Alternatives to College

This article originally ran in Home|School|Life magazine.

by Shawne Taylor

There’s been a push over the last 20 years or so for everyone to go to college. Families start planning for it when their children are still in preschool. High School students are pushed to take the hardest classes, fill their transcripts with extracurricular activities and multiple attempts at the SAT, and over schedule their free time – until there’s no free time left – just to try to get into a four-year university. It doesn’t matter whether or not the student has any idea of what he/she wants to do with their life. It doesn’t matter that college is now so expensive that it’s impossible for most families to pursue higher education without significant student aid and/or tremendous debt. It doesn’t matter that not every one is interested in a four-year degree, or even needs a four-year degree to do the work they want to do.

Fortunately, there’s growing backlash against this idea that the only path to a successful and happy adulthood is through a college degree. Many families, particularly homeschooling families, are finding that there are alternatives to the “one-size fits all, assembly-line, straight out of high school, right into college, and then into debt and an uncertain job market” path that we’ve been fed.

Maybe because homeschoolers are used to bucking the norm, and doing things our own way, the idea of foregoing college isn’t so out of the ordinary for us. Or course, it can be scary to give your child the space and freedom to blaze their own path, especially when so many people will be happy to tell you that you’re crazy to not force them into college. But knowing there are alternatives to the college path can help.


Sometimes, when you’re not sure what direction you want to go in life, turning your focus to helping others can help you figure it out. When you’re young and not yet supporting a family, gaining experience through volunteer service can be a wonderful alternative to college or working for money. Everyone has valuable skills to offer. The links below can help you figure out how best to use them.

Volunteer Match – register and search for volunteer opportunities that match your interests.

Corporation for National and Community Service – find service opportunities in your area, or register for programs such as AmeriCorps, FEMA Corps, or Senior Corps. – Federal Government site, which lists volunteer opportunities on public lands in the United States.

Global Volunteer Network – established organization, matching volunteers with service opportunities around the world.


Traveling (U.S. and the World)

For those who want to get out of the house and see the world, taking some of the money you would have spent on college and using it to travel instead may not be a bad idea. Choose your destination, create a budget, and use a travel agent or online guide to help you plan your trip:

Discover America – this site can help you plan your trip, learn more about the U.S., and hit the road.

Lost World Adventures – run by a former homeschooling family, this company has specialized in travel packages to Central and South America, and Antarctica for over 20 years.

European Destinations – offers a variety of travel packages and itineraries throughout Europe.

Cross Cultural Solutions – combining international travel with volunteer service in nine countries.

Gap Year Travel – online portal helping you research and plan your travel adventure, and connect with others who are doing the same.

Gap360 – a site designed to help you research and plan your adventure, whether you’re looking for a short trip, an international volunteer experience, work abroad, or a longer excursion.


Recent reports from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics show that U.S. unemployment is now down to 5.1%. This is good news for teens and young adults looking to start working after high school, instead of going to college. It’s not a bad idea to gain actual work experience and make a little money, while figuring out the path you want to take. It could be that working for a while leads you to try college later or leads you to a career you would never have considered.

It’s always good to check local listings for jobs in your area. Most businesses allow you to fill out applications and submit resumes online, but if it’s possible, try to submit in person. Many times you’ll have a better chance of getting hired if you get to meet with the employer face to face when dropping off your resume.

For help creating resumes, check out the following:

WikiHow: How to Make a Resume

Instant Resume Template

Resume Now

For job openings around the country, consider these sites, which will allow you to search for jobs and post your resume online:

Indeed,; Career Builder,; Monster,


Crafting your Own College Education

As homeschoolers, many of us are used to creating our own curriculum and lesson plans, and finding opportunities for learning outside of the home. So, why stop once high school is over? The educational freedom we enjoy as homeschoolers doesn’t have to end at adulthood. In fact, the post-high school, pre-career years are the perfect time to forge your own educational path.

