Discussing Alternative Options to College with Your Teen

Alternative Options to College
Image Source: Unsplash
By Dan M.

As of 2018, approximately 19.6 million students were enrolled in colleges throughout the U.S. While college might seem like the traditional next step after graduating high school, it isn’t the best option for every teenager.

From trades to jobs that can be done without a degree, college is no longer a necessity for many teens who want to have a long, successful, fulfilling career. While there are still career paths that require a degree, that doesn’t mean your teen has to go to college just to do what they want to do for a living.

So, what are the alternative options?

How can you talk with your teenager about their future and what the best route for their dreams might be? Let’s take a look at some of those options and whether they’re the right moves for your soon-to-be-graduate.

Going to a Trade School

The most popular alternative to a traditional college setting is a trade school. Unlike college, people go to trade schools to earn a specific skill and get their career started quickly. About 95% of those who go to trade school can earn their certification in under two years. The list of careers that can stem from learning a trade is almost endless, including things like:

  • Electrician
  • Plumber
  • Welder
  • Nurse
  • Dental hygienist

Nearly every industry has some type of trade career that doesn’t require a collegiate degree. Unfortunately, some stigmas around trade schools may cause your teen to hesitate. Some of those stereotypes seem to suggest that trade schools aren’t as good as colleges or that those who go there are somehow “uneducated.”

However, some of those stigmas are changing as there is a growing need across the country for skilled trade workers. Because of that need, many trade industries are willing to pay top dollar to their employees. For example, an electrician can make nearly $60,000 each year, and a plumber can make over $55,000. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the stigmas have changed even more. Most of the jobs that have been ‘essential’ throughout the pandemic have to do with learning a trade rather than a college degree.

Jumping Into a Career

Sometimes, no formal education or training is needed to jumpstart a career right after high school. Some teens will choose to travel and discover their true passion(s). Others might consider joining the military or volunteering at places that really need some extra help. Some might even choose to follow their existing passions. For example, if your teenager is a great musician or artist, they might want to make a living from those pursuits as an alternative to college.

It’s okay if your teenager doesn’t know what they want to do right after graduating. Some people take a year or two off before deciding on college or a job. Others need to try a few different paths before landing on the right one.

What you can do, as a parent, is encourage your teen to find a job that makes them feel fulfilled. That doesn’t necessarily require going to college. In fact, some of the most successful career options for those who don’t go to college (or even those who drop out of high school) include:

  • Housekeeper
  • Store clerk
  • Food service worker
  • Truck driver
  • Sales representative

If your teen is driven to start working right away, there are plenty of options that can be quite lucrative. By making money now, they can go to school later with less debt, or turn an entry-level position into a successful life-long career.

Is College the Right Option?

A college degree is necessary for some career paths. If your teen has a specific path in mind that they want to follow, then college might be the only way to get there. One of the best things you can do is to sit down with your teenager and talk to them about the path they would like to take, and where they see themselves in the future. It might sound like a heavy discussion for a teen, but they are about to embark on one of the biggest changes of their lives. Thankfully, you can help to prepare them before it happens.

One option is to have your teen write down what they want their collegiate career to look like. Do they have a particular major in mind or even a particular school? How will they afford living on campus? Will they have a job while they’re studying? The more details you can cover now, the easier the decision can be, and your teen is less likely to feel overwhelmed.

Additionally, one of the biggest reasons why teens don’t attend college is the cost. Depending on the type of career your teen is interested in, such as nursing or teaching, there are certain grants and work-study programs available.

But, more often than not, your teenager will have to apply for either federal or private student loans. Many times, they will need you to be a co-signer if they don’t have enough credit built up on their own. The average cost of a four-year degree is over $26,000 for public colleges. Depending on the career your teen wants, it may or may not be worth it to take out loans to cover the costs.

It’s important to make sure your teenager knows that college isn’t for everyone. There is no shame in learning a trade or getting a job right out of high school. The best thing you can do, as a parent, is to help your teenager have all of the resources they need at their fingertips so they can make an informed decision about the next chapter of their lives.

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