revolutionize an industry. Instead, you can do something simple that still allows you to make money.


For example, if you create crafts, you could sell them on social media. If you have experience with website design, advertise your services. If you paint or create digital art, accept commissions from other people. This can be especially useful for niche hobbies: if you like picking up random things from thrift stores or yard sales and restoring or customizing them, why not sell them online or provide restoration services?


Plot Your Career Path with JobsFuel

Trying to figure out your career options without having college in the picture can be difficult at best. JobsFuel is ready to offer guidance to anyone entering the work world, no matter their level of education.

Whether you pursue higher education or dive straight into the work world, JobsFuel provides you with the tools and advice you need. Our tips can help you write your resume even if you don’t have a college education, search for jobs in the field you want, and have a successful job interview. With, you’ll find many opportunities at your fingertips.