8 best alternatives to college

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Contents

  1. Why should you consider alternatives to college?
  2. Alternatives to college

A decade ago, most people considered college the definitive path to a successful career.

Now things have changed. There are plenty of alternatives to college that can still prepare you for a fulfilling career.

From apprenticeships to freelancing, there's no shortage of ways to gain skills and earn a living. We’ll explore the best alternatives to college, how much they cost, and how to decide which option is right for you.

Why should you consider alternatives to college?

There are several reasons why college may not be the right choice for you. For many that go the non-traditional route, it usually comes down to:

  1. Shifting job requirements
  2. Rising cost
  3. Time and flexibility

Rising cost

Rising cost is a big contributing factor to the 4.7% decline in college enrollment(opens new window) in Spring 2022. The average tuition and fees(opens new window) for one year of a bachelor's degree program in the US (2020-2021) was $19,020. If you add other expenses, such as on-campus rooms and board, textbook supplies, and other fees, the figure rises to $35,551.

The cost of a traditional college has inflated beyond what many can reasonably afford without going into massive debt. In 1980, the average cost of college tuition, including all other fees, was $10,231 annually(opens new window). That price today has increased between 169% to 180%.

Shifting job requirements

The rising cost of a traditional college has left many potential students questioning if the investment is still worth the return. However, many other aspects come into play before an individual decides to no longer pursue a college education.

Some careers in the modern work environment don’t require traditional college degrees. Take social media management, content writing, and graphic design. This also includes software engineering, data science, UX design, and many other tech fields.

Employers also seem to be moving with the wave of change. Some companies have eliminated college requirements from their job postings to attract a larger and more skilled talent pool.

These companies are mostly in the tech industry, but we might continue to see the same effect in other industries. Instead of requiring a four-year degree, companies focus on the skillset of the candidate. In most cases, the candidates are self-taught. Other times, they are the product of a bootcamp or an apprenticeship program.

According to a recent Harvard Business Review study(opens new window), only 26% of Accenture's job posting for 'quality assurance engineer' contained a degree requirement. Only 29% of IBM's job postings for the same role required a degree.

Time and flexibility

The four-year commitment needed for college completion is not for everyone. Many are exploring college alternatives that don't require a huge time investment.

If the traditional four-year education is not something you plan to do, there are plenty of other alternatives to college. If you are considering other options, let’s look at eight of the best college alternatives.

Alternatives to college

There are many ways to gain the skills and on the job training you need to land a well-paying job without a college degree. Here are some of the best alternatives to college.

1. Apprenticeships

Everyone, at any stage in life, can benefit from an apprenticeship. Most people have come to realize this, and in the past decade, apprenticeships have grown by 64%(opens new window).

In the US, apprenticeships have often been associated with trades. However, they have expanded into other industries like technology. The idea is the same though—you get on-the-job training with professionals in your chosen field.

You can pursue apprenticeships in any industry, although the digital and technology industries are rising. Ultimately, they are an effective way to learn the most in-demand skills faster than a four-year degree.

For example, Multiverse has several apprenticeship programs taught by instructors who have been in those industries for years. Here are our most popular apprenticeship programs:

  1. Software Engineering - 15 months
  2. Digital Marketing - 15 months
  3. Data Literacy - 13 months

While in an apprenticeship program, a company pays you to work for them while you learn on the job.

Multiverse's apprenticeship program is free, unlike tech bootcamps that defer tuition and cost thousands. You won't have to part with a cut of your salary either, once you land a job.

Time commitment

Multiverse’s programs tend to range between 12 and 15 months. However, other apprenticeship programs may require as much as two or three years. It depends on the field and program structure.

Average cost

Again, it depends on the program. Multiverse is free, while others require fees ranging from a few hundred to thousands of dollars.

Careers you can pursue

You can pursue lots of careers with apprenticeships but tech-related careers like software engineering, data analysis, digital marketing, and project management are particularly in demand.

