We all know the big story: college is great, but it’s expensive.

Let’s start with the “big” part. Simply put, college education means a large Low income. A report by John Winters of the Fordham Institute concludes that the national median earnings for a person with a bachelor’s degree is $ 92,608, compared to the national median earnings of $ 50,051 for a person with only a high school degree. It is important to note, however, that this void varies greatly from place to place in America, and there are career opportunities for those without a college degree that exceed the incomes of those with a bachelor’s degree, especially given the fact that not all bachelor’s degrees are available are translated equal income level.

College is also an incredibly powerful experience for many as it opens them up to a wider range of ideas and experiences than they likely had up to this point in their lives. For many (myself included) it is a life changing phase of personal growth.

But what about the “expensive” part? According to a recent US News and World Report survey, the average cost of tuition and tuition for the last academic year was $ 41,411 for private colleges, $ 11,171 for citizens in public colleges, and $ 26,809 for overseas students in state schools. This is per year. If you are aiming for a four year degree, multiply these numbers by four. That’s a lot of debt, and many people regret taking out so much student loan debt. Even with the best student loan rates and terms, they can be financially penalized.

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This creates a serious financial risk. What if a student goes to college and doesn’t graduate? What if they leave and can’t find a field of study that works for them?

Given all of these factors, college should definitely be on the table for most high school graduates, but alternatives shouldn’t be overlooked. There are many alternatives that provide financial opportunities for students later in life without the burden and risk of college loans. Since my eldest son is considering his options after graduation, college is an important part of the decision, but so are the alternatives below.

Alternative # 1: Community College for electives and core classes

One option that will greatly reduce the college credit burden is to take a year or two of electives and core classes at a community college and earn credits that are transferred to a desired four-year school. This takes two years of tuition at a major state university and cuts the cost of those years significantly.

For example, if you take advantage of the options available near me, a year of study at Iowa State University is $ 9,320 for a domestic student, while the full course load for a year at Des Moines Community College is $ 4,800 for a domestic student. and most of the loans are transferred to the state of Iowa. If you choose to go to community college for two years and then move to the state of Iowa, a student in my area can save $ 4,500 per year, or $ 9,000.

If we were to go for Community College plus the Iowa State option, his total tuition fee would increase from $ 37,280 to $ 27,640, and this option works well for the majors he is considering.

A year or two of Community College can be a great option for students who are unsure about their area of ​​study, as they can take first and second year courses for a range of academic fields.

Alternative No. 2: Business School

There are a variety of professions that people can learn straight from high school by attending a school specifically for that profession and earning a diploma or other certification that is required in the field. Areas like plumbing, carpentry, electrical work, dental hygiene, home inspection, HVAC technicians, auto repair, and many others are trained through trade schools that typically lead to positions at larger companies and eventually lead to the option of running your own small business in the field .

Business schools are great for those who prefer hands-on work that requires some technical skills and thought, but doesn’t have to sit behind a desk all day, which many people don’t like. Many professions lead to high-paying jobs, often with a comparatively low financial risk, since the costs for a business school are almost always well below those of a university education.

In our family, the primary occupation my son has shown interest in has been the electrician school offered through our community college in central Iowa. It costs $ 8,609 to graduate. The cost is less than a year of tuition at Iowa State University and is a compelling option.

Alternative # 3: military

Enrolling in the military offers another post-high school option that can help you prepare for a career.

Joining the military is free, as is any training you receive while serving in the military. There is plenty of room for promotions in the ranks and you can easily make a career out of it. Most of your living expenses can also be covered by the military if you choose to live on the base, and there are plenty of solid perks out there. You’re usually prepared for a post-military career as well, if you want one.

However, the pay is low, especially at the beginning. The culture may not suit everyone. There is also the aspect of war and personal safety, as part of the military is a willingness to compromise your personal safety and participate in military action.

Joining the military can be one large Decision for some but a bad fit for others.

Alternative # 4: Volunteering

There are many great volunteer programs to join right out of high school. Most of them provide basic needs (food, shelter, etc.) while volunteering, and some offer training in specific areas that may be useful after leaving the volunteering.

However, many of these programs last less than a year and leave you where you started: trying to make a decision about what to do with your career. In other words, a volunteer program can be a good choice for a gap year (see alternative # 6).

Alternative no. 5: Apprenticeship or internship

In some situations, you may be able to find an apprenticeship, scholarship or internship in a specific area of ​​interest right after graduating from high school. This can fill the summer or take a year or more depending on the occasion.

The federal government offers a great guide to high school education programs that will help students get a taste of what the real world is like on a variety of career paths. At a more individual level, companies can offer internships to qualified students in certain areas, although these are more ad hoc and less organized.

Often times, programs like this are found when the student takes the initiative and asks about this type of opportunity. For example, if you are considering a career in a particular field, you may want to go to a company or local professional in that field, show your interest, and see if something is available there.

This is not a complete solution to what to do after high school. However, this type of program can easily help a student filter through some options on their plate and figure out what the right move is. For example, if an internship really resonates with a student who has just finished high school, it can perfectly transition into a business school or university experience in the field.

In my son’s case, there is a local company that offers summer internships for local children who might be interested in an engineering career. This is a program that he is very interested in.

Alternative no. 6: gap year

A final option to consider is a gap year or year spent aiming to mature a little and figure out the next step. Many colleges allow new applicants to start their academic career with a gap year. So this doesn’t mean they have to go out of college to do this.

There is a great risk that a gap year will be “wasted” simply fiddling with high school friends. A successful gap year consists of creating and executing a plan, with the experience being learning a new skill, volunteering (see alternative # 4) or taking part in an internship or apprenticeship (see alternative # 5 ).

A gap year can be very valuable in helping a student filter options. It can help a student figure out what they actually want to do and then dive deep into that path so that they don’t end up spending two years in a college major regretting the years spent and debts.

Benefits of four-year colleges and universities

The presence of these alternatives doesn’t mean that simply entering a four-year college or university right after graduating from high school is a bad idea. If a student is committed to learning and growth, and especially if they have a clear idea of ​​what they want to do, going straight to a four-year school can be a good choice.

The value of four years of college experience is directly proportional to what you put into it. If you are going there to determine a career path relatively quickly, learn a lot of material related to that path (and just learn how to learn quickly), build lots of relationships and experiences that can help along that career path, and a to become a rounder person then college will pay off for you in the long run. In addition, four-year colleges and universities offer myriad subtle perks to maximize the value you get from your time there.

However, it requires intention and direction, and without that intention and direction college can be a bad investment. If you go to college with a plan, you leave college with a degree and a ton of earning potential. If you don’t have a plan, you can be drifting with a lot of debt and maybe little else.

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