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The prevailing wisdom of the day states that the best way to get an education is to study hard and get a degree from the best university that you are accepted by (and maybe can also afford). The thought is that there are no alternatives to college. That it is your only option for a successful life.
I’m here to break the joyful news that this path is not only not the only one, it’s also probably not the best one for you.
Before we go any further, I want to be very clear that I’m not saying that college is a bad idea for everyone. For some career goals, college is a necessity to even get started. The doctors, lawyers, and accounts of the world need to go to college to get the licenses necessary to make sure they don’t cause more harm than good.
What I am saying is that college is not the only way to reach a good career. Especially for those whose career goals include making a living on the internet.
Before I get started on all the superb alternatives to the traditional college path, I want to tell you a little bit about my experience with the college system.
I graduated from college in December 2018 mired in a sense of dissatisfaction. I had recently discovered how much I had spent in total on pursuing my degree and, honestly, it didn’t feel worth it.
My time in college was spent learning, yes, but none of it felt relevant to the world outside the walls of a classroom. It especially didn’t feel relevant to me, a person who wanted to make a living on the internet. I felt like marketing was a pretty solid choice for major. Teach me how to sell better in person and through my words.
Instead, I spent a lot of time learning things that are admittedly important for understanding the core concepts of WHY marketing works, but I spent very little time learning HOW to make it work for me. I learned nothing about writing copy, or about running a marketing campaign or about increasing my reach, creating collaterals, or how to use social media for business purposes.
Basically, none of the things a marketing firm would WANT me to know coming in. And nothing that I NEEDED to know to be an online marketer for myself.
Instead, I’ve had to learn all the practical things I needed to know for my work from other sources. Mostly from content available FOR FREE on the internet and at the library.
The following are just a few of the alternatives to a college education. Most of these I’ve used myself in my search for relevant career skills.
Alternatives to College
There are many alternatives to college with many different price tags and time commitments attached. For this list, we are going to go from generally least expensive
The eternal classic for free education. As I’m sure you’re aware, your local library is a great source of information on a huge number of topics. Not only do they have entire sections of books on things like business, computer programing, and crafts, they usually also have regular classes for a wide range of subjects FOR FREE. If they happen to not have the books you’re looking for or aren’t currently offering any classes you are interested in, drop them a suggestion card. They love hearing about what their residents actually want to see!
You can learn just about anything on YouTube, completely free, by just watching the literally millions of videos. The quality is variable but with enough digging, you can find tutorials on basically anything you could want to learn.
SkillShare is a website that is similar to YouTube in that you can learn just about anything you could want in a video setting. There are some major differences though.
For one, all of the videos are grouped together in courses so that you can watch several videos that build on to each other. Also, the best part in my opinion, the courses come with assignments to help you practice what you are learning and a thriving community to help you out. Most of the content is locked behind a monthly subscription but you can watch the first video of all courses for free.
- Skillshare Review: The Best Online Learning Resource
- What are you doing with your life?
- Am I too Old to Get Started?
Udemy and Coursera are 2 of the more well-known online course providers. Many of the instructors on these sites are professors from well-respected universities or industry professionals. The prices of these courses vary widely but many come with certificates that you can add to your resume.
If you want a more in-depth level of education, they also offer a “Pro” level of access for between 19.99-39.99 per month depending on subscription length. This offers access to learning “paths” that guide your learning progression as well as more real-world projects and quizzes than the free standard level.
These pop up all over the place. Some are even run by big-name universities for a fraction of the price that a traditional degree from them would cost, like this one from my alma mater UCF. The certificate earned from these “boot camps” and “code schools” in a fraction of the time and cost it would take you to get a traditional degree is just as desired for many positions as that traditional computer science degree. 83% of hiring managers even say that they would consider a certificate from these school just as high or more highly than a computer science degree!
While still under the “college” heading, community colleges are a great choice for getting certifications for much less than a 4-year degree would cost. If you wanted to take just a few classes, the tuition at community colleges is also just a fraction of the tuition of the same course at a university.
When it comes to alternatives to college, trade schools are the option that I wish I had looked into more closely when I was deciding on my education path. Not only are they cheaper than getting a traditional university degree, but they are also faster and more focused on building the skills you need in the career you are pursuing.
One of the things I would like to see most in future is trade schools being treated like the valid option they are rather than a second-hand backup if you “can’t hack it” getting into a university. They are a solid choice for many people who are more interested in getting ahead in their adult life than “finding themselves” in a somewhat isolated environment.
The internet is a magical place of learning but sometimes it can be quite overwhelming. If you prefer a targeted approach for learning you can also search for specific well-rated courses that cover a single topic. Some of my favorites for pursuing online work are the following:
Elite Blog Academy
Elite Blog Academy is widely known as the #1 resource for learning how to blog using fundamentals that will help you build a stable online business from the start. I am actually a current student of the course and I can tell you from experience that it lives up to the hype.
While it’s not a comprehensive course on everything blogging ever, it does cover everything you need to get started and start scaling with solid recommendations and partner bonuses for you to explore if you find that you need a concept covered in finer detail. Overall this course is a solid alternative to a college degree in digital content marketing and creation.
The course isn’t open year-round but you can add yourself to the waitlist here to be notified when it relaunches. Normally they open in the early spring and for a very short time in the fall/ late summer.
Over the next few months, I’ll be interviewing several people from all walks of life. Many decided to skip the college experience in favor of blazing their own path and gain an education through experience or from one of the alternatives to college listed above. You’ll hear about the ups and downs, the could-haves and should-haves.
One of the goals of this interview series will be to show you concretely that while a college degree might be a nice thing to have for some people, it is far from the necessity it is made out to be. So go out adventurers and get your learnin’ on!