I get tons of students coming up to me saying “College isn’t for me!”
So, this post explores 17 alternatives to college for students considering dropping out.
I have split them into themes, which you can navigate to below:
Let’s not waste time – read on!
17 Alternatives to College
Sometimes it’s true, college just isn’t a good fit for you and you need to find alternatives to college that work for their personality and lifestyle.
But sometimes it’s actually another factor in your life that’s causing the problems.
Common reasons you might not like college:
- Temporary lack of motivation or focus
- Depression or anxiety
- Loss of interest in the course
- A few bad teachers in a row
Sometimes college is right for you, but one of the four points above is making it not right for you just right now.
That’s why you need to be really careful before quitting.
Even though I’m now a professor, back when I was in college I was having similar thoughts.
In fact, several of the points below I actually tried out!
So here’s the first few steps I recommend you take.
1. Take one Semester off to Test the Waters
Sometimes it’s not that college is not for you.
Sometimes it’s just the wrong time in your life.
You might be feeling depressed, unmotivated and unsure about your choice.
I’d recommend that you don’t just jump in and drop the course immediately. Go and talk to an advisor at your university and see what options you have.
One top option would be to just defer a semester or two while you get your head clear.
This time off will help you clear your head and give you the chance to try out a few other things in your life.
You’ll be able to come back to the choice between College or no College a few months later with a clearer head and a bit more perspective.
If you just drop out straight away, you might live to regret it. So give yourself the option of returning.
2. Consider Changing Majors
I studied Physics, Mathematics, Chemistry and Economics at first. I sucked at it. I was uninspired, unmotivated and just didn’t have the talent.
I thought I was dumb.
The thing that turned it all around for me was going to a new school where I was introduced to sociology by a new teacher.
Suddenly I realized something I should have known all along: I’m better at words than numbers!
It all made sense, everything clicked and suddenly I started getting top grades!
The moral of the story is this:
You need to ask yourself if college isn’t for you, or if your major isn’t for you.
Just because you don’t like studying Math doesn’t mean you won’t like studying History.
So, give a few random, out there courses a go and who knows, you might find something you love!
3. Try Studying Online Instead
I recommend this option if you think that maybe college or university would be okay still if it were … just a little different.
If you think college is bringing you down and getting in the way of your life, online study could be the way to go.
For me, I love this option.
Studying online is AMAZING.
Full disclosure, I’m an online university teacher. I have been for 5 years.
And I LOVE it.
I live on a ski hill and didn’t miss one snow day on the slopes this year.
Because I managed to fit online classes in between my life.
Studying online means life comes first and study comes second.
Here’s what you should do if you think studying online is a good option:
- See whether your current university offers online classes you can take
- See whether other universities might recognize credits for the classes you’ve already taken
- Look around for an online university that seems right for you
I have written a detailed blog post on the pros and cons of online university.
I recommend you check it out. Here are just a few of the highlights from that post:
Pros of studying online
- Learn when you want. You usually don’t have set class times. The teacher puts up a forum task and some readings and you get to work on it. Usually you just need to find a few hours of spare time sometime during the week. Do it whenever it suits you!
- Learn where you want. You don’t have to live near campus. In fact, I currently teach online for an Australian university. … oh and did I say I live on a ski hill in Canada?
- Hold down a full-time job. Many of my students study online so they can work full time during the day. They’ve really got it worked out. They’re earning good money while being students!
- You will Develop Digital Skills. This isn’t a thing that you consciously develop. But over the years of your degree you’ll slowly pick up new tricks. By the end, you have one additional bright shiny thing to put on your resume that your competitors don’t: You really know your way around a computer.
Cons of studying online
- You need to be self-motivated. It’s a fact that more students drop out of online college than on-campus college. This is because you don’t have a teacher hovering over you every week. It’s up to you to succeed.
- Tech issues get in the way. Ugh. Constantly. Computers really can be a pain sometimes.
