The Best Post-High School Alternatives to College

This Fall, thousands of students across the country will be “college-bound”. But college isn’t the right choice for everyone. Higher education comes with higher costs and the value of a degree isn’t always worth the price.

Many fields of work offer opportunities for success with no need for a college degree. In fact, in some cases, spending four years or more at a university can actually set a student behind in certain hands-on fields where real-world experience means more than a piece of paper.

Perhaps you or your student have looked at traditional college and decided that it’s not the right fit for your plans. We applaud your careful evaluation! In this article, we’ll lay out a few alternatives to traditional higher education and how they can help young adults launch successfully.

1. Full-Time Work

One alternative that many young adults are turning to is to join the workforce full time. This option comes with a great number of benefits including financial growth, real-world experience, and professional development at a young age. 

Working full-time right out of high school enables a student to start building a professional network, develop a resume of experience, and make money while they do so. Besides, learning on the job often is the best kind of practical learning one can experience.

The financial factor here is also important. Students who can start earning full-time compensation right out of high school have more opportunities for saving and investment and preparing for a stronger financial foundation for their future.

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While working full-time is advantageous for many young adults, it does come with its own disadvantages.

For instance, full-time employed students are sacrificing education for their work. If they decide they want to pursue a degree later on, they may have missed the ideal time for higher education while their expenses and other life responsibilities are relatively low. 

Furthermore, working full-time right out of high school can provide good employment opportunities but without more guidance and training, jobs rarely open to young adults right out of high school in the fields that they tend to be interested in. For example, many of the jobs available to post-high school students are entry level jobs in general industries. Pursuing a career in a more specialized field will probably take longer without a degree.


  • Benefits:
    • Income!
    • Real-world experience
    • Professional development and networking opportunities
  • Disadvantages:
    • Missed educational opportunities
    • Slow career start in entry-level positions

2. Gap Year

Another alternative to college is taking what is commonly called a “gap year”. 

This refers to a student taking a year “off” between their high school graduation and whatever comes next. These gap years are beneficial in helping the student slow down and determine their next steps without rushing into something and wasting time and money on a short-lived endeavor. If your student isn’t sure what they want to do next, taking a gap year may be a helpful experience. It can help them spend more time charting a course forward and it avoids rushing into a hasty decision that may not be the best fit long-term.

Many gap year programs exist to help students make the most of their gap year. Often, these programs involve overseas travel, volunteering, or other similar experiences.

TeenLife’s website lists a bunch of various programs that help students make the most of a “gap year”. According to TeenLife, “A gap year program is one of the best ways for students to expand their education outside of the classroom. With opportunities in fields like language, business, STEM and more, a gap year before college is a perfect way to enrich a teen’s life after high school.”

While gap years have a lot going for them, there are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to disadvantages.

First, students need to be careful that they don’t waste a gap year. If you’re already choosing to take a gap year because you don’t have next steps clearly lined up after high school, beware that this aimlessness may follow you into your gap year. A gap year is ultimately a wasted year if you’re in the same position you started in.

Second, gap year programs aren’t usually free. They do cost money and you need to be very convinced of the value and return on investment for these programs. You don’t want to end up in a situation where you spent thousands of dollars to travel the world for a year but came home with little lasting value for moving forward besides some fond memories and photos.


  • Benefits:
    • Time to contemplate next steps with more precision
    • New experiences
  • Disadvantages:
    • Potential for wasted time
    • Potential for lack of clarity about next steps
    • Potential for wasted money with no long-term value added back into the student’s life or career

3. Internships/Apprenticeships (Praxis)

A number of programs exist that help students build their careers through internships and apprenticeships. One classic example we love is Praxis.

According to their website, Praxis is “an intense personal and professional development program for young adults”. The program utilizes “a rigorous skill development curriculum, 1-on-1 mentorship, and a community experience” to help students “gain clarity about what career paths excite them, what skills they need to build, how to navigate the job market, how to network, how to manage their money, and more.”

Praxis’ model of hands-on professional development is a great alternative to the college classroom. And with 1:1 mentorship, their program resembles an apprenticeship model that so many previous generations have used to train young people for trades and careers.

With all there is to love about Praxis, there are still a few things we’d advise you to keep in mind when evaluating this option.

First, Praxis doesn’t appear to offer any option to earn college credit through their program. Going back to our first point about working full-time, this may be a missed educational opportunity that could make a return to school more difficult in the future.

Second, Praxis doesn’t make any mention of a Christian worldview. This may not be a dealbreaker for you but we see it as a missing ingredient. Praxis claims to help students “take ownership of their lives and careers” but many young adults wrestle with questions that go beyond just their professional future. They also wrestle with questions of relationships, purpose, life experiences, and faith. Career advising and practical professional training, as good as they are, can’t entirely equip a young adult for a life of resilience to the glory of God.


  • Benefits:
    • Strong professional development and financial training
    • 1:1 mentorship
    • Emphasis on practical skills
  • Disadvantages:
    • Lack of educational credentialing opportunities
    • Lack of holistic personal development and worldview training

4. Skill Bootcamps

Another alternative to college is to engage in online skill bootcamps. There are a number of websites that offer intensive courses for in-demand professional skills like coding, project management, and design.

For example, Skills City offers bootcamp courses in software engineering, cloud security, data analytics, and more.

These bootcamps tend to be intensive and short-term courses. (Skills City’s courses, for instance, are 12-week courses.) These may be the perfect option for students who know they want to get involved in a tech career and just need a deep dive in the practical skills of that field without a lot of general ed classes.

However, skill bootcamps don’t present a holistic plan for personal and professional development. They may teach your student to code in 12 weeks but they most likely won’t address other personal and professional issues like how to build strong relationships, how to build a professional network, or how to find clarity on one’s God-given purpose in life.


  • Benefits:
    • Short, intensive format
    • Specialized instruction for in-demand career fields
  • Disadvantages:
    • Lack of holistic approach to life preparation

5. Why We Think Ascend Excels as a College Alternative

All of the options above are great alternatives to going to college to get a four-year degree. They all have pros and cons but many of them would be a great fit for your student.

We have one final suggestion and we have to be honest: we’re a little biased. 

Ascend is a program that combines many of the advantages discussed above and avoids many of the disadvantages.

Ascend trains young adults to thrive through project-based education. The goal of Ascend is to help students own their purpose, build strong relationships, and live resiliently for the glory of God.

You’ll find many of the benefits discussed above in Ascend. 

For example, students in Ascend don’t need to take out loans for college and they can actually work during their time in the program to earn money towards a successful financial start. They also benefit from real-world experience in fields that interest them and coaching from team leaders and mentors to help them determine what next steps to take. 

Ascend also helps students avoid some of the disadvantages mentioned above. 

For instance, Ascend students have the option to earn college credit during their time in the program, setting them up well if they decide to finish their degree. Ascend is also built on a distinctly Christian worldview and seeks to equip students to thrive holistically by encouraging growth in their faith, personal relationships, and more, in addition to career readiness. Finally, Ascend actively helps students determine what next steps make sense for them so that they don’t waste their time as may be the case with a gap year. 

Ascend is also built on the foundation of a like-minded community. With the exception of Praxis above, all other alternatives tend to isolate students in comparison to college. We don’t think you need to pay loads of money and go into debt just to join a community of people who will shape you for years to come. Ascend offers that kind of community.

If you’re ready to learn more about Ascend and check if your student is eligible, click here to schedule a free consultation with our admissions team!

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