Alternatives to College

iStock_000003307504XSmallDoes the cost of a four year college or university degree scare you? Are you afraid to go, and yet afraid not to go? We all have been taught that a college degree is the path to the good life, but is it still – when students are emerging with heavy debt and little chance of a lucrative job?

I graduated from State U with a liberal arts degree in the early 1970s – when there was a world wide recession followed by stagflation. My newly won degree brought no lucrative job. I accepted a management trainee retail job which paid poorly and had little advancement opportunity. But, at least I graduated without debt. Today’s students pay dearly for that sheepskin. Many are starting to rethink the value.

What are the alternatives?

In my life saga, employment history went from bad to worse. I followed a spouse who joined the army and ended up with jobs such as Pizza Hut Waitress; Neighborhood News Delivery Girl and etc. Then, after 10 years, I got smart and went back to school – community college – to earn a 2 year Associate’s degree. That degree in computer programming led to a long, lucrative, satisfying and advance filled career.

An associates degree can be the key to a good life, one with a job you love that pays you enough.

William Bennett, who was education secretary under President Reagan debated the topic on CNBC saying:

“It used to be almost automatic that the advice would be, ‘Go to college.’ Now I think people have to pause and consider very carefully. A two-year degree can be a less expensive and more effective path for some, and open online courses can provide marketable skills for much less than college.”

For example, it is possible to earn your RN, find a job, and then upgrade to a BSN online. By taking the courses online, you can continue to work at your current job as you upgrade your education and then apply for higher paying jobs once you have earned for Bachelor of Science in Nursing. In fact, if you have already completed the 59-credits of pre-requisite courses and have the necessary experience, you can complete your upgrade in less than a year. The nursing profession is in great demand, but an increasing number of hospitals only hire those with a BSN degree.

I searched through the Bureau of Labor Statistics report High wages after high school—without a bachelor’s degree from the Summer 2012 Occupational Outlook Quarterly, looking for jobs that didn’t require years of experience or apprenticeships and which required only some post secondary education – not the full monte bachelor’s degree.

Here is what they listed as requiring an associates degree (which may mean more than 2 years of education according to the article).

Occupation Median Annual Wage Projected 1010- 2020 openings
Radiation therapists $74,980.00 6700
Nuclear medicine technologists $68,560.00 7500
Dental hygienists $68,250.00 104900
Registered nurses $64,690.00 1207400
Diagnostic medical sonographers $64,380.00 31700
Aerospace engineering and operations technicians $58,080.00 1700
Engineering technicians, except drafters, all other $58,020.00 16800
Electrical and electronics engineering technicians $56,040.00 31800
Radiologic technologists and technicians $54,340.00 95100
Respiratory therapists $54,280.00 52700
Electrical and electronics drafters $53,020.00 7200
Occupational therapy assistants $51,010.00 16800
Mechanical engineering technicians $50,110.00 10400


I’m not sure that my two daughters-in-law would agree that you can get to the status of working as an RN without a 4 year degree (BSN) in nursing. It is a rigorous course of study and generally requires a year or two of post school working experience to get to the position you really want! They are both pursuing a master’s degree so they can move on to even more high paying jobs.

The medical therapists (radiation and nuclear medicine categories) may also require more advanced training and a license or certificate – according to the article.

A neighbor of mine trained as a dental hygienist and worked at it for a few years after marriage. The hygienist at my dentist’s office really does most of the work on my teeth. She not only is trained and experienced at all the scraping, flossing, poking and prodding, but also is a person who can connect with patients, even when the conversation is necessarily one sided (after all, she does have her hands in your mouth).

Here is what the BLS article claimed you could do without a degree, but with some other kind of training: 

Occupation Median annual wage Projected 2010 – 2020 openings
Commercial (non airline) pilots $67,500.00 19300
Aircraft mechanics and service technicians $53,420.00 45200

Other jobs.

With 70% of the American labor force not having a college degree, there are obviously a lot of jobs out there that can be had.

Personally, I think my hair dresser has a good thing going. She rents a space in a salon, managing her own client base, collecting her own fees, obtaining her own supplies, providing her own training and etc. An experienced hairdresser in our part of the country can charge upwards of $70 for a color, cut wash and style. Hair extensions, permanents and other treatments can run even more. She works 3 days a week, stacking clients up from morning through 10 or 11 PM. Of course, she has spent a long time building up her client base – which she did by starting out working at one of the mall salons.

Another job not listed under the high paying jobs above, is web development (design, web site building, etc). My son won his 4 year degree in Economics and then was able to get a job as a security guard at a retail store! He took a Microsoft web certification course and landed a job right away doing HTML coding. He has now moved on and is making a good salary after several years. It seems I started a trend!

What other lucrative jobs can be had without a 4 year degree? Should today’s high school students consider avoiding the debt and going after those jobs instead?


Alternatives to College — 12 Comments

  1. My cousin is a muscle therapist, she does rehab for people who tore muscles and makes a really good living after two years of school, more than a general practitioner but then her pay scale won’t go up so much with time. Still you save 8 years of med school.

  2. My husband is a mortician. Although he has a bachelor’s degree, I know that some states only required morticians to have an associate’s degree. Although not everyone would want to do it, it is a fairly high paying career.

  3. I think that it is unfortunate that alternatives to college are not promoted or encouraged. Thanks for bringing it up. While college can be great, sometimes it is unnecessary. For job prospects, if you want to work as a mechanic, electrician, plumber and other jobs, there really is no need to go to college if you don’t want to. Why get saddled with student loan debt?

  4. Hey Marie and thanks for a well thought out post 🙂

    One career occupation I would throw into your list would be private music teacher. While I have a BA and an MA in Sociology, I do not have one in music. Yet, I do have years of playing and performing experience which allows me to charge $40.00 an hour per lesson from my own home and $50.00 an hour if I need to go to the students’ home.

    I have been making my living this way for the past three years and I truly love it!

    Take care and thanks again for a great article. All The best.


  5. Being in college right now, I meet so many people who go because that is what society tells you is necessary to be successful. What if, instead of getting a business degree, you spend $25,000 and try to start a business. If it fails, then you paid $25,000 for an education.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

I appreciate your readership and really enjoy hearing your thoughts on different topics. Thank you for contributing to the discussion.