- It’s hard to get personalized advice. Because you never see your teacher, sometimes it is hard to get clarification on issues.
As always, you should consult someone at your university about which option is right for you.
1. Take a Gap Year
A gap year is a year off which you will usually spend travelling.
A gap year is not just a waste of time.
Gap years are so, so educational! You will learn so much about yourself.
You can also usually defer university for a year in order to take this year off. That means if after the year out you’re willing to give university another shot you still have that opportunity.
Here are the key benefits of gap years:
- You will learn about different cultures. This will change your whole way of viewing the world. When exposed to cultures outside your comfort zone you begin to develop a deeper understanding of different people. You will be more compassionate and empathetic to others. It really does mature you.
- You will make friends from other places. I took a gap year to travel Europe. Now, I can go to Portugal or Wales or Ireland and have friends to offer me a warm meal and comfortable bed. It really is amazing to make such diverse and spread out friend groups.
- You will meet other people in your situation. There are a ton of people from their late teens to early thirties doing just what you’ll be doing. Trying to find some meaning I their lives! You will run into a ton of people travelling because they didn’t know what the next step in their lives was just yet. I guarantee you’ll have a ton of things to bond about.
At the end of your gap year you can reassess your life and college ambitions.
But even if you’re still confused at the end of that year, it wasn’t a waste. You’ll have made a ton of memories along the way.
Can’t afford to travel for a year?
Of course not. Nobody can.
The next few steps will give you an idea about how I and many other hundreds of thousands of young people did it.
2. Go WWOOFing
WWOOF stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms.
The idea of WWOOFing is that you spend between 2 weeks and 3 months working for room and food at a location. Then, you move to the next and do it again.
While WWOOFing started out as a loose network of organic farms looking for young able workers in exchange for board in exotic places, it’s developed a lot since then.
I travelled Europe doing this and lived off $5000 for 6 months. In that time, I travelled about 18 countries.
And … I didn’t work on a farm once.
Here’s some common ways to earn your keep around the world:
- Receptionist at Hostel
- Pub Crawl Host
- Bed and Breakfast Housekeeping
If you’re not being paid for the work, you usually don’t need to get a work visa.
That’s because you’re not getting money – you’re getting board and food, that’s all. This makes it super easy to arrange your homestay.
Usually you’re expected to do a half day of work and get the afternoon free.
Here are the two best websites to find opportunities:
Oh, and did I mention it’s an awesome way to make friends? There’s a good chance there will be 1 – 10 other homestay volunteers who you will be living with.
3. Teach English Abroad
Okay, here’s your next option: teaching English abroad.
Only for a while. To get some adventure, inspiration, and a break from life.
You often don’t need any qualifications except your great, native, English language skills. However, some employers do ask you to take an online TEFL course.
This is a great option for getting to know South America, Korea or Japan.
It’s also a great option for travelling cheap. Once you’re there, you’ll get a steady (although meagre) income.
You’ll also meet other likeminded people … again!
Teaching English abroad doesn’t have to be a career. But it might inspire you to seek a new career path.
You might find you enjoy intercultural interactions or teaching.
You might meet your future husband or wife.
Or, you might just have a lot of fun.
Another great bonus of this option is that it looks great on your resume. So, you’re not wasting time.
You’re building your skillset.
To learn about opportunities to teach English abroad, I recommend the following blogs that will take you on your next steps:
4. Do a Ski Season
I did my first ski season when college was getting me down.
I was depressed. Miserable.
And I jumped at the opportunity to say “to hell with life” for 6 months.
Now, seven years later, I live on a ski hill with the Canadian girl I met on a ski hill during my third ski season.
Travelling changes your life. I swear it. (And if introverted old me can do it, so can you).
Here’s the pros of the ski seasons option:
- You’ll get a free ski pass.
- You’ll get to ski. A lot.
- You’ll meet a lot of cool people.
- You’ll have time to reset your head and make up your mind about what to do next.
