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Alternatives to a Bachelor's Degree: A Realistic Look At Your Options

Aug 31, 2010 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 1 Comments

Considering whether or not to earn a Bachelor’s degree—or go to college at all? It’s a tough decision to make, especially when college tuition is rising at an alarming rate—much faster than wage growth—and job prospects for recent graduates are slim. If you’ve seen your friends graduate with thousands in student debt and don’t like the prospect for yourself, you might be questioning whether college is right for you. And more importantly, if you aren’t excited and interested by career options that are available to those with college degrees—or if the career you really want doesn’t require one—you may have good reason to think twice.

Deciding not to go to college or earn a Bachelor’s degree is often a controversial choice in our society. To some, not earning a Bachelor’s degreeis seen as something of a tragedy. But there are alternatives to college that can lead to fun, fulfilling and lucrative careers. Here’s a look at your options.

Trade School

Trade schools teach you a trade or craft, preparing you for a career such as electrician, plumber, mechanic, mason, heating and refrigeration technician, carpenter, or auto body technician.  The instruction is hands-on, with plenty of opportunities to apprentice in the trade of your choice. At the end, you take a written and practical test that qualifies you to become a ticketed journeyman. If you know you learn best in a hands-on environment and enjoy work that is both mentally and physically challenging, this may be a good option for you. Trade schools tend to be cheaper than college—and trade careers can be surprisingly lucrative. Depending on the school and the trade you choose, you’ll likely take several years to make it through the program.


Do some research and think about what work would really be satisfying for you—and pursue the post-secondary option that will get you there fastest. 

Associate’s Degree

For most white-collar work, you do need a Bachelor’s degree. But there are more jobs than you’d think that require Associate’s degrees, which take only two years to complete—and some are quite well paid. Some options include physical therapist assistant, registered nurse, electrical engineering technician, dental hygienist, administrative assistant, or computer support specialist. And many schools will allow you to apply your Associate’s credits toward a Bachelor’s degree later, allowing you to earn a Bachelor’s in approximately two years after earning an Associate’s.

Professional apprenticeship

Like trade school, a professional apprenticeship will allow you to learn a hands-on trade such as carpentry, construction or plumbing. But unlike a trade school, you learn by getting a job with a company that allows you to work on the job as an apprentice. The company should help you toward professional advancement by assisting you in preparing for and achieving the certifications or licenses you need. If you can find a company willing to take you on as an apprentice, you can get the education—without paying the tuition.

Full-time work

It isn’t easy to get a job without a post-secondary degree of some type, especially in a tough economy—where you’re competing with people who have Associate’s and Bachelor’s degrees, even for the lowest-level work. But for some people, going to college or trade school right after graduation isn’t an option. If you can, try to get a job with a company that offers a tuition reimbursement program—so you can go to school and earn a degree while you work full-time. Many of these employers favor online schools that allow you to fit your studies around your job.

Starting your own business

It’s not unheard of for entrepreneurs to find success despite skipping the college education—Bill Gates is one of the most famous examples. If you know you’d like to start your own business and have a small business plan, you may be able to find success with it—even if you don’t go to college.

The military

The military is not always a safe choice. But it does offer significant incentives in terms of college tuition assistance, as well as valuable work experience that could open the door to a civilian career later. Some students earn online degrees while deployed, and have a college degree in hand by the time they’ve been discharged.

Times are tough for recent graduates—of both college and high school. But if you’re reconsidering going to college, it doesn’t mean you can’t have a strong career. There are other viable options that may not be as expensive, but could lead to a job that pays well, doing work that you enjoy. Do some research and think about what work would really be satisfying for you—and pursue the post-secondary option that will get you there fastest.

Who Needs College Anyway? Our Country's Real Post-secondary Education Needs -


Michael Keathley Over a year ago

Thank you for sharing these options, Jennifer! There is also the career ladder benefit in that someone who decides to earn an associate's degree may go on later to earn that bacherlor's degree.

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