What should I do after I graduate high school if I don't want to go to college?

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This is a very sophisticated question to ask. There is a lot of social/parental/career pressure for a high school graduate to commit to at least four more years of “structured, institutionalized” education. There is another way to think of your possibilities, however; college, besides putting most of us in financial debt, incurs what the business world calls opportunity cost, the other possibilities for those four years that people miss out on by attending college. In Europe, there is the tradition of “wanderjahre” – a “wander year” in which young persons simply “do” life on their own – travel, take an apprenticeship, volunteer for a nonprofit, join a commune, etc. This frees the student from the invidious restrictions of a formal education – assignments, tests, course requirements – and allows free thinking, “dendritic” exploration of a broad subject, where looking into a detail leads the student to branch out to another inquiry, and then another. You might want to explore the idea of IFNIS – the Institute for Non-Institutional Studies – which suggests you learn how to taxonomize, think syllogistically, and research – without any obligation to or pressure by an institution. If some day you want to approach an HR person who asks you if you “have a degree,” you can respond by saying “Yes, I have a degree in how to think, a skill which I will bring daily to your advertised position.” That employee's reaction will tell you a lot about the company’s bravery in future endeavors. The other alternative to college I might suggest is an isolated adventure – sailing across the ocean, camping in the wilderness and living off the land, joining a monastic group, or having some such other life-centering experience.

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There are many alternatives to college. First of all, there are many trade schools and programs. You do not have to spend a lot of money for these. You can become an apprentice to a carpenter, for example. Carpenters make quite a bit of money. You can also become a plumber or a mechanic. These are good paying jobs where there are other paths to certification than expensive programs.

The first thing you should do is talk to adults you know. You can consider family members who have careers you are interested in, especially ones that do not require degrees. You would be surprised at which jobs do not require degrees. Many jobs do require on-the-job training, but you can get paid while you work.

If you have a hobby, an interest, or a family business, this is a good place to start. Even if it is not what you want to do with your life, it is a good place to begin. Also, sometimes you can just start applying for jobs. Often you have no idea that you are interested in something until you see it. Some jobs train you and only require a high school diploma.

Most communities have job fairs. They will also provide information on trade schools, community colleges, and other secondary education options. Every community is different and it depends on where your interests lie and how much money is available to you. You can also contact local trade unions about their apprenticeship programs, such as the carpenters’ union, plumbers’ union or electricians’ union.

Community colleges often have more than just Associate of Arts degrees offered. They usually have certificate programs of various kinds available. For example, you could learn computer programming, video game design, project management for construction, or earn some other kind of certification there.

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