Imagine a path through post-secondary education that entails a fast-tracked schedule, no student loan debt, and a virtually guaranteed job upon graduation. Sound too good to be true? Then you might want to explore the possibilities available through career-technical education (CTE) and apprenticeships.

For students whose purpose is first and foremost to launch a specific career (rather than gain general knowledge or experience), this approach can be invaluable. Wisely chosen, CTE and apprenticeships excellently match education with the skills and knowledge demanded by the marketplace.

Indeed, research shows that these types of “middle skill” jobs—those requiring more than a high-school diploma but less than a bachelor’s degree—will experience rapid growth in the coming decades.

“Americans have a host of postsecondary options other than a four-year degree—associate degrees, occupational certificates, industry certifications, apprenticeships,” writes Tamara Jacobs in the Wall Street Journal. “Many economists are bullish about the prospects of what they call ‘middle-skilled’ workers. In coming years, according to some, at least a third and perhaps closer to half of all U.S. jobs will require more than high school but less than four years of college—and most will involve some sort of technical or practical training.”

Frequently, apprenticeships and CTE approaches allow students to take a quicker, more intensive path through school compared to a traditional four-year degree. This pathway often involves earning an associates degree combined with practical, hands-on training in a work atmosphere (which is also paid). These career tracts can lead to lucrative compensation, in many instances outpacing what a liberal arts bachelor degree recipient can expect to earn.

If an apprenticeship or CTE might be a good alternative for you, here are some factors to consider:

1. Type of career being pursued

Some careers lend themselves more to apprenticeships and CTE training than others. For example, if a student’s interest trends toward engineering, some medical professions, or technical work such as computer programming, the fit could be right.

2. Affinity for hands-on vs. book learning

By nature, CTE and apprenticeships involve more hands-on experience and less book learning. If your bent is toward the bookish side of things, this might not be for you. But if you enjoy working with your hands, the fit could be exactly right.

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3. Comfortable knowing what you want

Many young people use their college years to explore their vocational bent. Others know what they want early on in high school and stick with it. CTE and apprenticeships work best for those who know the specific career they want to pursue and don’t plan to dabble different pursuits. Which profile do you fit?


As you continue to think about your best pathway through post-secondary education, don’t forget to think outside the box by considering paths other than a typical four-year degree. CTE and apprenticeships could be just the option you’re looking for.