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So You Don’t Want to Go to College: Now What?

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High school followed by college, then marriage and a family. It’s an ordinary path that parents plan for their kids from an early age—one that many children want to follow. Financial problems or less-than-stellar grades wind up causing some students to think twice about higher education once they get older, but what happens when you really, truly just don’t want to go to college?

Some parents are heartbroken because of their dreams about their kids’ future. Others are relieved to some extent, since they never started that 529 college savings plan despite their good intentions. Regardless of how your parents react, they’re most likely going to have an opinion about your decision, especially if you plan on living with them after high school.

First and foremost, you need to make a plan for life after high school. That plan will evolve over time—possibly sooner, rather than later—but unless you’re independently wealthy, you’ll need to do something. Here are some suggestions:

Go to Trade School

Trade schools, also known as vocational or technical schools, teach people the skills they need to perform a specific job. Trade school programs usually take one to two years to complete and certification or in some cases an associate degree is awarded upon successful completion of a program.

  • Business programs often include bookkeeping or office management
  • Healthcare programs often include medical or dental assisting or massage therapy
  • Industrial programs often include heating / AC repair or welding
  • Design programs often include cosmetology or floral or interior design

Get a Job

A job might sound like a no-brainer, especially if your parents have asked you to pay rent or contribute to household expenses now that you’re out of school, but it’s something that you need to think about. If you already had a decent part-time job that you enjoyed during high school, ask if you can increase your workload. If you’d like to find something that’s a step up, be realistic.

It’s possible for employees to work their way up the ladder to management positions at many companies, both large and small. Grocery stores, supercenters like Wal-Mart and Target, and other specialty retailers commonly promote employees from within the company. Just be prepared to start at the bottom if you’re a new hire.

Be an Intern

Internships are not necessarily just for students. Many large corporations, as well as smaller firms and startups, offer internships for young people who are interested in learning more about the industry. Being an intern is often far from glamorous, but it offers a way to get your foot in the door. These days, many internships are paid and some unpaid internships eventually lead to permanent paying positions, but realize that you may still need to have a paying job “on the side.”

Take a Gap Year

A gap year is a generally defined as a one-year hiatus between high school and college. Many students decide to take a break from school to figure out just what they want to study and what type of career they would like to pursue, often with consent from the college that will be attending the following year. Some parents fear that their kids will decide to skip college altogether, but most gain “real world” confidence that helps them succeed when they return to school. Better yet, according to this Forbes article, a gap year is often considered a resume booster if you partake in activities like visiting and working in other countries.

Audit a Class

Many people are unaware that it’s possible to take a college class without worrying about grades. If you audit a class, you participate without getting a grade or earning college credit. Auditing a class at a community college is relatively inexpensive. It’s also a good way to decide if you’re completely certain that you don’t want to go to college—you just might change your mind!


Volunteering, like interning, is a good way to get hands-on experience in a particular field without committing to a “real” job. It also provides the opportunity to help others. Non-profit organizations often need volunteers, so call around to places that interest you and see if your assistance will be welcome. Take your position seriously even though you won’t be getting paid—arrive on time, do what you’re asked and be a good sport. If the experience doesn’t seem like a good fit, politely explain your reason for leaving without pulling a disappearing act.

Although multiple initiatives are in place to increase the number of college graduates in the United States, college isn’t right for everyone. You won’t be able to mooch off mom and dad and lounge around the house all day, though, so make sure to have alternate plans lined up.

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Melissa Rhone+

Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.

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