Go to college. Get a good job. That’s the advice most students get as they prepare to leave high school. Many of us are told that a four-year degree (or even an advanced degree) is the key to a reliable income and a good life.
But not everyone has a good experience with our school system, and not everyone thrives in a traditional four-year college setting.
That doesn’t mean you’re doomed to a life of scrambling for a living, though. You can do great things and make good money without getting a traditional four-year degree.
Should I go to college? What to consider
“Not everyone is designed for the four-year college experience, and that’s OK,” said Mack Smith, a retired instruction technologist and college instructor who helped develop educational programs and counseled students about their career paths. “There are good jobs available for those who have two-year degrees and technical certifications.”
Smith pointed out that alternatives to college can lead to good, middle-class jobs for millennials. Rather than trying to fit yourself into someone else’s idea of how you should proceed with your life, he suggested thinking about what you want to get out of your education and future career.
As you consider your future, pay attention to these five signs that a traditional four-year college experience might not be the right move for you.
1. You’re doing it for someone else
Smith said one of the worst reasons to go to college is because someone else thinks you should. Whether you hope to impress your parents or you want to keep up with your friends, it doesn’t make sense to go to college if you just want to make someone else happy.
“One of my sons thought that he was doing what I wanted by starting out at a traditional school,” Smith said. “It was a disaster. He didn’t enjoy it, and none of the programs interested him.”
Once his son realized that he needed to follow his own path, he quit the traditional school and enrolled in a program that offered an associate’s degree and a technical certificate. Today, he loves working in airplane mechanics, making a good living without a four-year degree.
“Take a look at your own strengths and weaknesses and choose a program based on what works for you, not what other people think you should do,” said Smith. “You’re more likely to have long-term success and avoid wasting time and money if you focus on what works for you.”
2. You’re drawn to other careers
Traditional liberal arts schools may not offer the career training that you want, said Smith. He’s watched as, over time, colleges that offered career training and skilled occupations programs shifted focus to more academically-based degrees. That makes it harder for some students to get the career training they want for the jobs they desire.
“Look at the offerings at four-year schools. If you aren’t drawn to the degree programs, consider looking at community colleges and technical schools,” Smith said. “College might not be for you if nothing in the course catalog inspires you.”
Pay attention to what you love, and look for a program that fits your needs, rather than trying to adapt yourself to a college that doesn’t offer what you want.
3. You want real-world experience
“Not everyone wants to jump into college right away,” said Smith. “Maybe you want to get started earning money. Perhaps you want some real-world experience to help you learn more about what you want to study.”
He added that just about any job can help you learn skills you can use later in your career.
Plus, Smith pointed out, you might be surprised to discover that a traditional college experience doesn’t always prepare you for the “real” world. In fact, a survey conducted on behalf of the Association of American Colleges & Universities found that employers think college grads are underprepared for work.
That doesn’t mean you should abandon all types of training, though. Smith said that many career and technical programs help you learn on-the-job skills while you go through the program. Plus, he said, it’s possible to sign up for programs that offer apprenticeships and practicums.
“A four-year college emphasizes book learning and knowledge acquisition. While there’s nothing wrong with that, you might be more interested in getting a jump on actually developing skills employers want,” Smith said. “If you want to get some real experience and practice skills that can get you hired, putting off a traditional college education can help you.”
4. You’re wary of costs
Sometimes, your post-high school education has more to do with affordability than it does other considerations. If the price tag of a four-year college sends you into sticker shock, attending a two-year community college can save you big bucks.
According to The College Board, the tuition fees at a two-year college costs roughly a third of what you’d be charged at a four-year, in-state school:
If you can’t afford attendance at a four-year college right now, it doesn’t mean you have no options. Start with a cheaper program and work as you go.
“Your earnings now can be used later, if you decide to continue advancing your education,” Smith said.
5. Your academics aren’t great
Maybe you hoped to go to college, but a few poor grades are holding you back.
“I see a number of students who didn’t get serious about school and college until their junior year,” said Smith. “By then, it might be too late for your GPA if you want to attend a traditional four-year school, especially if you hope for a scholarship to reduce the costs.”
Smith pointed out that many career and technical alternatives to college don’t have the same academic requirements.
“Get your certification and start working,” he suggested. “Later, if you want to go to college as a non-traditional student, your high school GPA won’t matter as much as your work experience.”
Community colleges often offer a way to improve your grades, too. Once your GPA is higher, you can transfer to a four-year school.
“If your high school grades aren’t good enough for a scholarship or to get into the four-year university of your choice, go to community college. Focus on academics for good grades and then transfer when you have your associate’s degree,” Smith said. “You might even get a scholarship later.”
