The 4 Best Alternatives to College

the-four-best-alternatives-to-collegeI’ve been getting some great feedback on Facebook regarding my first two posts examining the true value of a college education (see Part 1 and Part 2). Today, I want to take a closer look at what I feel are the best current alternatives to college, and even some potential new paths that might be available to my kids as they reach college age in about 15 years.

College Alternative #1: Free and Low Cost Education Programs

I already outlined some of the free options available yesterday, so I won’t get into them again. Instead, I want to think about possible alternatives that may emerge over the next decade or so.

Looking into the future is difficult, but I can imagine a couple of scenarios:

  1. Low (or no) cost co-op programs run by the companies themselves – Some colleges already do this (Drexel, for example), but a combination of work and study seems like a really great formula for success to me. Imagine if some brave companies actually started running these programs themselves? It’d be a home run. They could screen young applicants, train them up in the subjects that really matter to them (think Writing Effective Emails 101, or How to Sell), and give them on-the-job training in a variety of roles they might be suited for. Isn’t this a better strategy than blindly hiring 21 year-olds with liberal arts degrees?
  2. High schools that train kids to work, not prepare them for more school – About of third of high school graduates don’t enter college, and they leave high school woefully unprepared for the real world. What if true alternative high schools existed that trained kids to actually work? (I know that vo-tech schools already exist, but these still do a poor job of preparing kids for the real world. They don’t reach kids personal finance or how to sell, for example.) I’m talking real training for kids that want to enter the workforce immediately, and get them fully prepared for living on their own.

College Alternative #2: Give the Kid a Business

As I wrote yesterday, it costs about $150K on average to send a kid through a four-year college (and most kids don’t finish in four years). For that money, parents could buy a decent business instead and have their kid run it.

Of course, that means your child needs to be smart, responsible, and hard-working. I don’t know many 18 year-olds who meet all those requirements, but they do exist. You could also always negotiate an arrangement where the former owner of the business trains your kid for a year a two before they take over, possibly with an opt-out if the kid doesn’t like the work.

If you already own a family business, that’s even better. The only problem is, most kids don’t want to go into the family business. Whether out of spite, teenage rebellion, a general dislike for the industry and work, or sheer laziness, kids just don’t want to seem to follow in their parents’ footsteps. I’ve seen many scenarios like this play out, even in some very lucrative fields. So while providing a family business opportunity sounds good in theory, there’s no guarantee your child will go for it.

College Alternative #3: Trade School

I know many people who’ve had great success becoming electricians, plumbers, etc. after foregoing college to enter trade school. Many of these professions are always in demand, and unlike college, trade school teaches people real-world skills that are directly used on the job.

Even less-intensive trades like barbering require a lot of physical labor, but the rewards can be immense, particularly if the skill is parlayed into owning your own business.

College Alternative #4: Entrepreneurship

As an entrepreneur myself, this is my personal favorite option. Imagine allowing your kids to pursue their own focused education following high school. Reading books, taking free online courses, and connecting with like-minded young people online could put them on track to starting their own business.

They’ll probably fail early on, but so what? No entrepreneur has a 100% success rate (or anything approaching that), especially in their infancy. You live and learn, you try and fail, and try again.

I can’t imagine a more ultimately fulfilling path than starting multiple businesses. Beginning this process at age 18 gives kids a great chance to eventually execute a highly profitable venture that could benefit them for many, many years to come.

What ideas do you have for your kids (or future kids) that don’t involve traditional college?

One thought on “The 4 Best Alternatives to College

  1. Actually, your idea #1 is exactly what I did as a high school senior – it was called work/ study back then. I was taking business courses at school half the day, and worked in a law office the other half. I loved it!


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