Is college right for every homeschool student? Eight alternatives to the traditional path

For many students, college is an important step after high school. College can provide training for a specialized career like medicine or law, or an opportunity to study at a deeper level than in high school. But for too many students, college is “just what you do after high school,” and they end up graduating (or dropping out) with crippling debt and no real prospects.

So it’s important to consider seriously whether college is a good fit for your child. As a homeschool parent, you’ve already made a conscious and intentional choice about your children’s K-12 education. Why not do the same for college?

Let’s take a look at some alternatives.

1. Community college

Some of the fastest-growing career fields, including dental hygiene and veterinary tech, only require a two-year degree, and community college graduates may be better off financially than their peers at four-year colleges.

Tuition is much lower—think $3,400 a year instead of $9,400 for an in-state public university or $24,000 out-of-state. In addition, most community college students can live at home, zapping the cost of the dorm and cafeteria. Young adults can enter the workforce faster and without the burden of student loans.

2. The military

Joining the military after high school can be a great opportunity to spread those wings. Some young adults join the military because they aren’t interested in college or don’t have the grades to pursue something they want to study. Others don’t have the financial means to make it work. Some do it for patriotism, others for adventure.

3. Apprenticeships

Apprentices are busy both working and learning, and they’re paid for it. Apprenticeships include training for a particular job, and employers pay for their apprentices’ college or vocational degrees in some cases. By the time a young adult completes an apprenticeship, he or she will have the skills, experience, and credentials needed for employment in the field he or she apprenticed in—and no college debt.

4. Vocational training/the trades/certificates

The skilled labor shortage in this country is not a secret, but it could be a huge problem for the economy. A 2015 study predicted that by 2025, 2 million manufacturing jobs would not be filled. More than 80 percent of executives who responded to the study’s survey said they would not be able to meet their customer’s needs because of that gap. About the same number said they are willing to pay above market rates.

The Ultimate Homeschool Guide to Creating a High School Transcript

What does this all mean? A vocational training program could jumpstart a stable, well-paying career. Most programs only take a year or two and may be ideal for someone who wants to earn credentials but cringes at the thought of four more years of school.

5. Entrepreneurship

The year after high school can be a great time to be an entrepreneur. If your teenager has a particular passion or skill—and a lot of hustle—he or she might consider starting a business or nonprofit.

High school or shortly after can be a great time to start a business—at that age, most people aren’t trying to support a family or pay down massive loans, so the stakes are low if something doesn’t work out.

6. Volunteering

If your teenager is passionate about a cause, the time after high school—with almost nothing in the way of family or financial obligations—is an ideal time to dive in. Your child could spend a year in the U.S. or abroad giving his or her time to a nonprofit or church group.

In addition to being a service opportunity, volunteering gives your child the chance to explore his or her passions, gain experience in the field, and create a network of people who can vouch for their skills or connect them with further opportunities.

7. A side gig

Whether it’s driving Uber or substituting for organists at area churches, more than 30 percent of workers in the U.S. have side hustles, and the trend is growing.

Some side gigs can turn into full-time jobs, but another advantage of side gigs is their scalability. A teenager could work full-time, then scale the work down later when life changes—if your child wants to work while taking some classes or make some extra cash a few hours a week while homeschooling your grandchildren.

8. A gap year

Some students will benefit from a year spent exploring their skills and interests, whether it’s volunteering, apprenticing, traveling, or working. A gap year can allow students to recharge their batteries and take a breather before diving back into academics. It can also help them clarify what (or whether!) they want to study in college.

In some cases, a gap year spent working is just a plain good decision. If you student wants to attend college, but money is tight, a year of work can be a good head start on the tuition bill.

Wrapping Up

While many students benefit from pursuing a four-year degree immediately after high school, others will be better off taking a gap year or a different route altogether. When college tuition costs are rising and non-college opportunities are multiplying, it makes sense to think seriously about what’s best for your teenager.

Is college the right path for your child? Consider what you know about his or her goals, maturity, passions, work ethic, and academic ability, and talk with him or her about the future. If college is the right path, pursue it! But if not, don’t be afraid to pursue other possibilities. Not every road to success looks the same.


Mary C. Tillotson is a freelance writer from Michigan.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *