8 Solid Alternatives To Traditional College After High School

Career Guide Jul 29, 2021

As the world becomes more and more distributed because of the internet, knowledge from all over the world is becoming accessible to people like you and me. Where the fees to attend traditional college are rising, students no longer wish to inherit the large amounts of debt they previously have.

The growth rate of the cost of attending college has outweighed the growth rate of graduate salaries, and unless you pick a very specialized field of study such as medicine, traditional college is no longer a viable option for most young graduates looking to avoid an exorbitant amount of debt.

Young people today are turning to alternative forms of education and career paths to become financially free while continuing to master their skillsets. While it may seem that college is the only path to success, this is no longer the case. There are plenty of other solid alternatives that can be just as rewarding in the future. Here are our favorites.

1. Apply For The Thiel Fellowship

Get $100,000 for 2 years to drop out of college and start your own business

The Thiel Fellowship gets its name from investor and technology entrepreneur Peter Thiel. Typically, Thiel fellows either skip or drop out of college to work on big ideas and even start their own companies in exchange for $100,000 over a period of two years.

In the past, Thiel Fellows have started non-profits and launched media companies. While there are plenty of programmers, Thiel fellows come from a range of diverse geographies, demographics, and backgrounds.  To have a successful application, you must be under the age of 22 and should have demonstrated progress towards a vision or goal.  

Thiel Fellows get access to an elite network of entrepreneurs and subject matter experts who guide them towards achieving their vision.

2. Attend a Coding Bootcamp

Ditch the traditional CS degree for a quicker and more economical path to a tech job

What you're taught in a Computer Science classroom is wildly different from what you will implement in your day job as a computer programmer. If your end goal is to work at or start your own tech company, then shelling out hundreds of thousands of dollars for a degree in CS might not be the perfect path for you.

More and more wannabe coders are turning down the traditional schools to attend coding boot camps which promise to accelerate the careers of attendees at a fraction of the cost.

Different boot camps and schools adopt different models. For example, Lambda School is an online coding school that trains students to become software engineers and data scientists, with the promise that you don't have to pay a fee until you are hired and making at least $50,000 a year. You also don't have to spend 4 years doing this degree and can finish in anywhere from 6-9 months of learning.

Make School is a bit different from a traditional college or boot camp. Make School offers full bachelor's degrees that can be completed in half the time (between 2 and 2.5 years). Make School has partnered with big companies such as Shopify and Microsoft to craft their specialized project-based degree. They also subsidized paybacks to those making under $60k a year after graduation.

3. Get Into a Startup Incubator (With or Without a Startup Idea!)

Kickstart your entrepreneurship journey with funding and a support network

Startup Incubators are all the rage these days, and not just in Silicon Valley. If you have an idea or a prototype you can apply to become a founder in one of the many available incubators regardless of your age.

In some cases, you don't even need a prototype or idea to get you started. One example of this is Entrepreneur First. EF focuses on investing in people. They are not looking for a startup idea, but people who have the skill and ambition to create and run a billion-dollar tech startup. EF has locations across 6 major tech cities around the world - Berlin, Bangalore, London, Paris, Singapore, and Toronto.

If you do have a validated startup idea or some form of prototype or traction, you can apply to one of many startup incubators, the most popular one being Y Combinator.

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4. Find an Apprenticeship

A great way to make an income while learning on the job

Apprenticeships are a great alternative to traditional internships and entry-level jobs.  They're far more common in the UK and the rest of Europe than they are in the US, but can be a great way to get paid while learning on the job. Apprenticeships are typically longer than internships, generally lasting anywhere from twelve months to a couple of years.

Several companies in all kinds of industries are placing more and more emphasis on apprenticeships. This trend is particularly common in tech industries where a number of Software and Cybersecurity apprenticeships have cropped up in recent years. As a result of this, bigger tech companies like Shopify have started doing their own apprenticeship programs because they understand that the future of the workforce is made up of a combination of college graduates and other people who have decided to not take the traditional route.