Here’s the cons of the ski seasons option:
- You’ll be working for minimum wage.
- You’ll be cold. A lot.
- You’ll be away from family for the winter.
- Most work is unskilled labour. You won’t learn too many new work-related skills.
- You may get an Australian or British accent. … Okay that was a joke. But seriously, they seem to take over every ski town ever.
I strongly recommend ski seasons! If you’re under about 28 years of age or over 60 (which is none of you, I hope), you’ll fit right on in with the ski bird demographic.
5. Work at Summer Camps
The United States has many, many summer camps.
Young adults from the US, Canada and around the world head to camps to help children have amazing summer experiences.
And you get a great experience, too.
Many of my college friends did summer camps in the United States. I did a few in Australia, too.
Everyone I know who did these camps had an amazing time, developed skills, and made amazing friends along the way.
You’ll be able to take a summer to earn some money, have some fun, and develop some skills. And who knows, by the end of your summer, you may have a new perspective on what you want to do with your life!
There’s tons of jobs available, like:
- Hiking leader
- Music teacher
- Swim Coach
- Archery Instructor
And so much more…
If you’re interested in this alternative to college, I recommend checking out these two sites:
They’ll both give you tons of amazing advice on whether this option is right for you!
(P.S This is one great way to get a visa to work in the States if you’re not from there!)
1. Try a Trade
Trade jobs can pay very well. Very, very well!
Look, I went to university and it was right for me.
But many of my friends from high school are much wealthier than me. And they did trades.
Popular trade jobs include:
- Dental hygienist
While I was living on microwave noodles and studying my guts out to pass courses, they were earning real money.
Here’s some top benefits of a trade over a degree:
- Earn while you Learn. You will be making money while completing your trade apprenticeship. You’ll be actually doing the job, not learning about it out of books!
- Debt Free Qualifications. Many trades require significantly less or no payments for courses. Even if your course for your trade does cost you money, it’ll be way less than a university degree.
- Less Homework. Yes, you may need to do homework. But it’ll be far less. And it won’t be nearly the same as university. It’ll be practical stuff. And stuff you can apply straight away in your job.
- More Hands-On. The job you do will be more practical. If you’re struggling with the idea of sitting in an office all day long, maybe a practical hands-on trade is right for you.
- Shorter Training Period. Trent Hamm from The Simple Dollar highlights that trade school could be over in as little as two years, compared to the average degree taking 3-4 years.
Here’s a great flowchart from Resume-Now that you might like when considering whether you want to do a trade or attend college.
It’s true, a person with a university degree usually ends up with more money over a lifetime than a person without one. Even an arts degree will put you in a position for more money in a long run.
You also might prefer a degree if you don’t like the idea of doing physical labor your whole life.
But, this is a great option if a trade sounds good to you!
2. Become a Police Officer
Being a police officer is a noble profession.
It’s also a very social profession. You’re out on the beat every day. And contrary to the images on TV, a lot of what police officers do is talking to and helping out community members in need.
In most countries you don’t need a degree to become a police officer.
But, you may be put through some training first.
Then, you’ll learn on the job!
Good job Prospects
One of the positives about becoming a police officer is that there’s a lot of job prospects.
Every town in the world need a cop on the beat. But on top of that, there’s career growth prospects.
Police forces need a lot of additional staff. They need to train up detectives, specialists, and special forces. Join the dog squad, drug squad, highway patrol, federal police, and so much more!
Here’s some things you’d expect to do as a police officer:
- Investigating and prosecuting crimes
- Securing public spaces for the safety of everyday citizens
- Community outreach to build positive relationships
- Patrolling public spaces to deter crime
- Managing traffic flow during disruptions
- Giving speeches to young people on positive behaviour
Keep in mind it can at times be stressful to be a cop. And you need to have steely nerves. You’ll be dealing with some tough members of the community. But, you’ll get the training to learn to do it right.