To come up with your own DIY College plan, ask yourself the following:

What are the things I’m most interested in studying?

How do I learn best (independently, in a class, one-on-one, online)?

How much money can I afford to spend?

How much time can I devote to my studies each week?

Then, look around online and in the community to come up with options that best fit your needs. Some to consider are:

Homeschool classes – some homeschool groups offer classes for all ages. Just because you’re finished with high school doesn’t mean you can’t continue to take a class in a subject you’re interested in. Check with your local groups to see what’s available.

Community classes – depending on where you live, you may be able to find a number of classes offered by local businesses. In our town, art studios, glass blowing shops, the local community garden, and the local butcher shop all offer classes for teens and adults on an ongoing basis. Our city government even offers a free 8-week class on working in city government twice a year.

College classes – some colleges will allow non-enrolled students to audit classes, particularly in the summer when classes aren’t as full. They may also offer “open” or “extension” classes in a variety of subjects. There is a fee involved, and grades are typically not given. But it’s a great way to learn a subject that you may be interested in.

If a school does not offer auditing options to non-enrolled students, it may still be possible to contact the professor of the course directly and ask if you can sit-in on the classes. Sometimes this will be allowed if the class isn’t full. It will all depend on the school’s and professor’s personal policies, of course, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.

Online Courses – the Internet has opened up a world of quality educational opportunities that simply didn’t exist prior to the technology boom. Today it’s possible to take free, college-level courses in just about any subject imaginable without leaving your house. Called Massive Online Open Courses (or MOOCs), these courses are created and taught by college professors, and can usually be done independently, at your own pace. All you need is a computer and an Internet connection. Some of the best online courses can be found through Coursera, edX, iTunes University, and Stanford online. And many of them offer a completion certificate for students who request one, turn in all assignments, and pay a small fee.

Additionally, new options, such as Zero Tuition College, are popping up, offering resources and community for graduates interested in educating themselves without traditional college.

Books (Real and Text) – even in the age of technology, books are an important resource when crafting your own college experience. Whether you want to work your way through a textbook or just read everything you can find on the subjects you’re interested in, having access to good books is key to higher education. Search online, check to see what texts are being used in college courses that sound interesting to you, ask for recommendations, and then create your reading list. Check your local library for the books on your list, or consider buying from any of the following online sites:

Amazon Textbooks – in addition to their normal stock, Amazon also offers a textbook department. Here you can find new and used textbooks for sale or rent, and, if you purchase, you can even sell your books back to Amazon when you’re finished with them.

Barnes & Noble – also offers a wide variety of new and used textbooks and eBooks for sale or rent through their website.

Cheap Textbooks – may not have as large a selection as Amazon or B&N, but does offer lower sale and rental prices on the titles that they do carry.


Apprenticeships – typically a combination of on-the-job training and class experience – are experiencing a resurgence of late, as more graduates look for alternatives to college. Searching “apprenticeship” + the name of your state will give you specific information on opportunities in your area. The following are three state-specific examples:

Apprentice Programs of Georgia (APOG) – this is specific to Georgia, but could be useful to graduates in that state, or those considering relocating to the state.

Massachusetts Apprenticeship Program – specific to Massachusetts, and full of information on programs, laws, and opportunities specific to that state.

Texas Apprenticeship Program – online resource, published by the Texas Workforce Commission, providing information on apprenticeship opportunities, laws, and tips specific to Texas.

It’s also a good idea to check with businesses in your area to see if they would consider offering apprenticeship opportunities. Artists, landscapers, butchers, woodworkers, contractors, designers, and other skilled workers may be interested in sharing their knowledge by taking on an apprentice, depending on the laws in your area.

For national listings of registered apprenticeship programs and opportunities, check out the following:

Apprenticeship USA – website from the United States Department of Labor, full of information on apprenticeships, grants, and more.

Indeed online – provides a listing of apprenticeship opportunities throughout the U.S.

