Alternatives to Four-Year College
Alternatives to Four-Year College
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Over three million students graduated from high school between January and October of 2018. Over two-thirds of them (69.1%) enrolled in college by October of the same year. But what kinds of institutions are high school graduates choosing to attend? Not just four-year colleges. In 2014, of Minnesota's high school graduates who chose to pursue postsecondary education in state, only 58% enrolled at a four-year college. Over 40% chose to enroll at a public, two-year institution. Learn about your other options here.

Take a gap year.

If you find that you have no idea what you want to do following high school graduation and you don’t feel comfortable enrolling at a postsecondary institution just for the sake of doing so, you may be a good candidate for a gap year. A gap year is not free time for you to go to the pool every day and play video games, but a period of time for you to explore your future options. Many students who take a gap year choose to work, volunteer, travel, or study independently. Use this time to determine your passions and future interests. After a semester or year off, you should have a better idea of what type of school you’d like to attend and what credentials you’d like to pursue. College applications take time, though, so stay motivated!

Attend community college.

Community college programs are two-year programs that lead to associate’s degrees or certificates. Attending a community college is a great option for many reasons. Students who want to get a feel for college without committing to a four-year institution can attend a community college to learn about their options while saving money. You can always transfer to a four-year institution later on. Students who don’t have quite the GPA necessary for their dream four-year school may decide to take remedial classes to boost their grades before reapplying. For students whose prospective careers only require an associate’s degree or certificate, community colleges can offer tailored programs that will prepare these students to continue in a particular career (like vocational programs).

Get a vocational or technical education.

Vocational education encompasses many institutions: trade schools, career colleges, technical colleges, and apprenticeships. This type of education is intended to help a student learn the skills necessary to perform a specific job, like nursing, construction, or cooking. If you can answer the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” with absolute certainty, depending on your career choice and the necessary credentials, a vocational education may be exactly what you need. These programs are often shorter than traditional four-year programs and your coursework is tailored to your future job. You’ll get to practice hands-on learning and be ready to start your career as soon as you graduate. Students at vocational or technical schools may study for certifications or licenses and earn their certificates or associate’s degrees.

Enroll in an online degree program.

If you have a family, work full- or part-time, or can’t make the commute to campus every time you need to attend class, you may consider an online degree program. Rather than having to sit in a classroom at a scheduled time each day, you can finish all your degree requirements from the comfort of your home (or anywhere with internet access). While some of your classes may require that you log on at a certain time to take part in a discussion or complete an exam, you can complete others on your own time, provided you meet deadlines for assignments. This type of program works best for self-motivated individuals who are okay with doing a lot of learning on their own.

Enlist in the military.

For some people, getting a postsecondary education isn’t the right path at all. If you’re looking for discipline, steady employment, and want to serve your country, enlisting with one of the five branches of the U.S. military may be the right choice for you. Enlisting is as easy as going to a recruitment center, taking an aptitude test and a fitness test, and undergoing a medical examination. As the amount of time you serve in the military gets longer and the skills you’ve learned on the job increase, you have the ability to increase your rank (and thus your amount of responsibility and your paycheck). Without a college-level education, however, you cannot become a commissioned officer. The military offers many benefits for soldiers interested in pursuing their education, which you can learn more about here.

Page last updated: 05/2019