Here’s a cop’s outline of what it takes to be a police officer:
3. Work in Early Childhood
Working with children ages 0 – 5 is important work. And, it’s not just for women.
Early childhood work is not just babysitting. Some of the most important development in a child’s life happens in the first 5 years.
Your job will be to set children up for success.
You’ll teach them some of the basic life skills that will be invaluable for the future.
You will teach them the basics about the world: counting, getting along with others, how to be hygienic, and much much more!
The pay for working in early childhood isn’t the best, but you can work your way up.
In fact, I know some people who have started their own early learning centres and become wealthy entrepreneurs educating young children for a living!
If you want to work in early childhood, you’ll need:
- A friendly smile
- A desire to care for people
It’s a rewarding job, though. As an early childhood educator you can really see the results. The children in your care will be learning new words, songs, and skills every single week.
So, give it a go!
Get in contact with your local early learning centre and see what jobs are out there for you.
4. Start at an Entry Level Job and Work your Way Up
My sister did this. Now her role is “Director” and she lives in a Manhattan apartment. She does very well for herself.
If you don’t like studying but believe you’re a hard worker, this is the option for you.
To make the ‘work your way up’ option work, make sure you choose the right industry.
If you want to work your way up from the bottom you need to do this:
- Choose a business where there’s opportunities to move up.
- Choose an industry where there’s opportunities to move sideward.
- Keep an eye open for opportunities for rapid advancement.
The sorts of industries where there are big opportunities are ones that are pillars of the economy. These are things like:
- Large financial firms and banks
- Engineering firms
- Healthcare and pharmaceutical industries
You can usually find these sorts of jobs on career search websites. Sign yourself up to regular mailing lists for keywords like “Entry Level” and “Strong Career Prospects”.
5. Join the Military
The military is a great opportunity for men and women alike.
The military isn’t all about shooting bad guys. It’s much more than that.
Joining the military can give people with no direction in their lives some structure, order and direction.
If you don’t think you’re cut out for shooting someone, that’s fine! The military is a little economy in and of itself. You can become a mechanic, educator, accountant … anything!
Here’s just a few pros of joining the military:
- Stable Career. You’ll get good benefits in the military. In a world in which good stable jobs are hard to come by, the military offers plenty of them.
- Travel the world. Military forces have bases all around the world. If you’re in the navy, you’ll be sailing from place to place on deployments. If you’re in the army, you’ll fly to your base and work on deployments all around the place!
- Help the world. Many military forces spend a lot of their time on regional development all around the world. You could be building schools and roads in the middle east or pacific islands before long!
- Career Prospects. The military is always looking for leaders. You could be leading others before long. But, you could also side-step from one area to another and be retrained within the military itself. You won’t be locking yourself in too much at all.
6. Become a Flight Attendant
Flight attendants need good people skills, but not a degree!
There’s plenty of pros and cons of being a flight attendant.
And a big pro is there’s lots of jobs out there. They’re not going to automate away flight attendant jobs any times soon.
There are also many firms to choose from. While in the military you’ve only really got one company to apply to, as a flight attendant you can choose between many airliners.
Okay, let’s look at a few pros and cons of being a flight attendant.
Pros of being a flight attendant:
- You’ll see the world. A lot of it.
- Meet people. Flight attendants have great relationships with one another. They work as a close-knit team and get to spend time together in exotic places around the world.
- Flight discounts. When your vacation leave comes around, you’ll get a cheap flight to enjoy your vacation somewhere special.
- No homework. When you’re off shift, you don’t need to think about it. No study. No work to take home. Just relaxation.
Cons of being a flight attendant:
- You’ll spend a lot of time in a steel tube in the air. Everyone hates flying. And you’ll be doing a heck of a lot of it.
- Bad hours. You’ll be working long hours when on shift, and likely need to work weekend and public holidays, too.