American Culinary Federation Apprenticeship Program – information on culinary-based apprenticeship opportunities across the country.


Technical and Trade Certificates

Just because the four-year college path isn’t for you, doesn’t mean you have to forego school all together. In some fields, a two-year or shorter technical or vocational degree is all that’s required to find a career that interests you. Whether it’s in computer programming, healthcare, or law enforcement, or in skilled trades such as welding, plumbing, or electrical, it’s not difficult to find good certification programs to get you started.

Actor and TV personality, Mike Rowe, in particular, is a vocal advocate for closing the Skills Gap and learning skilled trades. Through his mikeroweWORKS Foundation, and the Profoundly Disconnected website, graduates interested in pursuing a trade can get information, search for training and job opportunities, and read why increasing the ranks of skilled workers in this country is so important.

A comprehensive, and alphabetized, listing of two-year colleges and trade schools from across the country can be found online at College Tidbits.

Two other sites that may help you in your search include:

Career Colleges – an online portal with listings for various trade schools and information on technical careers.

Education Guys – online guide to technical schools, trade schools, and related information.

One thing to be aware of though is that many for-profit colleges and trade schools will promise more than they deliver. Be sure to thoroughly research any program or school you sign up with before committing your time and money. Ask people in the fields you’re considering going into for their recommendations of trade schools and programs. And don’t be afraid to look up schools with the Better Business Bureau to see if there are any complaints against them.

High Tech Immersion

One of the newest options in the post-high school educational landscape is the high-tech immersion program. Several tech schools have popped up across the country over the last few years, offering 8-week and 12-week, full time certified immersion courses in coding, web design, game development and more.

Aimed at graduates with a passion for computer technology, or adults looking to change careers, these schools provide class time, mentors, and hands-on projects to prepare their students for careers in high-tech fields.

The benefits to going through one of these shorter programs versus a traditional four-year computer science degree program is that the content and information is current, the cost is a fraction of what you’d pay for the university degree, students work directly with business owners and tech employers as they go through the program, and the schools help you in your search for work after the immersion is over.

Currently, the two best-known high-tech immersion programs are Tech Talent South and The Iron Yard.

Tech Talent South has locations in Asheville, Atlanta, Charlotte, Dallas, Jacksonville, New Orleans, and Raleigh. And The Iron Yard can be found in Atlanta, Austin, Charleston, Charlotte, Columbia, Durham, Greenville, Houston, Indianapolis, Las Vegas, Little Rock, London, Nashville, Orlando, Raleigh, Salt Lake City, Tampa Bay, and Washington D.C.


Creating your Own Business

Homeschooling lends itself well to entrepreneurship because our kids are used to working independently, and they often have the extra time necessary to come up with and implement business ideas. I think we’re also a little less afraid of trying and failing (due, perhaps to all of the various curricula we try and then drop along our homeschooling journey) and then trying again.

If your graduate isn’t interested in going right to work for someone else, and has an idea or two for work they would like to do, post-high school is a great time to try. Some entrepreneurial possibilities include writing, graphic design, baking, website creation, teaching classes (at a local homeschool group or in the community), pet sitting, personal shopping, landscaping, handyman, childcare, and more. Really, the possibilities are almost endless.

It can be good idea to test the waters first by starting tiny and building up your business slowly through people that you know. But when you’re ready for the next step, and need help with the logistics of starting, or growing, your small business, you may want to check out the following sites:

The Small Business Administration has tons of information on starting your own small business, including finding funding, filing taxes, structuring your business and more.

Internal Revenue Service – everything you could possibly need to know about record keeping and paying taxes on your business.

About Money: Starting a Small Business – a step-by-step guide to getting your business off the ground.

You may also find this article from Entrepreneur magazine, “How to Freelance Your Expertise,” and this Forbes article “How to Start a Business with Only $100 in the Bank” useful.


Better Than College: How to Build a Successful Life Without a Four-Year Degree, by Blake Boles

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