Focus on developing marketable skills
“Should I go to college?” might not be the right question to ask yourself. Instead, ask yourself how you can best develop marketable skills that will help you advance in your career.
“Whether you want to work for yourself or get a good job working for someone else, what you really need are in-demand skills,” said Smith. “Think about the most cost-efficient way to develop the skills you need in a career that you will find fulfilling.”
A traditional four-year college might be the answer for you, but for others, the traditional university path just doesn’t pan out. In that case, alternatives to college can provide better long-term results for your career and your life.
“Be honest about what you want and where you’re at,” suggested Smith. “There are plenty of career programs and technical education programs that can help you accomplish your goals. Don’t get hung up on going to college once you realize that it’s not actually for you.”
Need a student loan?Here are our top student loan lenders of 2019!
|1 Important Disclosures for Ascent.
Before taking out private student loans, you should explore and compare all financial aid alternatives, including grants, scholarships, and federal student loans and consider your future monthly payments and income. Applying with a cosigner may improve your chance of getting approved and could help you qualify for a lower interest rate. Ascent Student Loans may be funded by Richland State Bank (RSB). Ascent Student Loan products are subject to credit qualification, completion of a loan application, verification of application information and certification of loan amount by a participating school. Loan products may not be available in certain jurisdictions, and certain restrictions, limitations; and terms and conditions may apply. Ascent is a federally registered trademark of Turnstile Capital Management (TCM) and may be used by RSB under limited license. Richland State Bank is a federally registered service mark of Richland State Bank.
* Application times vary depending on the applicants ability to supply the necessary information for submission.
2 Important Disclosures for CollegeAve.
College Ave Student Loans products are made available through either Firstrust Bank, member FDIC or M.Y. Safra Bank, FSB, member FDIC. All loans are subject to individual approval and adherence to underwriting guidelines. Program restrictions, other terms, and conditions apply.
Information advertised valid as of 2/1/2019. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation.
3 Important Disclosures for Discover.
* The Sallie Mae partner referenced is not the creditor for these loans and is compensated by Sallie Mae for the referral of Smart Option Student Loan customers.
4 = Sallie Mae Disclaimer: Click here for important information. Terms, conditions and limitations apply.
5 Important Disclosures for SunTrust.
Before applying for a private student loan, SunTrust recommends comparing all financial aid alternatives including grants, scholarships, and both federal and private student loans. To view and compare the available features of SunTrust private student loans, visit https://www.suntrust.com/loans/student-loans/private.
Certain restrictions and limitations may apply. SunTrust Bank reserves the right to change or discontinue this loan program without notice. Availability of all loan programs is subject to approval under the SunTrust credit policy and other criteria and may not be available in certain jurisdictions.
SunTrust Bank, Member FDIC. ©2019 SunTrust Banks, Inc. SUNTRUST, the SunTrust logo and Custom Choice Loan are trademarks of SunTrust Banks, Inc. All rights reserved.
6 Important Disclosures for LendKey.
Additional terms and conditions apply. For more details see LendKey
7 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.
A government loan is made according to rules set by the U.S. Department of Education. Government loans have fixed interest rates, meaning that the interest rate on a government loan will never go up or down.
Government loans also permit borrowers in financial trouble to use certain options, such as income-based repayment, which may help some borrowers. Depending on the type of loan that you have, the government may discharge your loan if you die or become permanently disabled.
Depending on what type of government loan that you have, you may be eligible for loan forgiveness in exchange for performing certain types of public service. If you are an active-duty service member and you obtained your government loan before you were called to active duty, you are entitled to interest rate and repayment benefits for your loan.
A private student loan is not a government loan and is not regulated by the Department of Education. A private student loan is instead regulated like other consumer loans under both state and federal law and by the terms of the promissory note with your lender.
If your private student loan has a fixed interest rate, then that rate will never go up or down. If your private student loan has a variable interest rate, then that rate will vary depending on an index rate disclosed in your application. If the interest rate on the new private student loan is less than the interest rate on your government loans, your payments will be less if you refinance.
If you don’t pay a private student loan as agreed, the lender can refer your loan to a collection agency or sue you for the unpaid amount.
Remember also that like government loans, most private loans cannot be discharged if you file bankruptcy unless you can demonstrate that repayment of the loan would cause you an undue hardship. In most bankruptcy courts, proving undue hardship is very difficult for most borrowers.
8 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.
Citizens Bank Disclosures
|4.23% – 13.23%1||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|4.20% – 11.44%2||Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents|
|4.84% – 13.49%3||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|4.50% – 10.11%*,4||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|4.25% – 13.25%5||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|5.85% – 6.99%6||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|3.95% – 9.81%7||Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents|
|4.45% – 12.42%8||Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents|