January 15, 2023 | Jen Browne

5 Smart Alternatives To A 4-Year Degree


Most people believe that a college degree is necessary for a successful and stable future. In fact, a bachelor's degree is often the key to success for most parents and teachers. A master's is even better. But let's face the facts, shall we? A degree isn't always necessary. If you feel like you'd be wasting your time and money in college, you're not alone. A four-year degree isn't for everyone, so if you feel like traditional higher education may not be for you, consider one of these five alternatives instead.

three men sitting while using laptops and watching man beside whiteboardUnsplash/austindistel

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#1 Start a business

Do you have an entrepreneurial side? There's never been a better time to start a business than right now. You no longer need a storefront with expensive rent and employees. These days, just an internet connection will do. Whether you're selling goods or using a website as your online portfolio, the opportunities to launch your own business are endless. Not sure where to start? A quick Google search should unearth everything you need to know to get yourself on the road to success.

woman wearing green crew-neck blouse standing near white wooden cabinetUnsplash/bbh_singapore

#2 Try an apprenticeship or become an intern

Apprenticeships offer the opportunity to learn a trade under experienced professionals in an in-demand field. As an apprentice, you'll have the chance to work (literally) towards a qualification while gaining the skills and knowledge you need to succeed in your chosen industry. Programs offer the real world experience and on-the-job training needed to get the edge in the job market. Best of all, you get paid.

Internships provide you with the building blocks for your future and are typically shorter than apprenticeships. They're a great way to get exposure to the corporate world and beef up your resume, but you likely won't be doing as much hands-on experience as you would with an apprenticeship. As an intern, you'll have lots of responsibility and likely won't be paid. Still, it's a great way to gain experience—especially if you're interested in business.

man holding phone white using MacBookUnsplash/austindistel

#3 Get into a trade

A career in skilled trade offers the same benefits as a white-collar profession without the cost of a degree. Salaries are good, too. According to Neuvoo, the average skilled trades salary in the U.S. is $47, 622 per year. Entry-level positions start at $26,000 per year while most experienced workers make up to $80,958 per year. Another benefit of skilled labor is that your skills are not as exportable as someone who sits at a computer desk all day. You can't outsource electrical, welding or plumbing jobs. That means your skills are always in demand.

woman holding two gray handheld toolsUnsplash/jimmy2018

#4 Take online classes

Do you have idea of what you like but haven't yet narrowed down exactly what you want to do? Invest in a few online classes. Websites like Udemy even offer free short courses in everything from marketing to coding to anyone who wants to learn—no prerequisite required. By taking classes online, you can dip your toes in a few different industries and see what takes your fancy. Then, once you've figured out your passion, check out the online courses offered by colleges and online learning platforms. You don't need to invest four years to get a certificate in marketing or data analytics.

woman browsing on her laptopUnsplash/tranmautritam

#5 Consider a gap year

If you're really lost, consider taking a break from planning your future and set your sights on the horizon instead. Buy a backpack and a plane ticket and head to a country you've been wanting to travel to for a while. Who knows, you may find your passion abroad. There are a host of digital nomads, yoga teachers and English teachers all over the world. They may just be able to give you the advice you're looking for.

woman near beige painted buildingUnsplash/photoripey


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