2. Community college

In the past, community colleges had a bad rap. They were viewed as less serious academically than traditional four-year degree programs. Times have changed. Community colleges can provide education that is similar to many universities.

Because community colleges are smaller, there can be healthier and more effective student-professor interactions. Community college classes are also more flexible than traditional college degrees as they are designed to cater to students with families or jobs.

Aside from an associate’s degree, students can also take shorter courses, lasting a few weeks or months to earn a certificate. Community college is a good alternative if you want to pursue an associate degree without taking a lot of time out of the workforce.

Time commitment

Community college lasts for one to two years. From there you can get a job or if you prefer, pursue further education.

Average cost

The cost of an in-state community tends to range between $3,000 to $4,000 per year. Out-of-state costs are much higher—$9,000 to $10,000.

Careers

Career opportunities from an associate degree at a community college will usually range from healthcare niches to technology and business. Examples of roles you might pursue include:

  1. Environmental Engineering Technician
  2. Radiologic Technologist
  3. Veterinary Technician
  4. Computer Support Specialist
  5. Dental Hygienist
  6. Paralegal
  7. Medical Equipment Repairer
  8. Preschool teacher

3. Trade or vocational school

Trade or vocational schools are private for-profit programs that prepare students for a particular career through rigorous, hands-on training. Instead of sitting through dozens of classes, you don't need, trade schools tailor your curriculum to vital skills needed in a specific career.

Most of the jobs learned in a trade school are in high demand and pay relatively well at around $50,000 per year. Trade school will work best for someone who prefers hands-on work, shorter time investment, and the ability to focus on all the ins and outs of a specific industry.

Time commitment

Depending on the program, you can expect to spend one to two years at a trade school.

Average cost

The average cost of a trade school ranges from $3,674 to $15,923(opens new window).

Careers

Here are the most popular careers to pursue through a trade school program.

  1. Chef
  2. Nursing
  3. Dentist
  4. Electrician
  5. Welder
  6. Plumber
  7. Cosmetologist

4. Online courses

More than 30% of Americans(opens new window) sign up for online courses every year. Online courses are attractive because they are shorter, self-paced, and at a fraction of the costs needed in a four-year degree.

Most people that take this path are usually in the tech, marketing, business, and healthcare niches.

Because they are self-paced, online courses give students the flexibility to learn while working or caring for their families.

What's more, students can pick and choose what courses to take to fit their ideal career. It is like building out your own curriculum. Although there are some pros to having flexibility, that also creates cons. For one, it can require a lot of research and time to choose the right learning path for you. In addition, if you don’t have experience in a field, you might not know which courses you need to take. It also takes self-discipline to stick with it consistently.

Time commitment

Online courses range widely. Some may be completed in a few days, while courses with more structure can take three to six months.

Average cost

Everything from free courses to $50 and $1,000 courses. It all depends on what you want. Inexpensive courses tend to teach one or two skills and have limited to zero support from the instructor.

If you want a more structured course that goes from beginner to advanced and includes one-on-one teaching, you’ll pay upwards of $1,000.

Careers

If you are taking online courses, the types of careers you can pursue tend to have little to no degree or qualification requirements. You just need to be able to prove your skills and experience. These might include job titles like:

  1. Digital Marketing
  2. Web Design
  3. Product Management
  4. SEO Specialist

5. Freelancing

Freelancing is one of the most popular alternatives to college. By 2028, forecasts estimate there will be over 90 million freelancers in the United States(opens new window) alone.

Instead of attending college, many people opt to offer services on a freelance basis. Freelancers are typically self-taught and advertise their services on social media or job platforms such as Upwork and Fiverr.

Although competitive, freelancing can be a stable source of income with the right planning and skill set. More people are gravitating toward freelancing because it can provide more freedom to choose the projects you take on, remote work flexibility, and high earning potential.

That said, you need to have the skills to market your services and get hired. In addition, because it is competitive, you’ll have a better chance of landing clients (and higher-paying ones) if you have experience or a portfolio that you can share.

