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August 2001
Volume 9, No. 4

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Seven Great Alternatives to College

By John O. Andersen
copyright 3/16/01

Attending college has become a very expensive proposition. Over the past decades, tuition hikes have consistently outpaced inflation. An increasing number of students must resort to taking out huge loans just in order to attend. It’s certainly not like the old days when you could get a part-time job during the school year, a full-time job during the summer, and earn enough to pay your way without incurring any debt.

This fact should give many cause to pause; to consider whether there aren’t other equally valid, and less expensive options for bright young people between the ages of 18 and 22.

I think there are. To start with, here are seven.

These are great because their entry cost is generally much lower than attending a four year college. And with the proper attitude, plenty of elbow grease, and a little luck, they may enable a person to enjoy lifelong employment, a comfortable income, and the satisfaction of providing a useful and appreciated service to their community.

The List:

1. Be a general machinist apprentice. Learn the trade on-the-job and through academic courses paid for by your employer. Later use your trade skills, business knowledge, and street smarts to start your own specialized toolmaking company.

2. Do you have good eye-hand coordination? Do you enjoy art and science? If so, consider dental technology. A friend of mine enrolled in a 12 month dental technology course shortly following high school graduation in 1980. After completing the course, he took a job in a dental lab. Within a year, he quit the job in order to open his own lab. Today his lab has 30 employees and annual sales of over $2 million

3. Like to fix things which people consider vitally important? Become a plumber or a heating and cooling repair specialist. Learn the trade by working alongside a master craftsman.

4. Find a hotel, restaurant, or farm job abroad; something which will cover room and board, and a bit of spending money. Use your job as a vehicle to live overseas, master a foreign language, learn another culture, broaden your intellectual horizons, and perhaps discover a life calling.

5. Get a job which pays the bills but doesn’t demand too much of your time. Save your creative energy for an artistic pursuit to which you feel drawn: writing, sculpting, wood carving, oil painting, glassblowing, etc. Hone your skills. If you desire, and you’re lucky, you might eventually make a business of selling your work. Or, you may prefer to stay with the non-mentally draining job, and enjoy a lifetime of creativity in your ample off-duty hours. I know someone who used a flexible work schedule as a fireman to develop his sculpting talent. Today he is a world-famous sculptor who earns a very comfortable living from his creations.

6. Start a cleaning business. Provide services which people aren’t inclined to do themselves, and for which they’re willing to pay handsomely; things like window cleaning, carpet cleaning, sewer cleaning, or chimney cleaning.

7. Do you live in a place with a lot of trees? Do you cringe at the thought of being cooped up in an office all day? Why not become a certified arborist? Start as an apprentice to an experienced arborist, or get a job with the public parks.

The Tip of the Iceberg

Actually, there are many more great alternatives. The way to discover them is to let go of mainstream social conditioning, and free your mind of the marketing messages of the higher education industry.

So have a go at it. Gravitate toward your innate interests. Give extra-institutional learning the credit it deserves. Follow your passion.

If you do that, you could very well find your path to a great livelihood without needing a sheepskin along the way.

Did you enjoy this essay? Share your reaction by e-mailing me at editor@unconventionalideas.com

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