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8 Alternatives To A 4-Year Degree

Earning a 4-year degree has become increasingly more popular but it is not necessarily the golden ticket to a successful career...

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If you want to succeed you should strike out on new paths, rather than travel the worn paths of accepted success.

– John D. Rockefeller

Earning a 4-year degree has become increasingly more popular but it is not necessarily the golden ticket to a successful career. While it may seem that attending college and earning a Bachelor’s degree in your 20s is the traditional path to success, there are plenty of admirable and widely respected alternatives.

The road less traveled…or is it?

As a 20 something, it is easy to feel pressured to have your entire professional life figured out. With societal “norms” painting a picture of accepted roads to success, you might feel like you are in the minority if you don’t plan on earning a 4-year degree. This couldn’t be further from the truth!

College is not for everyone, and millions of Americans launch extremely successful careers without Bachelor’s degrees. In fact, the U.S. Census Bureau reports that just one-third of Americans aged 25 and older have earned 4-year degrees. That means 66% of the population does not have a Bachelor’s degree!

What are my options?

There are countless jobs and careers that do not require a 4-year degree. And the good news is many of them pay well and are in high demand. Keep in mind – While some careers allow you to begin in an entry-level position after completing high school, others require a license or certification to become eligible for hire.

8 alternatives to a 4-year degree

If college is not for you, don’t worry! Below are some alternatives to a 4-year degree: 

  1. Attend community college and earn an Associate’s degree
  2. Earn a professional certification
  3. Join the military
  4. Explore an apprenticeship or fellowship
  5. Enroll in technical college or trade school
  6. Start a business
  7. Volunteer
  8. Take online classes

Take time to assess your passions and talents. Become informed on the alternatives to a 4-year degree. Then, you can ultimately choose the best path for you.

Skip to Actionable Steps

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Actionable Steps


Do your research

Do some self-reflection. What are your strengths, passions, and talents? Learn more about the alternatives to a 4-year degree and explore your options.


Set goals

Keep your eye on the prize and set challenging, achievable goals.


Stay positive and patient

Though a 4-year degree is a popular and traditional route, college is not for everyone. Remind yourself that there are countless roads to success, and chase after your dreams.


Seek assistance and ask for help

Don’t be afraid to ask for help – you are not in this alone. There are countless resources available to assist you and provide guidance such as professional help, friends and family, life coaches, and mentors.


Read more on this topic

You can learn more about the alternatives to a 4-year degree by reading the following articles, reviewed to be the best by our professionals Consider These Alternatives to a 4-Year Degree, 8 Alternatives to a 4-Year Degree, and Is There An Alternative to College.

About the Author

Dr. Alyssa Harmon-Salter

Dr. Alyssa Harmon-Salter

Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership

Alyssa holds an Ed. D. in Educational Leadership from Northern Arizona University. For the last 7 years, she has mentored hundreds of college students on how to be successful academically and in prepping for a job.
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