Alternate Pathways to a Career

Alternatives to Going to College

When you think of the American Dream, is college part of the vision? I think most people would say ‘yes.’  We’ve been conditioned to follow a certain path in order to ensure our future success; do well in high school, get accepted to a good college and graduate with a degree. If you follow these steps, you should have no trouble landing a job and living the dream, right? Maybe. What about considering other career paths?

According to recent statistics, the unemployment rate for recent college graduates is on the rise again, forcing many to take jobs that don’t require a college education. 

In fact, less than half of this year’s graduates were likely to find a good job (salary of $45,000 or more).  It’s no wonder that so many students are beginning to question the value of a college education, especially since college tuition rates continue to climb. Although I am a firm believer in going to college and earning a degree, there are some cases where skipping the traditional path to a career may actually make more sense.

Here’s a look at some alternative paths that may be less expensive and, in some cases, get you into a career much earlier than those who enroll in a traditional college program.


If shelling out $40,000, $50,000 or even more for a college degree does not sound appealing to you, but you still want a career and not a dead-end job, the military may be a good choice for you. Not only will you get hands-on experience and training, you’ll be paid for it, too.

Enlisted personnel (those with a high school diploma) generally work in mechanical, transportation, and human service fields, as well as others that transfer over to the civilian world.  Plus, if you decide you do want to pursue a degree after your enlistment is up, you can take advantage of the GI Bill help fund college or other approved education programs.


The U.S Department of Labor is seeking to expand apprenticeship opportunities in high-demand fields, such as healthcare, transportation, and technology. Unlike internships, which are usually short-term assignments and often unpaid, apprenticeships combine paid, on-the-job training with college-level classes.

For example, P-Tech High School in New York City offers students a six-year apprenticeship with IBM. After completing the program, students have both a high school diploma and an associate’s degree in computer science, hands-on experience, and a potential job offer from IBM. The majority of apprenticeship programs are four years or longer with an average salary upon completion of nearly $50,000. And there’s an added bonus…no student loan debt.

Boot Camp

Having visions of camouflage and guns? This isn’t that type of boot camp. Although there will be long, grueling nights and maybe even a little yelling, these boot camps actually help you fast-track your IT career. Coding boot camps are springing up around the country, offering just about anyone the chance to become a software developer. Whether you’re interested in HTML, JavaScript, Ruby on Rails, or some other technology, there’s bound to be something for you.

Fees for the programs, however, vary quite a bit. App Academy offers a 9-week Ruby course, but instead of paying upfront, you agree to give them 18% of your starting salary (payable over six months). There’s even a $5,000 deduction if you get hired with one of their partner companies.

Another Ruby course, Dev Bootcamp, runs $12,200 for nine weeks, but some students have seen their salaries double after completing the program. If you want to know what’s available, and read student reviews, check out Techendo.

Several years ago, many people believed that MOOCs (massive open online courses) would lead to the downfall of traditional brick-and-mortar colleges, but that has not come to pass. Although many students enrolled in the courses, few completed them.

Still, if you have the motivation and the desire to learn new skills, it’s not a bad choice for increasing your skill set. Many well-known universities, such as Yale, MIT and Harvard, provide free courses. You may not get a diploma, but adding a blurb on your résumé from one of these elite schools might just open up a few doors.

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