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Some high school seniors know exactly where they’re going after graduation…college!  They’re nervous, yet excited, to start this new journey and have been planning for it for months, maybe even years.  For other seniors, the choice may not be so simple; they’re wondering what their options are in the absence of going to a four-year university/college, and that’s ok! See below for some great alternatives to the traditional college experience:

Community College

A great alternative to a four-year university is a community college, which is a school that offers two-year programs leading to the obtainment of an Associate of Arts (AA) or Associate of Science (AS) degree.  These schools have vocational programs with close ties to secondary/high schools, community groups, and employers in their local community.  Attending a community college can earn academic credit towards a bachelor’s degree (BA or BS), and can help lower costs of overall education expenses, as the programs themselves are generally less expensive.

Online Courses

Online education is all the rage now, and is ever-changing year after year. The reasons for its growing popularity include: self-paced, cost-effective, and location-independent learning; all of which can help a student grow both professionally and personally.  This is also a great option for single parents, students with disabilities, and situations where travel can be difficult.

Gap Year

Gap years are a semester or year of learning by experience, which is typically taken immediately after high school graduation, but prior to college education.  The main objective of taking a gap year is to engage a student’s professional, practical and personal awareness, by finding the right balance between independence and support.  The end result is the student will have a better grasp on what they want to study, thereby increasing future odds of higher learning and earning potential.

Trade School

For many high school graduates, trade school (also referred to as technical college and vocational school) offers a more affordable and secure path to career entry and professional development than a traditional four-year university.  Trade schools focus on specialized job training in high-demand fields, assisting students in finding gainful employment in a much quicker timeframe than a college can.  Programs normally range from eight weeks to two years depending on whether you want to earn a certificate, diploma, or associate degree. Graduates may then go on to sit for licensing exams, become apprentices, or seek immediate employment.


Apprenticeship is an industry-driven, high-quality career pathway where employers can develop and prepare their future workforce, and individuals can obtain paid work experience, classroom instruction, and a nationally-recognized credential.  Through a Registered Apprenticeship program, you can obtain paid, relevant work experience while acquiring the skills and credentials that employers value. Click here to learn more about the benefits of a Registered Apprenticeship for career seekers and prospective apprentices.


Enlisting in the military prior to attending college is a very good way to instill focus and discipline before taking college-level courses.  The Armed Forces place great importance on gaining knowledge through studying, which is the main reason that individuals often come out of basic training as better students.  The military also provides many options to help pay for college that can either eliminate or lower the cost of tuition.

In short, it’s perfectly fine to explore other options versus going straight to a four-year university right after graduation; that type of educational environment isn’t for everyone, and it doesn’t have to be.  Keep your vision in mind, and head toward that goal, regardless of how you get there!

By Lori Caffery