If you are just starting, you’ll have more success as a freelancer after you’ve built some core skills and landed your first clients.

Time commitment

You can start freelancing in a few hours through an online marketplace. However, making a meaningful freelance income takes several months to years.

Average cost

The costs of freelancing are minimal. All you need is a good internet connection and a laptop. However, you’ll also need to budget for specific tools or software you may need.

Remember that many start freelancing as a side hustle before they earn enough to do it full-time.

Careers

Any business and tech-related career will work for those pursuing freelancing. SEO specialists and website developers are some of the high-in-demand careers in freelancing.

6. Gap year

A gap year is typically a one-year break someone takes after finishing high school. It could also be shorter such as a single semester. A gap year allows students to reflect on their passion, career options, and life goals.

Participating in a gap year program is also a way to gain real-life experiences, travel, and make crucial connections that could lead to jobs, partnerships, and more. You can also take a gap year to focus on research or projects related to your field.

The best gap year program would be approved by the Gap Year Association(opens new window) since these programs can furnish high-quality experiences. The downside of gap years is that they are not always financially accessible to everyone.

Time commitment

Gap years last for one year, but you can also do it for one semester or a quarter.

Average cost

It will depend on the program and whether you do your gap year locally or abroad. However, the costs average $1,000 per month if you enroll in a gap year program.

Careers

Gap years are not as career-oriented as most other college alternatives on this list. Instead, they are a time to wait and reflect on all the different careers and opportunities you could pursue.

They can open up career prospects if you plan to work in international relations or study languages.

7. Volunteer programs

Volunteering to a cause you are passionate about can become an alternative to college. In addition, volunteer programs can give you a sense of purpose and help you discover the values and principles you want to live by.

It also exposes you to a huge professional network. In turn, you can expand your opportunities and learn about different careers.

On top of the networking aspect, you can also build portfolio projects that you can leverage while job hunting. In some instances, becoming a volunteer could lead to a job offer from the same organization.

Time commitment

Most volunteer opportunities range from six to 12 months. But some organizations can extend the program to more than one year. For example, the Peace Corps is a two-year commitment.

Average cost

Volunteer programs are typically free. However, there are other paid programs, especially if you're volunteering abroad. Depending on the host country and organization, these programs will cost you about $300—$400 per week.

Career

Any career could benefit from a volunteer program. That said, the careers listed below can be a great fit for people who love to volunteer.

  1. Veterinarian
  2. International relations
  3. Lawyers and paralegals
  4. Nurses and healthcare technicians
  5. Photographers and artists

Volunteering may get you on the right path, but for many of the careers listed above, you’ll be required to undergo additional training and certifications to practice.

8. Fellowship programs

A fellowship is a short-term program where a hosting company sponsors a student to pursue research or a project. It’s similar to how Multiverse programs are structured but you don’t need to be in a specific college or program to be accepted.

Typically, fellowship programs are available to undergraduate students.

Fellowship programs build on the professional development of students, equipping them with the necessary skills needed in the workplace. To pursue a fellowship program, one must apply, and be accepted. From there, you'll start your program, and the sponsoring organization will provide funding to the recruited student to reduce the cost of their education.

Time commitment

Fellowships can last one to several years.

Average cost

Most fellowships are free.

Careers

Fellowships are most common in fields where you conduct research or industries with a shortage of workers. That can include a wide range of careers, from science to coding.

A four-year degree is no longer the only way to succeed or have a long and fulfilling career.

There are now many alternatives to college that could lead you to your ideal career path. In addition, these college alternatives will not burden you with expensive student loans and lengthy time requirements.

An apprenticeship can be a good fit if you want something flexible that allows you to study and earn at the same time. At Multiverse, we have multiple apprenticeship programs that can help you land a job in your dream career. Better yet, they are free. Check out our free apprenticeship programs to get started or apply here.


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