five things to do instead of college

life lessons from the bitter disillusioned

Growing up, it was assumed that after high school, I would continue on to college. Both my parents were the first in their families to do so. It was what the smart kids did, and I certainly wanted to be a smart kid. So I never questioned my life path. It simply was.

Two degrees and nearly $40K of debt later, I have some regrets. Don’t get me wrong: I love school. If it were free, I’d probably go to school forever. Am I using what I learned? Yes. Did it help me get a job? Not really. I’m currently a stay-at-home mom with a fledgling business and a blog, neither of which require my degrees.

Conclusion: my bachelor’s degree was worth it because it was free. My graduate degree? Not so much, although that’s not to say I don’t value the experience.

I’m not alone in my remorse over school. My husband went to ungrad and then became a doctor. We were married just before med school began, and it was hard. I worked overtime at my job as a mental health specialist at the local psychiatric hospital so we wouldn’t have to take out extra money for living expenses.

Five years later, we were collectively about $280K in debt from student loans (entirely from grad school, by the way.) We had a mortgage, a new baby, had moved to a new city, and my husband hated his job in residency. He was depressed and miserable every day, and had no time to sleep, let alone spend with his family. So in the middle of his second year, he quit.

It’s been a mere three months since he made that life-changing decision. He’s since earned a real estate license (for less that $1K) and is starting a new career. We’re going to be screwed financially for a long time, and we’re still figuring it out. But he’s happier now.

The thing is, like me, he never questioned that he was supposed to go to college. And then go even further, if he was really smart. When things got hard and he started questioning his decisions, people told him “it gets better” and “just keep pushing through.” And he did, for a long time. Too long.

So I’m here to say what so many people won’t, what isn’t spoken to our youth— or at least not to the “smart” ones. There is life outside of college. There is success. There are other options.

Our world needs doctors and lawyers and PhDs, and if that’s your passion, by all means, pursue it. But if it’s not, there is another way.

Here are five things you can do instead of going to college:

Create Something

“It is better to create than to learn! Creating is the essence of life.” ~ Julius Caesar

Be it art, literature, or some kind of product, you can never go wrong with this one. Spend a thousand days learning and it matters very little if you do nothing with your knowledge. Create something and you’ve influenced the world around you. You don’t need much more than yourself and some ideas to do it. Just do.

Think product creation is too complicated or expensive? I highly recommend The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferris. It’s not free, but it is achievable!

Acquire Skills

Now more than ever, you don’t have to be in a classroom to learn something. Free courses and resources are all over the internet, not to mention at your local library or even out amongst the community. There is no excuse, ever, to not be learning something.

Some of my favorites that are free and can help you get a job: learn computer code, learn a language, or get paid while you learn a trade.

Get a Job

Around the time I was getting paid less than $11/hr at my degree-related job, I noticed that the local Aldi’s was hiring, and the pay started at $11.50/hr. Now that I live in a bigger city, these opportunities are all around. Many companies — Trader Joes and Chipotle, to name a few I’ve taken interest in — pride themselves on hiring from within and also offer benefits.

It may not seem worth it, but consider that you won’t be going into debt while you work towards that promotion, plus you’ll be adding an extra four years of full-time income potential. If you can find a way to live modestly, you could even be investing while most of your peers are hitting negative numbers.

Start a Business

The opportunities here are endless. Start selling online, with an affiliate website or on popular platforms such as Amazon and Ebay. Create and market your own product. Offer a service. The sky’s the limit, and there are many options with low start-up costs.

Read, and then Read Some More

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” ~Dr. Seuss

There are more great books out there every day, and most of them can be read for free. It’s easier now than ever with ebook loans from your local library. I strongly believe that even novels are educational, but if you go with non-fiction, the topic possibilities are endless. Read about anything and everything, or pick a topic and google the subject’s 10 best.

Also, colleges don’t have a monopoly on textbooks. If you actually read one, you’ll probably know more than half the students who had it assigned for class.

Still want to go to school?

Attend college in these countries for less (or free!)

Find scholarships here.

These schools are some of the cheapest in America.

Also, consider going to a community college for the first two years and then transfering into a university of your choice. You can save thousands of dollars this way and still graduate with an esteemed degree!


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Anne Marie is a writer and entrepreneur. She lives with her darling daughter and husband in PA. You can find her at her online home, www.inspiration-kindled.com, or follow her on twitter @InspireEach_Day.