For decades, young people have been told that the only way to be successful is to get a bachelor’s degree, find an entry-level job, and climb the company ladder. Yet there are often large gaps between the broad academic knowledge that most four-year programs provide and the job-specific skills and know-how employers are looking for. This means that a college degree on its own doesn’t necessarily qualify graduates for the jobs they want.
In addition, the average cost of a bachelor’s degree has more than doubled in the 21st century, with 66.2% of high school graduates attending postsecondary school and most public university students spending about $25,487 per year. Record-breaking levels of student loan debt now account for the second-largest category of consumer debt. Yet work and training experiences outside of college can be equally valuable in leading to well-paying careers, and there is now a high demand for alternative education programs and careers.
Here are some paths that offer education alternatives and training that can help high school graduates find lucrative jobs:
- Community college. Community colleges offer two-year programs that culminate in an associate degree. The highest-paying jobs graduates can qualify for with this degree include air traffic controller, radiation therapist, and dental hygienist. There are also high-paying technician jobs in the fields of nuclear energy, medical imaging, and aerospace and electrical engineering, as well as many more careers that come with salaries of up to $60,000 per year.
- Trade school. Trade schools offer hands-on vocational programs that vary in length but typically take far less time to complete than a bachelor’s degree. Don’t let the outdated name fool you. Trade school programs prepare students for a wide variety of exciting careers in growing tech fields, such as IT, cybersecurity, and robotics. Other high-paying trade jobs include construction manager, building inspector, and electrician, but many more offer income levels of well over $60,000 per year.
- Technical college. Technical schools also offer vocational programs, although these involve more formal learning. They train students in various fields related to technology as well as nursing and medical administration, public safety, and agricultural science. Technical programs have many advantages over a traditional four-year education as well, including career guidance.
- Technology bootcamp programs. Technology education programs teach students coding, data science, software engineering, and more, at an accelerated pace of anywhere from one to several weeks. Many tech bootcamps are available to high school students, especially those with strong science and math skills. Indeed reports that 72% of employers think bootcamp graduates are just as qualified as those with science degrees and can be hired as developers, data scientists, graphic designers, and more.
- Internships. Internships offer on-the-job training at companies in countless industries. These are available to high school and college students alike and can take the format of an unpaid job, although more and more company programs offer stipends. It’s best to search for paid opportunities first. Internships allow you to gain important skills and experience as well as to build your network within a company, all of which can be valuable assets for getting an entry-level job with that company or one in the same field.
- Apprenticeships. Apprenticeship programs are another earn-while-you-learn option. They provide on-the-job training, but they have the added benefit of being paid jobs with highly structured training that culminates in a nationally recognized certification. Apprenticeships are excellent options for students interested in becoming electricians, carpenters, plumbers, pipe fitters, or construction workers. There are also pre-apprenticeship programs, often geared toward high school students, to prepare people for the rigor and structure of a registered apprenticeship.
- Online courses and certifications. High school graduates can now get almost any full degree online, which, unlike in-person classes, they can complete on their own schedule. It’s also increasingly possible to get online certifications in very specific skills. Many certifications are available for free or at a low cost, and they are a valuable asset that can set your résumé apart from other applicants’. You can use them to get an internship, an entry-level position, or a promotion from an existing job.
Explore Alternative Education with the National Fund for Workforce Solutions
The National Fund for Workforce Solutions invests in a dynamic national network of communities tackling critical workforce issues. To achieve our vision of an equitable future where workers, employers, and communities thrive and prosper, we equip workers for success. From upskilling and apprenticeship to worker engagement, satisfaction, and well-being, we promote the full range of skills development and supports that enable workers to thrive. We advance practices and workplace cultures that allow workers to show up as their full selves.