Alternatives to College

We assume most Rise Out students are interested in applying to college, but there are good reasons to postpone school, or forego it altogether. Here are some options to consider if you think college is not right for you, or not right for you at this time:

AmeriCorps: AmeriCorps pays students to do service work in communities across the country. You won’t get rich, but you’ll earn enough to support yourself, and at the end of your term you’ll receive an education grant equivalent to about $5,000 for each year of full-time work.

City Year: City Year corps members spend a year working full-time in schools and afterschool programs. Members receive leadership training and are eligible for AmeriCorps education awards.

Year Up: Year Up is a one-year training program in information technology that includes an internship component. The entire program is free; in fact you are paid a stipend to participate. Admissions are competitive and they require a high school diploma, but they are primarily interested in your work ethic and motivation, not your grades and test scores. You must be between 18 and 24 and from a low- to moderate-income household to apply.

Information Technology Certifications: Traditional colleges took too long to catch up with information technology, so the industry created its own certificates based on core competencies needed by IT professionals. If you’re interested in computers, consider preparing for some of these exams.

Join the Fire Department: Lots of kids dream of becoming firefighters, but few actually do it. In Boston, the firefighter exam is given every two years. You must be between 19 and 32 to apply. Successful candidates receive 16 weeks of training and are assigned to a firehouse with a starting salary of $60,000/year.

World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms: The WWOOF network matches organic farms with individuals interested in learning about sustainable agriculture in exchange for room and board. Cost: $30 membership fee to join the WWOOF network, and your own travel expenses. There are hundreds of participating farms in over 30 countries.

Rotary Youth Exchange: High school students can study abroad in more than 200 countries through low-cost Rotary programs.

Au Pair: Spend a year or two as a nanny in the U.S. or another country.

Teach English Abroad: English has become the worldwide lingua franca. If this is your native language, there is a market for your tutoring talents. You should do a LOT of research before accepting a job, sight-unseen, in another country. Luckily this is pretty easy, since information about good schools and bad schools (and even “good countries” and “bad countries”) is available all over the internet. If you don’t have a college degree, consider getting a TEFL certificate first. This is a short-term class (usually 4 weeks) that prepares you to teach English as a foreign language.

Volunteer Abroad: There are many programs that recruit volunteers to spend a week or two or a semester or even a year abroad. You will usually be responsible for your own travel expenses as well as a fee to cover program costs, but this is less expensive than studying abroad or traveling as a tourist, and the experience can be invaluable.

Thiel Fellowship: The Thiel Fellowship is very competitive program that gives young people a no-strings-attached award of $100,000 to skip college and focus on their work, their research, and their self-education.

UnCollege: Have you been enjoying independent education as a high school student? Wish you could do college that way, too? You’re not alone. There’s a whole movement of students who want to continue learning at the college level but are fed up with the high cost of college education. The UnCollege blog is full of ideas.

Photography credit: Cody Neuendorf