College Alternatives: 5 Ways To Be Successful

Deciding what you want to do after your high school graduation is a huge factor in determining what you will do for the rest of your life. There is a societal push to go to a four year college and get a degree before joining the workforce. This is a great way to increase the chances of landing a job that you will love, but there are other paths that can get you in an even better place!

College is a time to grow your network and learn valuable skills that can be used it the real world, but it usually includes large amounts of debt. In 2017, the average American graduated with $39,400 of debt. That’s a very scary number for a recent graduate with a starting salary income. Luckily there are college alternatives that can set you up for a successful life.

1. Enroll in a trade school

There are many benefits that come from enrolling in a technical school. A trade school, also known as a technical or vocational school, teaches skills that are related to a specific job. Technical schools focus on hands on learning and usually are completed in two year. They avoid making you take general education courses that will not benefit you in the field, which saves time and money. There is a shortage in a lot of these fields due to the pressures of going to a traditional college so the demand is going to be very high when you complete the curriculum.

According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, technical and trade school jobs have a median annual salary of $35,720, though this figure varies heavily based on the particular industry and the experience level of the worker. This number may not look super impressive, but you get two extra years of income before your peers graduate and it is very possible to grow at a rate faster than them. There is also the ability to open up your own business (#4 on this list) and be the most successful one out of your peers. Potential trades to go into are:

  • Electrician
  • Plumber
  • Mechanic
  • Pharmacy Technician
  • Machinist
  • Nuclear Technician
  • Dental Hygienest

2.  Join the military

Joining the military can be a great college alternative. There are a lot of benefits that come from enlisting, but the most important are the leadership opportunities, the bond that is shared between veterans, job security, pay and benefits, travel opportunities, and education options after you leave. The leadership skills that you learn in the military are transferable to many civilian jobs. Companies look to hire workers who are accountable for their actions and are able to balance the different aspects of managing a team.

There is a bond that is shared between veterans that will benefit you for a lifetime. You trust your life with the people who you serve with and it does not change after deployment. Veterans are willing to help other veterans find employment opportunities.

3. Sell Real Estate

Selling real estate is one of the best options for those who want to have a high earning potential with minimal investment. For under $1,000 and a few months of courses you can take the state test to sell real estate. If you are able to pass you can start selling homes.

The average real estate agent make $42,000 per year, which is around the same as a 4-year college graduate. There is also a huge potential to excel in the field and make a lot more on commissions. You also grow your network within the industry and with your clients. This can allow you to get into other fields and have your name known in the future. There is an 11% projected job growth in the future and you have a huge opportunity to get in as the market gets hot.

There is the downside of working nights and weekends, but you need to sacrifice to become successful. As long as there is no bubble that hinders the industry, you can be successful.

4. Open Your Own Business

Opening your own business is a very risky option, but it could really help you become financially independent within a few years. You are able to control your own destiny and do not need to answer to anyone other than yourself. If you find an industry that you are very passionate about, such as a search engine optimization,  running your own buy and sell operation, or opening a trade business that is listed in #2. Opening your own business is very difficult. Investopedia reports that 50% of businesses fail within 5 years. There will be many long nights and early mornings, but it can all pay off in the end when you are successful!

5. Teach Yourself

There are so many online opportunities to learn more than you could in a college setting. Between YouTube, Google, and other online teaching tools, you can excel in any area that does not require a degree. Recently 14 major companies, including Google and Apple, took away the requirement for a college degree. In the tech world, college is not necessary for learning. Going into an application or development role with real-world experience instead of a college degree could actually give you an edge.

While having a degree is useful, real experience is more valuable. It shows that you do not need as much training and that you are motivated to learn on your own. You can build a portfolio of your work before an interview with one of these companies and you will be above all of the college graduates with little to no work to show the employer.


There are many college alternatives that will allow you to be successful. The trend of going to college is one that will allow you to find your own path and outperform your competition. You should find something that you love and chase your dream. You can go out there and create something that is your own and control your future!

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