You're approaching the end of your senior year of high school, and you're dreading the next several years. You think you have to get a degree right away so you can have a meaningful career. There are other options that can help you prepare for the next stage in your life. Consider these alternatives:
become an apprentice
Enrolling in an apprenticeship is a good way to get hands-on experience in a trade while earning a paycheck and participating in industry-driven training. The Labor Department's Registered Apprenticeship program trains qualified individuals for lifelong careers in construction, manufacturing, child care, health care, mechanics, telecommunications, information technology, and more.
The Registered Apprenticeship program connects job seekers with employers looking for qualified workers. Employers, employer associations, and labor management organizations around the country sponsor Registered Apprentice programs. These sponsors range from small-business owners to national employers and industry associations, including companies such as UPS or CVS Pharmacy.
To qualify for an apprenticeship, you must be at least 16 years old, although 18 is the minimum age for apprenticeships in hazardous occupations. Sponsors also may identify additional minimum requirements—education or physical ability, for example—for acceptance into a program. Employers also might require interviews, aptitude tests, or previous work experience.
Many jobs don't require a college degree, yet still offer a competitive salary. Apprenticeships offer many benefits. When you take on an apprenticeship, you immediately begin earning a paycheck that increases as training progresses. Apprentices complete industry-specific classroom education. In many cases, apprentices can earn college credit for these courses. Apprentices also receive hands-on career training in the trade. In addition, when you graduate from a career-training program, you receive a nationally recognized certification in your industry.
The length of an apprenticeship program ranges from one to six years, depending on the occupation and type of program; most of these programs last four years.
take a "gap year"
If you think a degree might be in your near future, but you're burnt out from school and just not ready to go to college yet, consider taking a "gap year." A gap year is a period of time between high school and college that people use to explore areas of interest. Popular ventures that people explore during a gap year include traveling, working, participating in an internship, or studying abroad. Future students also volunteer at hospitals, tutor, or coach sports during this year.
Todd Jones, a small-business owner from Chicago, took a gap year to volunteer, travel, and pursue other career options before going on to get his bachelor's degree from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Jones says there are many lessons to learn outside of school. "It seems absurd that we usher the vast majority of high-school students into college campuses across the country and expect them to commit themselves to a course of study that will eventually become their life-long career," he says. "The most important lessons I learned throughout college were not taught in a classroom."
Gap-year advocates say that time out of the classroom teaches young students life lessons that make them more mature, worldly, and self-sufficient—all skills that will serve them well during college. A gap year also tends to improve a student's performance in school, as the student has a chance to decompress and restore motivation before facing college academic challenges. Students who take a gap year report that they feel refreshed and have a greater passion for learning.
Although taking a gap year has many advantages, it requires planning. Many students would be worried about taking a year off, since it delays getting their degree and starting "real life." There also is the fear of never going to college after taking a year off, or losing important study skills during that year. Another major concern with taking a year off is financing that year. Many students work for part of the year to fund their travel for the remainder of the year. Students also can look into programs that offer room and board, or programs such as AmeriCorps that grant stipends to cover college costs.
Counselors and admissions officers encourage students to apply to school before taking a gap year, as many colleges offer the option to defer admission for a year. It's also easier for students to apply to colleges while they are still in high school, particularly if they're going abroad during their gap year, where correspondence could be less reliable. Taking a gap year requires organization and setting goals that will provide you with valuable experiences before you start college. With research and planning, you can design a gap year that's a lot of fun while still being an educational experience.
work at a job that doesn't require a degree
If college isn't for you, but you're not interested in apprenticeship programs, why not join the work force right away? Many jobs don't require a college degree, yet still offer a competitive salary. Consider jobs such as air-traffic controller, assembly supervisor, construction equipment operator, payroll supervisor, bus driver, repair worker, real estate broker, or carpenter.
These jobs may require you to put in irregular hours, attend training workshops, work with different machinery, or perform challenging tasks. The advantage is that you can start your work experience right after high school and quickly move up the pay scale in these careers. Another bonus: You'll never have debt from college tuition to worry about.
enlist in the military
A career in the Armed Services is another option. If you thrive in a strict and structured environment, enlisting in the military might be a good choice.
Apply to school before taking a gap year; many colleges offer the option to defer admission for a year. Military life might not be for everyone. Your service in the military will put you in high-risk situations, and the commitment is intense. But, being a military member has many benefits. In addition to serving your country, the military offers career options after your service. Some examples of military careers include aviation, special operations, intelligence, mechanics, communications, information technology and networking, and engineering.
You also will earn valuable work experience that you can apply to civilian jobs after your military experience. And, after your military service is done, you may decide that now you're ready to go on to school. Programs such as the GI Bill are wonderful in that they help military members access college affordably.
There are many advantages to having a college degree, but college simply isn't for everyone. You still can have a rewarding, well-paid career without a degree. The best thing to do when deciding your future is to determine what type of career interests you and then look at all of your options.