Alternatives to College

Gap Year

A “gap” year is a structured learning year after high school that focuses on broadening a student’s experiences and perspective, both of the world and him or her self.   To have a successful gap year, a student must be self-motivated, inquisitive, responsible, and independent.  A search of “gap year” will produce a large number of sites offering “travel” years as fee-based, guided tours.  While travel can certainly be educational, the purpose of a gap year is not to be solely “vacational”.  There are a wide variety of programs and experiences available.  Examples are listed below.

Brown University has this to say about taking a gap year at

Students admitted as first-years to Brown may apply to take a gap year before matriculating. Students approved for gap years engage in a wide variety of activities that expand their understanding and perspective. Brown students’ recent gap year experiences include working in an art gallery, farming in France, and bicycling across America. Students who take gap years generally find that they are more appreciative of and excited about their education than ever before.

Taking a gap year is not for everyone. Designing an entire year of your life is a daunting challenge. But it also an exciting challenge. A gap year allows you to break away from the beaten path, to learn more about the world, and to get to know yourself. 

Many more resourcess for gap year programs are available on this site at

AmeriCorps – Service Through Teamwork –

AmeriCorps NCCC (National Civilian Community Corps) is a full-time, team-based residential program for men and women age 18–24. Members are assigned to one of five campuses, located in Denver, Colorado; Sacramento, California; Baltimore, Maryland; Vicksburg, Mississippi; and Vinton, Iowa.

The mission of AmeriCorps NCCC is to strengthen communities and develop leaders through direct, team-based national and community service. In partnership with non-profits—secular and faith based, local municipalities, state governments, federal government, national or state parks, Indian Tribes and schools members complete service projects throughout the region they are assigned.

CityYear -

City Year is an education focused, nonprofit organization that unites young people of all backgrounds for a year of full-time service to keep students in school and on track to graduation.

Teen Life –

Teen Life is an excellent resource for programs, interships, volunteering, community service, and gap year information.

Trade School:

Trade Schools are different than the usual college because, rather than taking general education classes such as English or math, students focus on perfecting the trade they have enrolled in. Trade schools offer a wide variety of career training, from carpentry to cosmetology to medical assistance, all of which are growing fields.

Generally, Trade Schools are commuter only, however, in recent years, many have also added online options. Tuition varies, as most schools charge per class, or “credit hour”, and different courses require different credit hours. Federal financial aid is available to those enrolled in Trade Schools as well, though not all schools qualify.

The down-side to trade school is that, if the student does not like or cannot complete the program, it is nearly impossible to drop out. Most schools require that their students sign a contract stating that they’ll pay the full price for their education. Before enrolling, be sure you know what you’re getting into!

Resources for Trade Schools:


Joining the military can replace a traditional education. The recruit must be 18 at the time of admission, or 17 with parental consent. Individuals may either join straight into a branch of the military, or go to an academy, which must be applied for like a regular college. The benefit of attending an academy is that graduates will automatically be made an officer in their chosen branch of the military. However, these schools are fiercely competitive.

The military is not all combat. Many people learn trades, such as computer programing and mechanics, which they may use once they choose to discharge from service. Additionally, under the G.I. bill, those who have finished their service are given hefty financial aid if they choose to pursue a college education.

To join the military, speak to a local recruiting officer. Each branch is different, and one may be more appealing to some than another. In order to join, a student must have a high school diploma or GED.  You will also need to take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) test.  Learn more at

Resources for the Military:


Many jobs do not require a degree, but rather an apprenticeship.  However, many technical jobs in the fields of mechanics and carpentry will accept an apprenticeship as a substitute to a degree.  Generally, apprenticeships are free to do, and have different time requirements depending upon the job. Apprentices do the “grunt work” in said work place, for no pay, while watching their master to learn the trade first hand. This is a great option for those who learn best by doing.

Resources for Apprenticeships: