Alternatives to the Traditional 4-Year College Teenagers Should Think About

Posted by E.J. Volkmar on May 20, 2015

I have one child who is graduating this year and one who will be graduating next year. The one graduating this year is all set to go off to college. The one graduating next year has no interest in going to college. At first this concerned my husband and I, but we realized that there were alternatives out there.


All Children Are Different

Upon looking into this we found out that a quarter of college kids were in jobs that didn’t require a degree, any way. Why spend all that money if they didn’t really want to go?  What we found out was that each child was different and what was more important was to have our kids think about their life goals instead. There were a number of opportunities out there that did not require a degree. So we sat down and found out what they were and went over them with our child. I would like to share some of them with you.
Probably the most obvious alternative that parents think of is to have their child attend a community college. Although they don’t carry the same prestige as a four year university they do provide plenty of benefits when it comes to an alternative path.


Some of these benefits are:

  • Saves tons of money. Consider this: at a community college a credit hour only costs about $65 compared to approximately $300 at a four year college.
  • Gives your child time to define what it is they really want.
  • Makes the transition to a four year college easier.
  • Can earn an Associate’s Degree in just two years.


Out of the 30 fastest growing careers or jobs, only seven of them required a four year college degree.

Pursuing a Trade

Another alternative besides community college is pursuing a trade. Where some trades will require an associate’s degree most of them only require you to attend trade school for a year. Unfortunately most of these trade jobs are labeled as “blue collar” jobs, which often carries somewhat of a negative stereotype, but in reality there are millions of people with trades and they are paid quite well compared to college graduates. Some examples of trades are construction, electrical, welding, photography, landscaping, woodworking blacksmithing, metal work, forestry, masonry and painting.

We were surprised to find out that on average a college graduate makes $45,000 the first year after college and a person with a trade makes 42,000. In addition you are almost always guaranteed a job as soon as you get out of school.

Starting a Business

Another option your child may pursue is starting a business. We were surprised to find out that there are over 22 million people who are self-employed in the U.S.  The barriers to starting a business have never been lower. With a computer and an internet connection, there are a slew of business opportunities that can be started with as little as $100 from your own home. Out of the 22 million that are self-employed half of these are working from home.

Online Classes

Another option that kids have today that we never had when we were younger is to take online classes. The number of universities offering online classes has increased exponentially in the last few years.  The two that are more well know are Coursera and EdX.  While you don’t get college credit for taking these courses from these two, they certainly are college level. If your child is interested in getting college credit there are plenty of colleges that offer online courses. Check with your local colleges.

Getting a Job

One of the more obvious options for an 18 year old is getting a job. Sometimes a teenage will be better off getting a job and working for a year or two before deciding on college. Your child can learn things like showing up every day, showing up on time and just what it is like to work a 40 hour week. This will give them a good feel for what is like to be out in the working world.



Other options you teen may have is volunteering for a year. There are plenty of options for them to volunteer and for some kids this gives them a better idea of want they want out of life. The important thing to remember is that college is not for every child. Let you child pursue other options if they so desire. It is not the end of the world and they may make out better than if they went to a four year college and went in debt to do so.