4 Low-Cost Alternatives to a 4-Year Degree

Education is about self-discovery, personal improvement, and professional development. And there are a whole host of ways to achieve those things outside of the traditional four-year college experience. Read on for our roundup of some of the most viable alternatives to a four-year degree.

1. Start a Business

Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Walt Disney are just a sampling of names on the list of America's uber-successful entrepreneurs who never earned a college diploma. Their legacies are proof that higher education is not a prerequisite to building a profitable business, no matter what anyone tells you.

Today, the barriers to launching a one-person enterprise are lower than ever. With dedication, drive, and an Internet connection, you can start a thriving business for less than $100. After all, the best way to gain experience in business is by launching one of your own. Even if it flops — 8 out of 10 new businesses fail within the first 18 months — the practical experience you gain will help you become more successful in your next endeavor. (See also: Starting Your Dream Business Isn't as Hard as You Think — Here's How)

2. Learn a Trade

How many college grads have you met who have no idea what career they want to pursue in life? This is rarely the case with trade school students, who graduate with a clear path to gainful employment.

Trade and vocational schools offering programs in fields like information technology, culinary science, construction, woodworking, and hairdressing will set you on the fast track for a skilled and potentially high-paying job. They're also usually much more reasonably priced than a four-year college and typically have more lenient acceptance requirements.

In fact, vocational schools are so successful in placing graduates in high-earning jobs that they have become the norm in countries like Switzerland, where young adults view the practicality of learning a trade as much more valuable than a more traditional college education. Whether your passion lies in auto mechanics or makeup artistry, you can launch a successful career by enrolling in a trade school that will help you hone your skills in a specific pursuit — without all those liberal arts requirements.

3. Go Straight to Work

The benefit of moving into the workforce rather than the college dorms is that you'll be honing new job skills, racking up experience, and — this is the big one — actually making money. That's pretty huge, considering the average college graduate is responsible for $30,000 in student loan debt. Loan officer, firefighter, web developer, retail or restaurant manager, commercial pilot, and criminal investigator are just a sampling of the bright and lucrative careers that don't require a four-year degree. Among the highest paying gigs that don't require a diploma are purchasing agent ($59,000), insurance claims adjuster ($60,000), and construction site supervisor ($60,000).

4. On the Job Training

Many employers provide educational credits and on-the-job training that can help you develop valuable skillsets without investment in a college degree. Others will offer financial support or rebates for continuing education at local colleges. Take advantage of this opportunity to learn for free or at a reduced cost.

What other alternatives to a college degree have you enjoyed?

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Guest's picture

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