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Teaching Students about Alternatives to College


As educators, we frequently remind students of the value of attending traditional 4-year colleges, and it is true that there are many benefits for students who receive a degree and go into a career where they can use their degree. Unfortunately, according to one report, 1 in 5 American college students quit in the first year, and almost 1 in 3 do not get a degree within 6 years. Students who start college but do not complete it may build up student loan debt without receiving the necessary training to get jobs that can offset that debt.

Successful young woman in modern office working on laptop.One step toward preventing this problem is to prepare high school students for college, such as by encouraging them to take Preparing for College and Careers, a free online course for Adventist high school students. However, it is also important to ensure that students are aware of alternatives to 4-year college degrees so that the students who do pursue degrees are those for whom college is a good fit both personally and in terms of career goals.

Here are a few tips for presenting alternatives to students:

Clearly outline the alternatives to a 4-year degree. This article on 8 Alternatives to a 4-Year Degree is a good place to start. One activity that could foster this understanding of the alternatives would be to have students complete this interest inventory, which displays possible careers related to their interests based on the level of preparation they want to put into their career. It also allows them to switch between levels of preparation to see careers available within the different levels.

Include careers with different levels of training when discussing careers in the content area. This is an easy way to introduce students to alternatives to 4-year degrees while also staying focused on your content area.

Be realistic about the pros and cons of alternatives. Some career paths may allow students to avoid student debt and enter careers quickly, but will also come with lower initial salaries, for example, while for some careers a college degree will create debt without giving significant career advantages.

Emphasize the value of all kinds of work. We sometimes unintentionally convey the message that certain jobs, especially those that pay less or require less education, are less worthy of respect than others, which can discourage students from pursuing those careers.

Focus on career ideas instead of on discouraging the student from attending college when talking with specific students, especially students who struggle academically. Students may be insulted by the suggestion that college is not for them and take it as a comment on their intelligence or ability to succeed. Mentioning careers that are within their areas of strength but do not require college may be helpful, however.

When students think of their options after high school, they generally think of traditional 4-year college degree, but often are not aware of the alternatives. Knowing about alternatives can be particularly helpful for students who struggle in traditional academic environments or students who are interested in careers where other career routes are common. By helping our students learn about all the career routes available, we give them the tools they need to pick the route that will be most helpful for them personally.


Keri Conwell graduated from Walla Walla University with Bachelor's degrees in English and Psychology and an MAT degree in Secondary Teaching. She is currently serving as a project manager for CIRCLE and has served as a high school English teacher at Mount Vernon Academy and a K-10 Physical Education teacher at Ukiah Junior Academy, USA.

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