I found a really great blog on being a flight attendant when researching these points. I love the character of the writer, Kara. Check it out here:
And here’s a great YouTube video on how to become a Flight Attendant:
7. Become a Real Estate Agent
Real estate agents don’t need degrees, but they do need to be great salespeople!
Depending on your jurisdiction, you will need to do some training unfortunately. But it usually only takes a few months, not a few years. Plus, it won’t be nearly as expensive as a degree!
Here’s two key pros and cons of being a realtor:
- You’ll get commission. This can be both a pro and con. Commission means you’ll get a pay out for making a sale. If you’re good at your job or the market is on the rise you’ll benefit. During a downturn, your pay will take a cut.
- It’s not always 9 to 5. As a real estate agent is out on the job a lot. They’ll spend their Saturdays showing homes. They’ll be talking to people selling their homes and young families looking for a new place to set up their lives.
Other Great Things to Do Instead of College
1. Start a Blog
Well of course I’m biased about this one. You’re reading my blog!
And yes, you can make great money out of blogging. There are plenty of bloggers making $5000 to $20000 a month off their blogs.
Plus, you can also live anywhere you want! All you need is an internet connection.
But below are some really great reasons to start a blog.
Firstly, you need to know the sorts of traits for people who succeed in blogging.
Bloggers need to be:
- You won’t see success for the first 6 – 12 months.
- You’ll need to force yourself to produce quality content regularly.
Okay, now let’s look at the steps you’ll need to take.
You’ll need to choose a niche.
A niche is an area that you think you should blog about. For example, I blog about college. Why? Because I know a lot about it.
So, find something you know a lot about and that will keep you interested for your first 100 or so blog posts.
Here’s what you need to do:
- Choose a niche.
- Choose a blog title.
- Select topics that you think people will search for, but also have low competition. For example, I’m not going to write a blog post on something super popular if my blog is brand new. I’ll write articles on information people may search for, but no one has written about yet.
- Start your blog with a host like BlueHost.
- Write 30 quality 2000 word plus blog posts.
- Promote your blog through guest posts and Pinterest images.
Wow, I just summed up a lot of information in six steps. And that was way too simplistic.
So, if you like the idea of being a fulltime, money earning blogger, I recommend you check out Income School.
These guys explain things so simply, it’s amazing. Really, I’ve watched every video on blogging on the planet, and these guys are the best.
2. Reignite old Hobbies
If you’re lucky enough to have parents who will host you at their place rent free for a few months, maybe you just need some time to clear your head?
If you quite college, you need to ensure you don’t just sit around and sleeping in any day.
But I do recommend taking that time out to consider what you really want with your life.
One thing you can do is brainstorm what your old hobbies were that you’ve forgotten about.
Can you reignite your old hobbies? They might give you some of that passion back that you need. It’ll help you think about a new thing that can give you direction in your life.
Old hobbies might be:
- Volunteering in the community
- Playing music
- Learning a language
- Drawing or painting
As you explore these old hobbies and re-kindle your old passions, have a think about how you can use these hobbies to come up with a career.
Spend your time reading blogs and books about your hobbies. Go on reddit and read all about them. And keep an open mind about what career prospects might jump out at you that are related to your hobby.
Summing Up: 17 Best Things to Do Instead of College
This was a long post!
But you know what holds it all together? This:
If you’re going to leave college, you need a plan.
College might not be for you. That’s fine. But what is for you? How will you find out?
Hopefully the 17 points I’ve outlined in this post have helped you come up with some ideas. Here’s a summary of all 17 points one more time:
- Take one Semester off to Test the Waters
- Consider Changing Majors
- Try Studying Online Instead
- Take a Gap Year
- Go WWOOFing
- Teach English Abroad
- Do a Ski Season
- Work at Summer Camps
- Try a Trade
- Become a Police Officer
- Work in Early Childhood
- Start at an Entry Level Job and Work your Way Up
- Join the Military
- Become a Flight Attendant
- Become a Real Estate Agent
- Start a Blog
- Reignite old Hobbies
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education.