In the US, you can easily find apprenticeships in the field of your choice by browsing through their government apprenticeship portal. The UK government has a similar online directory that you can find here.

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5. Consider Doing a Fellowship

A gap year alternative to pick some skills that look great on your CV!

What you will do as a potential Fellow can vary greatly depending on your discipline of choice. Fellowships range from funding awards for higher education to paid placement opportunities in non-profits. Typically, fellowships provide support and a development plan for Fellows to follow so that they can grow professionally in a guided environment.

Fields of work for Fellows can range from funded graduate study in a specific field of work, research work, social entrepreneurship, and community-based projects and initiatives as well as opportunities to work with a mentor.

Echoing Green is one such fellowship program that is open to people over the age of 18 who are interesting in starting or already run a social enterprise that works towards different social causes. Fellows get access to a network of industry leaders, $80,000 in funding and mentorship, and support.

Year On, formerly known as UnCollege is a guided gap year program that aims to educate students on how to build their career via self-directed learning. It is a year-long program (but there are semester-long and other flexible duration options) that allows you to travel and work across the United States and ultimately launch a project of your own.

Not sure where to get started? ProFellow is a great and comprehensive online portal that has a complete list of all kinds of great fellowships worldwide.

6. Become a Content Creator

Use one of the many social media or blogging platforms to create and monetize content

The post-pandemic world has ushered in what we call the creator economy. The creator economy comprises a whole host of income streams that have been created by millions of people around the world by leveraging the power of social media. The creator economy is not just limited to YouTubers and Instagram influencers, it could mean anything, from people running their own six-figure newsletters to having an online publication or blog in a niche of your choice.

This career path is gaining ground at an accelerating speed, especially in the United States where according to a survey, more American kids wanted to become YouTube famous (29%) than astronauts (11%) when they grow up, a significant shift from statistics that are only a generation old.

The biggest bonus with content creation is that you can do what you love while building an audience and ultimately getting paid for your skills. There are content creators in all kinds of niches like

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7. Go WWOOFing Around the World or a Workaway

For expanding your horizons while still being on a budget

What better time to go out and explore the world than when you're fresh out of high school and don't have a ton of responsibility. We that traveling the world can be an expensive hobby which is definitely not pocket-friendly for any fresh high school graduates.

Traveling on a budget is a very real possibility and finding programs through Workaway and WWOOF can significantly reduce your cost burden.

Workaway is an online portal where you can find work all around the world. Typically Workaway hosts will give you food or accommodation (sometimes both) in exchange for your skills or labor. You could become a yoga or surf instructor at a surf camp in Costa Rica or man the reception of a hostel in India, there are plenty of options to choose from!

WWOOF stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms is an online network that connects travelers with organic farmers. As a WWOOFer, you get to live on organic farms around the world and much like Workaway, help out the farmers in exchange for room and board for the duration of your stay.

8. Join an Open University or MOOC

For those who continue to wish to learn without the high fee, in a self-paced manner

If you would like to study further, but do not wish to go through traditional college with its high fees, a great alternative can be to join one of the many MOOCs or Massive Open Online Courses. MOOCs are online university accredited courses that are open for anyone to enroll in and can be a great inexpensive way to enhance your skills in any field of study.

edX and Coursera are two of the most popular online portals with courses from top universities around the world like Oxford, Harvard, and Stanford! You can learn anything, from advanced Psychology to the basics of Data Science.

If you still want to get a traditional degree, the University of the People is an accredited institution that is completely tuition-free and offers all kinds of disciplines.


This list should give you some idea of some great options available to you as a young graduate looking for some alternatives to university. It is important to keep in mind that your growth does not end just because you are out of an institution of learning. You can continue to learn in your own time, and expand your skill set by following a non-traditional path.

While college will remain the dominant option for most high school graduates, it is becoming more and more mainstream to go off the beaten path and still achieve your career milestones without getting a traditional degree.

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