As my oldest child starts high school this year, I find myself thinking more and more about what her life will look like after she graduates. Of course she will have a big say in what she does after high school, but as her mom, it’s my job to give her lots of guidance. One thing that concerns me about a four year college is the cost. Some say college tuition is the next bubble that will burst, because college is so unaffordable these days. But who knows if or when that will happen. The one thing I do know is that I don’t want any of my children saddled with thousands of dollars in student loan debt upon graduation.

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Of course, whether my children attend a four year college or not may depend greatly on their career aspirations. But for a child who is unsure of what she wants to do, like my daughter, I came up with a list of alternatives to the traditional four year college plan.

7 Alternatives to the Traditional Four Year College Plan

Gap Year

One alternative is taking a gap year after high school. A gap year is when a young adult takes a year off from school to work or travel. Taking a year off from school gives a high school graduate a chance to mature and become more sure of her future plans before entering college.

For a student that chooses to work during this year, it also gives her a chance to save much needed money for college.

Junior College

Another option for a student who isn’t sure what she wants to do is junior college. Again, by taking two years to work on general education requirements before heading off to a more expensive college gives a student time to mature and figure out what she wants to do.

I certainly don’t want my child to take out student loans for an expensive college, and then take forever to graduate because she changes her major three times. I’d rather the self discovery happen without the price tag of an expensive college.

Online College

It used to be that online colleges were just diploma mills. Graduating from an online college didn’t mean much. However, with the internet becoming more and more powerful, schooling online is a more viable option. You can get a four year degree from the comfort of your own (or your parent’s) home.

No dorm costs, no commuting costs, and no cafeteria ticket to buy. Online colleges are more affordable than their brick and mortar counterparts. If your child is interested in a field that can be studied online, online colleges are a great option.

Vocational School

While many careers require a four year education and degree, many others do not. If your student wants to become a cosmetologist, an auto mechanic, a paralegal, or some other skilled tradesman, a vocational school may be all he needs. Training doesn’t take four years, and as a result, the cost is much less than a four year college.


An obvious alternative to college is joining the military. If your student gives four years of his life to the armed forces, he will be entitled to money for college through the G.I. bill. The upside is that college will be paid for. The downside is that he may be deployed to a combat zone.


Another obvious alternative to a four year college is going straight to work. In the past, this was seen as career suicide. All worthwhile careers required a four year degree. However, with the internet, all things are possible (or so it seems). If your student wants to be a web developer, a photographer, a freelance writer, or a plethora of other things, she may just need some self-education. There’s a lot of information on the internet, and your student may be able to learn everything she needs just by doing a Google search.

If you’re curious, here are some jobs that do not require a college degree:


Finally, doing volunteer and missions work is a great way for a student to mature while figuring out what he wants to do in life. By serving those in need, a young adult (or anyone, really) can gain a good perspective on what is important in life. Service to others usually teaches valuable lessons, even if those lessons aren’t career related.

While I’m not sure what my daughter will do in four years when she graduates from high school, it’s good to know there are plenty of options out there: options that won’t put her deep in debt before she really starts living her life.

Photo by shiladsen.