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Alternatives to college

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    For generations, high school students like you have been told that a college degree is the route to success and financial security. But it's not the only way to go: in fact, while it may seem like all your friends are heading off to college, some high school graduates may explore alternatives to college.

    Finding happiness and success in your career should start with evaluating your goals, personality and interests because — luckily — you have options.

    A four-year college

    A four-year college degree is often the most common route to take after high school. But even with a four-year degree, much of your return on investment depends on what you choose to study; before picking a major, think about how much money you'll need to fork over and the salary you can expect after you graduate.

    • Tuition: According to the Education Data, the total in-state cost at a public four-year college averages $25,707 per year. At a private, nonprofit university, the cost is almost double that —$54,501 annually. That means the overall price tag is roughly $200,000.
    • Salary: The upside of paying higher tuition at a four-year school is that you may end up making more money. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), median earnings for college grads with a four-year college degree can range from $1,334 per week, or $69,368 per year. People with advanced degrees can earn a higher salary ranging from $1,909 per week, or $99,268 per year.

    Community college

    At a community college, you can earn an associates degree after taking coursework in a general major — like business, biology, or communications — or in a specific vocational field, like nursing, criminal justice, or early childhood education. This coursework can prepare you for a variety of careers, including medical assistant, police officer, oil and gas operator, or software or website developer.

    • Tuition: For in-state students enrolled in a public community college, colleges charge approximately $5,155 per year. The cost of attending an out-of-state community college is approximately $8,835 per year.
    • Salary: The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that people with a two-year degree earn a median salary of $963 a week, or $50,000 annually.

    Vocational training

    Vocational training, sometimes called technical training programs or trade schools, might be a good option if you prefer working with your hands, want to avoid a desk job, and only want to take training and instruction that is directly related to your future career. These programs commonly lead students into careers in hands-on trades like construction, metal work, masonry, and photography.

    • Tuition: The average cost for a vocational training program is $33,000 over a two-year period, but many students can complete their vocational schooling in less than two years — especially those that enroll full-time in a trade school.
    • Salary: Salaries for hands-on trades vary widely, but jobs like installation, maintenance, and repair have median earnings that can range from $54,000 - $73,000 annually.


    If you want to start earning money immediately, apprenticeship programs are a good place to start. They combine on-the-job training with relevant instruction or classroom education, giving you the opportunity to learn and earn money at the same time. Popular apprenticeships include electricians, carpenters, and truck drivers. You can do apprenticeships in industries ranging from hospitality to health care, manufacturing to telecommunications.

    • Tuition: The good news is that there is no tuition for an apprenticeship program — they pay you! You do put in sweat equity, though, as apprenticeships typically last between one and four years.
    • Salary: The average starting wage for an apprentice is about $15.00 per hour. Upon completion of an apprenticeship, yearly average pay can jump to $60,000 per year.

    There are numerous college alternatives you can take to expand your knowledge, sharpen your skills, and prepare for a career. Don't feel like you have to follow the path that everyone else is taking. By doing your homework and researching all the alternatives, you'll be able to pick the option that leads to both personal happiness and career satisfaction.

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